With the Pixar hitting the recent milestone of their first feature film, Toy Story, turning 20 and the studio's recent release of The Good Dinosaur, I decided to learn more about how Pixar came to be. That's why I turned to David Price’s 2008 book The Pixar Touch.
We all know who Woody, Buzz, Nemo and Dory are, but do we know who Catmull, Lasseter, Docter, and Stanton are? The Pixar Touch starts off with John Lasseter who is now the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering revving up the crowd of Disney shareholders at the 2006 shareholders meeting in Anaheim. He had traveled a long way from being a fired Disney animator in the 1980s.
We go back to when Ed Catmull, who will become President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, is a grad student with a desire to draw. Catmull loved everything Disney but realized he didn’t have the skills to be an animator. He turned to computer graphics and plotted a way to make the first computer animated film. Catmull was first hired to lead the computer graphics lab of the New York Institute of Technology, which led to Lucasfilm where a small offshoot of George Luca’s empire was born, Pixar.
The cast of characters builds with John Lasseter joining Pixar in the mid-1980s. Pixar was a long ways off from making film history. They were actively making computers, when George Lucas sold the offshoot company to Steve Jobs for five million dollars. How important was Steve Jobs to the future of Pixar? He was crucial.
Jobs spent the next several years in limbo from Apple while trying to make a new company out of Pixar. The Pixar Image Computer (PIC) and the animation software with some side work in commercials kept some of the lights on in the Pixar offices while they plotted their goal of making a film. Jobs kept pouring money into Pixar with no return. A deal with Disney got Pixar a path to create Toy Story. Jobs had tried to sell Pixar many times, but always hesitated and stuck with the floundering company.
The Pixar Touch details the technical side of the process of creating a computer animated movie, but it spends most of the time telling the stories of the people who helped build Pixar. Readers get an inside view of what it is like to work at Pixar, and what the company does to be successful.
The relationship between Disney and Pixar is also chronicled in the book from Pixar helping to develop Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) for Walt Disney Animation, to the distribution deal for Toy Story. Steve Jobs who was trying to sell Pixar rallied to its defense and upon the success of Toy Story renegotiated their deal in Pixar’s favor. Jobs’ dislike for CEO Michael Eisner led to the breakup of the Disney-Pixar relationship, which in turn resulted in the ousting of Michael Eisner as CEO of the Disney Company. Steve Jobs repeatedly stated that once Eisner was gone there could be a deal between Disney and Pixar. New CEO Bob Iger repaired the relationship leading Disney to buy Pixar and bring the imagination of the men and women who started at Disney, were inspired by Disney, to be in the family home.
The Pixar Touch came out in 2008 so it only details up to the release of Ratatouille in 2007. But as the studio still remains a creative powerhouse, releasing its 16th film last week, you might want to check out David Price’s book and learn about how the company that has created the masterpieces we see today began.