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. Its a triumphant business story of a company that began with a dream, remained true to the ideals of its foundersantibureaucratic and artist drivenand ended up a multibillion-dollar success.
We meet Pixars technical genius and founding CEO, Ed Catmull, who dreamed of becoming an animator, inspired by Disneys 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 Disneys The Sword in the Stone), and Prices 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 Pixars corporate feuds: between Lasseter and his former champion, Jeffrey Katzenberg (A Bugs Life vs. Antz), and between Jobs and Michael Eisner. And finally it explores Pixars 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 Jobss stock was worth $1.1 billion.
Ed Catmull, Pixars co-founder, dreamed as a youth of becoming an animator, but decided in high school that he couldnt draw well enough. Instead, he became an early visionary of computer animation as a graduate student in the 1970s. "Computer animation was sort of on the lunatic fringe at that time," remembered Fred Parke, a fellow Ph.D. student in Catmulls class at the University of Utah.
When John Lasseter joined Pixarwhich was then the computer graphics department of George Lucass Lucasfilmhe 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 Lasseters short films, such as Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy, were promotional films to help sell the companys computers.
Pixar was almost bought by Microsoft? Yep: Jobs remained worried about the companys finances even after Pixar made a deal with the Walt Disney Co. in 1991 to produce Toy Story, Pixars first feature film. The Pixar Touch details the effort to sell Pixar to Bill Gatess 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 studios 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 Pixars involvementas Disneys 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. Pixars innovations in computer graphics technology pervade movies today. Special-effects houses like Industrial Light & Magic (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) use Pixars software to create out-of-this-world places and characters.
(Photo © Simon Bruty)