‘The Pixar Touch’ looks at the history of Pixar, including Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Disney, more

“Pixar began to take shape in the late 1970s, when George Lucas, after the success of ‘Star Wars,’ hired many of these men (virtually without exception, they are men) into Lucasfilm’s computer division. But he didn’t have a clue what to do with them. Even with the best computer animators on his payroll at Skywalker Ranch, he used no computer animation in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980), resorting to scale models for special effects. Indeed, in a desperate bid for attention, Lucas’s computer division — named, unimaginatively, Computer Division — persuaded another studio, Paramount, to include a 60-second computer animated sequence in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (1982) to show Lucas what they could do. It didn’t work then or later. ‘He couldn’t make the leap from the crudeness of it then to what it could be,’ said one of the short’s creators, Alvy Ray Smith,” Michael Hirschorn reports for The New York Times.

“Frustrated with Lucas, the Computer Division renamed itself Pixar in 1986 and sought an outside investor. Through a friendship with Alan Kay, a crucial figure in the earlier creation of the personal computer at Xerox PARC, Pixar’s central figures were introduced to Steve Jobs, already worth $185 million and beginning his Apple exile. After Jobs’s $5 million offer was rejected, the team attempted to do a deal with Disney, then a bastion of hand-painted cel animation. Pixar’s cause was championed by Disney’s chief technologist, Stan Kinsey, who was convinced that Pixar’s technologies would ‘not only lower costs, but also allow freer camera moves and a richer use of colors.’ Kinsey wanted Disney to buy Pixar outright for $15 million, but he was overruled by Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of Walt Disney Studios. ‘I can’t waste my time on this stuff,’ Kinsey says Katzenberg told him,” Hirschorn reports.

“Jobs then swooped in and bought Pixar for the same $5 million he had originally offered,” Hirschorn reports.

MacDailyNews Note: In January 2006, Jobs sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion. In a deal similar to Apple buying NeXT, Pixar effectively took over Disney.

Read the full book review here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Citymark” for the heads up.]


  1. Funny how Lucas, the guy who didn’t get computer animation, is now the guy who insists on using it anywhere and everywhere – often to the detriment of his films. That’s not a slight on computer animation, just that those who really understand it get the most from it, it seems.

  2. I haven’t seen any Pixar films since Finding Nemo, and I only saw that last Christmas. I must keep up, in future ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”oh oh” style=”border:0;” />

  3. Another instance where Jobs saw the future, knew what to do, and got himself a _really_ good deal along the way. Smart, smart man. I know some of the folks at Pixar, and they are an amazingly talented and motivated bunch. If I’d had $10 million in 1986 (hah!) I’d have outbid Steve for the company….

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  4. Oh, and BTW, the genesis effect they spoke about was not at all crude: it was low resolution, but an amazing leap from what had been done before. I remember seeing that in the theatres and thinking “holy sh–! That’s amazing!”

    Crude, my butt.

  5. yeah, but the facts are all wrong. Steve Jobs purchased the animation devision from Lucasfilm for 10 million, not 5. Many of the other points have huge gaps of fact. I can’t stand bad journalism!

  6. There is a film called The Pixar Story currently available on my cable system’s On Demand (I think it’s on Starz). Sounds like a film adaptation of this book. For those of us interested in this business, it’s a great film. You get to see and hear all these people who are the best of the best at what they do. It is very obvious that without exception they are all passionate and very hard working. Very inspiring. It’s also nice to see a chubby (compared to today) Steve Jobs.

  7. What’s interesting is that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Pixar made is money from advertising — the jungle swinging Listerine bottle and dancing gummy Life Savers.

    John Lassiter et al have done for animation what Steve Jobs has done for the PC/CE industry. They are a fantastic group of talented artists and business people. Their movies are fantastic for the family and my kids love them.

    The late Walt Disney would be proud to have them on board. Pixar has actually helped more to bring Disney back to its roots — making classic films that last using cutting edge technology and techniques. It really was a win – win for all involved…

  8. I thought the history of Pixar was a little different. I thought it began as Pixar with Ed Catmil and Ray Avery Smith as both a hardware and software company; mostly for scientific and medical visualization. Back in the mid-eighties, I saw a demo of Pixar’s hardware processor with software that illustrated oil exploration imagery in three dimensions based off of actual data. They also demonstrated a 3D body of a patient that could be rotated in any direction derived from data from a CAT scan; and they could peel away organs and muscle on-the-fly in real-time because of their multi-plane hardware controller. This was before they thought of commercial entertainment animation. I think what launched them into the idea of entering the entertainment industry was their short film, Luxor Junior, that they debuted at SIGGRAPH as a demonstration of what their software could do.

    They sold or gave up their hardware division and just concentrated on their 3D software expertise; trying to sell to various industrial markets. However, they ran into financial trouble, and George Lucas bailed them out by purchasing the company. I guess that didn’t work out either.

    Then Steve Jobs purchased majority shares in Pixar with some of his exit money from Apple when he was ousted. I thought it was Steve Jobs that saw the animation studio branch of Pixar as valuable and pushed it over Pixar’s software sales. That is when it became successful. The rest is history. This is my recollection of events; I will have to do more research to make sure my memory is accurate.

  9. Try that again …

    BTW, that sequence from the Star Trek movie is here:

    <a >Genesis Project</a>

    Interestingly, I believe one of the animators is narrating it here, but the exact sequence you see here appears in the movie. You can see it in context of the movie via the “related videos.”

    Looks great to me. Not too bad for being 20 years old.

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