A Brief History Of Pixar Animation Studios

Although these days Pixar Animation Studios, usually shortened to just Pixar, is synonymous with the Disney brand, known for producing some of our favourite children’s films, characters and childhood memories, but it wasn’t always this way. In honour of Pixar animator, director, writer and producer John Lasseter’s birthday yesterday I’m taking a brief look at the history of Pixar Animation Studios.

Pixar was originally established in 1979 as “The Graphics Group”, part of filmmaker George Lucas’ production company Lucasfilm’s Computer Division. Lucas hired Dr Ed Catmull from the New York Institute of Technology to take charge of the Computer Graphics Lab, The Graphic Group’s task was to develop state-of-the-art computer technology for the film industry. Lucas’ wishlist included a digital film editing system and sound editing system, and a digital film printer.

It was four years later in 1983 that John Lasseter would join The Graphics Group to work on short film The Adventures of André & Wally B, and the following year was hired as a full time member of The Graphics Group as an interface designer. A partially finished version of The Adventures of André & Wally B was premiered in 1984 and the technology used to create the short was considered groundbreaking at the time.  The film is considered to be Pixar’s first film even though Pixar did not yet exist when the film was made.

In 1986 George Lucas sold The Computer Division of Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs who had recently left Apple. Jobs established an independent company and “Pixar” was incorporated in the state of California on 3rdFebruary 1986. Jobs served as CEO of the company until 2006.

In August that year John Lasseter’s directional debut Luxo Jr was the first film released after Jobs’ purchase of the company, premiering at the 1986 SIGGRAPH conference. The title character, desk lamp Luxo Jr, was the source of Pixar’s hopping desk lamp mascot who appears in Pixar’s logo. In order to complete the film in time for the SIGGRAPH conference Lasseter and Catmull worked tirelessly with Lassester even taking to sleeping under his desk so he was in the studio early ever morning. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film, becoming the first CGI film to be nominated for an Academy Award and in 2014 Luxo Jr was selected by the Liberty of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry on the grounds that it is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The studio’s first Academy Award winner came in the form of Lassster’s 1988 short film Tin Toy,Pixar’s fourth short film, taking home the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 61st Academy Awards.

In 1989 the first version of “RenderMan” was released, this software would eventually go on to become the standard software used in the film industry for rendering computer graphics. In 2001 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honoured Ed Catmull, Loren Carpenter, and Rob Cook with an Academy Award of Merit for “significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar’s RenderMan”, the first Academy Award to be given for a software package. The 19th version of this software was recently released.

1991 saw Disney finally enter the picture, with the two companies announcing an agreement had been made to produce and distribute at least one computer generated animated film. That film finally came in November 1995 in the form of the award winning Toy Story, Pixar’s first feature length film. Toy Story saw Lasseter win a Special Achievement Oscar at the 1996 Academy Awards for his “inspired leadership of the Pixar Toy Story Team resulting in the first feature-length computer animated film.” In 1997 Pixar and Disney announced an agreement to produce five feature length films over the next 10 years, these films were A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo(2003) and The Incredibles (2004).

In 1997 and 1998 Pixar picked up another 5 Academy Awards, with William Reeves receiving the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for Particle Systems and  Rick Sayre receiving the Technical Achievement Academy Award for Direct Input Device in 1997. At the 70th Academy Awards in 1998 Geri’s Game directed by Jan Pinkavatook home the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and Eben Ostby, William Reeves, and Tom Duff received the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for Marionette 3-D Animation Systems, and Thomas Porter The Scientific Academy Award for Digital Painting.

From 1998 – 2004 Pixar and Disney’s 5 film/10 year deal was played out, with the five feature length films collectively being nominated for 14 Academy Awards, A Bug’s Life breaking all previous Thanksgiving weekend box office records in 1998, Toy Story breaking box office records in the USA, UK and Japan in 1999. In 2001 Monsters Inc. grossed $100million in the domestic box office in 9 days, faster than any previous animated film. Finding Nemo broke all previous opening weekend box office records for an animated feature film in 2003, and then became the fastest selling DVD of all time in 2004. The Incredibles broke all Pixar records in 2004 grossing over $70million at the box office over its opening weekend.

In June 2006 John Lassester’s Cars was Pixar’s final film as an independent company before the company was purchased from Steve Jobs by Disney. Disney’s take over of Pixar saw Ed Catmull become President and John Lasseter become Chief Creative Officer of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then Pixar have released seven feature films: Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up(2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), Cars 2 (2011), Brave(2012) and Monsters University (2013). And now almost 29 years since the company’s formation, with a further four films currently in various stages of production and post production, two of which are set for release later this year: Inside Out (19thJune) and The Good Dinosaur (25th November), as well as a sequel to Finding Nemo entitledFinding Dory planned set to be released in 2016 and a fourth feature length instalment in the Toy Story series planned for 2017, Pixar are showing no signs of slowing up.

It seems Pixar will be providing children (and adults) with wonderful films, characters and treasured memories for years to come.

Kat Lawson

Kat Lawson

Film & Media Studies graduate with a passion for horrors, psychological thrillers, European cinema, and pretty much anything a little bit weird. Lover of Rush, Cars and most films motor racing related. I want to star in my own Princess movie looking like Kat Dennings, with Princess Anastasia's wardrobe, Rapunzel's hair, Mulan's kick ass-ness and a sidekick trio of Pascal, Bartok and Mushu, and maybe Crikee Bug too. Prince Charming optional.
Kat Lawson

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