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The Pixar Touch Paperback – May 5, 2009

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Product Description

The roller-coaster rags-to-riches story behind the phenomenal success of Pixar Animation Studios: the first in-depth look at the company that forever changed the film industry and the "fraternity of geeks" who shaped it.

The Pixar Touch is a story of technical innovation that revolutionized animation, transforming hand-drawn cel animation to computer-generated 3-D graphics. It’s a triumphant business story of a company that began with a dream, remained true to the ideals of its founders—antibureaucratic and artist driven—and ended up a multibillion-dollar success.

We meet Pixar’s technical genius and founding CEO, Ed Catmull, who dreamed of becoming an animator, inspired by Disney’s Peter Pan and Pinocchio, realized he would never be good enough, and instead enrolled in the then new field of computer science at the University of Utah. It was Catmull who founded the computer graphics lab at the New York Institute of Technology and who wound up at Lucasfilm during the first Star Wars trilogy, running the computer graphics department, and found a patron in Steve Jobs, just ousted from Apple Computer, who bought Pixar for five million dollars. Catmull went on to win four Academy Awards for his technical feats and helped to create some of the key computer-generated imagery software that animators rely on today.

Price also writes about John Lasseter, who catapulted himself from unemployed animator to one of the most powerful figures in American filmmaking; animation was the only thing he ever wanted to do (he was inspired by Disney’s The Sword in the Stone), and Price’s book shows how Lasseter transformed computer animation from a novelty into an art form. The author writes as well about Steve Jobs, as volatile a figure as a Shakespearean monarch . . .

Based on interviews with dozens of insiders, The Pixar Touch examines the early wildcat years when computer animation was thought of as the lunatic fringe of the medium.

We see the studio at work today; how its writers, directors, and animators make their astonishing, and astonishingly popular, films.

The book also delves into Pixar’s corporate feuds: between Lasseter and his former champion, Jeffrey Katzenberg (A Bug’s Life vs. Antz), and between Jobs and Michael Eisner. And finally it explores Pixar’s complex relationship with the Walt Disney Company as it transformed itself from a Disney satellite into the $7.4 billion jewel in the Disney crown.

Little-Known Facts from The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company by David Price

• Pixar, not Apple, made Steve Jobs a billionaire. Jobs bought Pixar in 1986 from Lucasfilm for $5 million. In 1995, the week after the release of Toy Story, Pixar went public and Jobs’s stock was worth $1.1 billion.

• Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder, dreamed as a youth of becoming an animator, but decided in high school that he couldn’t draw well enough. Instead, he became an early visionary of computer animation as a graduate student in the 1970’s. "Computer animation was sort of on the lunatic fringe at that time," remembered Fred Parke, a fellow Ph.D. student in Catmull’s class at the University of Utah.

• When John Lasseter joined Pixar—which was then the computer graphics department of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm—he had just been fired from his dream job as an animator at Disney. He became the first person to apply classic Disney character animation principles to computer animation.

• Before it became an animation studio, Pixar went through years of struggle and multi-million-dollar losses. It started as a computer company and John Lasseter’s short films, such as Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy, were promotional films to help sell the company’s computers.

• Pixar was almost bought by…Microsoft? Yep: Jobs remained worried about the company’s finances even after Pixar made a deal with the Walt Disney Co. in 1991 to produce Toy Story, Pixar’s first feature film. The Pixar Touch details the effort to sell Pixar to Bill Gates’s company while Toy Story was in production.

• When writing Toy Story, to find inspiration for the relationship between Buzz and Woody, Lasseter and his story department screened classic "buddy" movies, including 48 Hrs., The Defiant Ones, Midnight Run, and Thelma & Louise.

• John Lasseter has instilled an intense commitment to research in the studio’s creative staff. To prepare for the scene in Finding Nemo in which the fish characters Marlin and Dory become trapped in a whale, two members of the art department climbed inside a dead gray whale that had been stranded north of Marin, California.

• To learn how to make a realistic French kitchen, the producer and first director of Ratatouille worked as apprentices at an elite French restaurant in the Napa Valley.

• Pixar deliberately avoided making the humans in The Incredibles look too realistic. They knew that as animated human characters became too close to lifelike, audiences would actually perceive them as repulsive. The phenomenon, known as the "uncanny valley," had been predicted by a Japanese robotics researcher as early as 1970. Thus, the details of human skin, such as pores and hair follicles, were left out of The Incredibles’ characters in favor of a more cartoonlike appearance.

• The signature of most Pixar feature films is characters who appeal to children (toys, fish, monsters…), but who have adult-like personalities and are dealing with adult-like problems.

• Prior to the acquisition of Pixar by Disney in 2006, Lasseter loathed the idea of Disney making sequels to Pixar films without Pixar’s involvement—as Disney’s contract with Pixar allowed it to do. "These were the people that put out Cinderella II," Lasseter remarked.

• Pixar is more than an animation studio. Pixar’s innovations in computer graphics technology pervade movies today. Special-effects houses like Industrial Light & Magic (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) use Pixar’s software to create out-of-this-world places and characters.

