The Short Films That Saved Pixar

When Steve Jobs became the majority investor in Pixar in January 1986, the company looked nothing like it does today. Back then, Pixar was mainly a technology play. It sold expensive Image Computers to government agencies and medical institutions along with rendering software. That strategy didn’t pay off particularly well. The company hemorrhaged cash; layoffs ensued; and things were generally looking bleak for the young company.

Pixar’s fortunes changed, however, when it tapped into the talents of a young animator named John Lasseter. During Pixar’s early days, Steve Jobs and co-founder Ed Catmull asked Lasseter to develop a short animated film to help show off the capabilities of Pixar’s hardware and software. He came up with Luxo Jr. (above), which turned two lovable lamps into movie stars. The short film won first prize at SIGGRAPH, the annual computer graphics conference held in 1986. Later Luxo Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1988, Pixar was still hanging on by a thread. But Jobs continued to nurture Lasseter’s work and directed precious resources towards another short film. When giving Lasseter funds ($300,000), Jobs said to the animator, “All I ask of you, John, is to make it great.” And that he did. The result, Tin Toy (above), won the ’88 Academy Award for animated short film, the first computer-generated film to win the award.

Tin Toy caught Disney’s attention, and they began to pursue Lasseter. But Lasseter stayed loyal to Pixar, and before too long, Pixar and Disney decided to partner on the production of Toy Story, which netted a profit of $330 million. Pixar dumped its hardware/software business and focused on making animated films from then on, before Disney eventually purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006.

If you’re looking for a little more animation, don’t miss The Adventures of André and Wally B., the 1984 short film made by Lasseter at the Graphics Group, the unit within LucasFilm that was eventually spun into Pixar. Also here we have the First 3D Digital Film, which happened to be created by Ed Catmull (1970). He co-founded Pixar and is now president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.

You can find all films listed above in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Source for this post: Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Find out how to snag a free audio copy here.

More Related Pixar Content:

A Rare Look Inside Pixar Studios

The Beauty of Pixar: 500 Scenes from 17 Films

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