The Pixar Touch


A comprehensive overview of Pixar’s history, it’s storytelling process, its relationship with Disney and more

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. A comprehensive overview of Pixar’s history, it’s storytelling process, its relationship with Disney and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Lasseter was at Disney sweeping streets as a teenager and later as a guide on Jungle Cruise
  2. Pixar began as a hardware company but struggled and eventually started selling animation software
  3. Bob Iger’s purchase of Pixar is legendary – Disney brand failing as indicated by mothers trusting Pixar brand more than Disney. Pixar movies also made up 45% of Disney’s operating revenues before being bought
  4. Selling Pixar gave Lasseter freedom to make movies he wanted to make
  5. Ed Catmull helped launch and revolutionize the computer animation industry – first through his work at New York Institute of Technology, then while at Lucasfilm and of course through his time and research at Pixar
    1. Alex Schure was a visionary millionaire who sponsored and brought together one of the finest computer animation teams in the world at NYIT
  6. Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 for $5m and put over $50m into it over the next 10+ years but bought into the mission wholly (although he did lose some confidence at points as indicated by his desire to try to sell Pixar to Microsoft and other companies).
  7. Alvy Ray Smith, along with Catmull and Lasseter, is the third founder of Pixar and worked with Catmull while at NYIT
  8. Regardless of how advanced the technology is, story is always the most important.
  9. Fostering a cool place to work always attracts top talent more than money alone
  10. Catmull – animation has to meet people’s experience from everyday life. Sometimes more important to not be 100% realistic if it makes the shot more believable for whatever reason
  11. Lasseter started at Disney during its dormancy phase when the most favored expression of Disney executives was, “As Walt used to say…”
    1. While Lasseter was at Disney, Tron convinced him that computer animation was the next revolution in animation and tried to convince Disney to invest more. Disney was not so sure, promptly fired him and was then hired to Pixar at Lucasfilm
    2. Lasseter’s greatest gift is his ability to give inanimate objects life and personality
    3. George Lucas was skeptical of computer animation at first, as was Frank Thomas at Disney. Lucas eventually spun off Pixar which was a hardware group at that time (although Catmull and Smith always had the vision of creating movies)
      1. Jobs’ vision with Apple was always to bring high-end computing to the masses –  “Our computers were born not out of greed or ego but in the revolutionary spirit of helping common people rise above the most powerful institutions.”
  12. People will always use tools in ways the toolmaker never thought possible
  13. Luxo, Jr. a hit for the actual and emotional realism it was able to portray through an inanimate object. Tin Toy was the first animation to win an Oscar
  14. Jobs and Smith clashed to the point that Smith eventually left to found Altamira. Jobs went overboard and at one point rescinded all employee’s stock options which obviously angered many people
  15. Lasseter has an uncanny ability to shift between the macro level of the entire film and the micro level of whatever detail he was dealing with at the moment. He would always be aware of a frame’s role in the larger context of storytelling
  16. Pixar’s massively successful first release, Toy Story, convinced Jobs and others that there was true potential in computer animation. Jobs decided to give himself and the company some liquidity and soon after Toy Story’s release, Pixar went public
  17. “When Disney gets behind something, look out.” – Steve Jobs
  18. Employee loyalty and bucking normal trends – “Catmull had rejected Hollywood-style run-of-style employment, believing that steady employment relationships would help the company hold on to its invaluable talent.”
What I got out of it
  1. It requires doing something different in order to get results different than the average. Pixar’s leaders, their process, their focus, ability and willingness to be different all help them achieve creative and financial results which have never before been seen in entertainment.

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