(Photo © Simon Bruty)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Pixar animation studios, the company behind such blockbuster movies as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, started in the late 1970s as a project in a garage on Long Island by a soft-spoken former missionary named Ed Catmull. The computer-graphics researcher possessed the tenacity to follow through on the painstaking process of making 3-D computer characters come to life on the screen; he accidentally fell into the role of business leader when his creations took the world by storm. Price, author of Love and Hate in Jamestown (2003), writes for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today, among others. He charts the course of Pixar from obsession to its relationship with LucasFilm, the purchase by Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs, and finally the Disney buyout. It’s an eye-opening account that pulls back the curtain to reveal the process of evolution, the labor of love, and all the business dealings behind the magic of 3-D animation. --David Siegfried --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David A. Price's most recent book, The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company (Knopf, 2008), was named a Wall Street Journal "Best Book of the Year" and a Fast Company and Library Journal "Best Business Book of the Year."

His previous book, Love and Hate in Jamestown (Knopf, 2003), a history of the Jamestown colony and the Virginia Company, was a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year" and a School Library Journal "Best Adult Book for Young Adults."

He has also contributed articles to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, the Harvard Business Review online, National Geographic Online, and

He received his bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and graduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. He lives in Richmond, Va.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on June 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was glued to this book about Pixar's humble beginnings and inspiring ascension into the firmament. In true Cinderella fashion, the company starts with nothing, gets no respect, but eventually its dreams come true. It's a thought-provoking journey.

Pixar's story interweaves with that of the Walt Disney Company throughout its history. Founding CEO Ed Catmull's college dissertation involved creating a texture map projecting Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh onto undulating surfaces. When Disney decided to replace its ink-and-paint process with computers, it had Pixar test the system with a scene from The Little Mermaid. In 1991, Disney agreed to finance Pixar's first full-length feature film, Toy Story, but production was shut down in late 1993 because the plot dictated that Woody be mean and petty. Disney rewrote the script to make the toy cowboy more sympathetic. And in January 2006, Disney agreed to acquire Pixar for 287.5 million shares of Disney stock.

The story works in the biographies of some fascinating men. Catmull turned down Disney when it approached him to help design the Walt Disney World attraction Space Mountain. Steve Jobs, newly thrown out of Apple Computer, bought Pixar for just $5 million, only to discover he had to spend twice that to keep it afloat. You read how John Lasseter advances from a skipper on Disneyland's Jungle Cruise to the principal creative advisor of Disney and Pixar animation.
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95 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. Boyett on August 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't expect anyone to believe this, but I have to get it off my chest. Price's book gives credit to John Lasseter's wife for creating the character of Jessie in Toy Story 2. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote the second draft of TS2 as an independent contractor at Pixar for three months when Ralph Guggenheim was the producer and Ash Brannon was the sole director. Ken Mitchroney was a story artist on the project and the person who had recommended me to try to fix the ungodly mess that was the first draft. He had suggested the film have a cowgirl, and I agreed.

Ken did preliminary character sketches, one of which was quite similar to the final character (and modeled on his redheaded wife). The final design was done by Jill Colton, also uncredited. I created Jessie on the page -- she was named and partially modeled after my friend Jessie Horsting, former West Coast Editor of Fantastic Films Magazine -- along with most of the film structure as it currently exists (the major exception being the third act, which I was much less involved with).

Not only did Lasseter's wife not have a thing to do with the movie, Lasseter didn't have much to do with it either. I never saw him once during my time at the production (and his taking co-credit for, and accepting awards on behalf of, the movie was a factor in Ash Brannon [SURF'S UP] leaving Pixar as well). After I left Disney showed up with their army of useless middle management, fired everybody, replaced them with their corporate flunkies, and let the project languish for another year. Rita Hsiao wrote a credited version, yet as far as I know what she did was stick post-its under storyboards. But, you know, she worked for Disney and was credited with Mulan. Woo hoo.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brian Frankenfield on August 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a long time fan of Pixar and a fan (and critic at times) of Disney animation, I found this to seemingly be one of the better books written about Pixar and the evolution of 3D animation from Pixar's perspective. It is a solid look at Pixar from the Catmull's early years at the newly formed New York Institute of Technology to the arrival of Lasseter, to the investment of Jobs and his evolution from seeing Pixar as a hardware company to an animation studio, and finally to the Iger's epiphany (although perhaps obvious to others) that Disney Feature Animation needed Pixar. This book not only serves as a good case study of Pixar, but as a reminder that great animated films all start with a great story and are made absolutely fantastic in the execution of the details of that story's characters - concepts that held true when Disney first introduced animated features and still hold true today. It also makes clear something I had long thought, that Disney Feature animation lost its way under Eisner, substituting short term profit for long term value. The whole reason for the Disney Company's rise to success in the first place was its feature animation work. That work flowed to everything - it's theme parks, merchandising, resorts, etc. Pixar and Lasseter, ironically, brought this back to Disney. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in feature animation, story-telling and/or the business of either. It's filled with rich experiences of how business works and sometimes doesn't, and how a group of passionate animators with a knack for storytelling and drive for their trade brought animation into the mainstream once again.
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