Pixar got its start in 1974 when NYIT's founder Alexander Schure, who was also the owner of a traditional animation studio, established the Computer Graphics Lab (CGL), recruited computer scientists who shared his ambitions about creating the world's first computer-animated film. Ed Catmull and Malcolm Blanchard were the first to be hired and were soon joined by Alvy Ray Smith and David DiFrancesco some months later, which were the four original members of the Computer Graphics Lab. Schure kept pouring money into the computer graphics lab, an estimated $15 million, giving the group everything they desired and drove NYIT into serious financial troubles. But they eventually realized they needed to work in a real film studio in order to reach their goal, and when George Lucas approached them and offered them a job at his studio, six employees decided to move over to Lucasfilm. During the following months, they gradually resigned from CGL, found temporary jobs for about a year to avoid making Schure suspicious, before they joined The Graphics Group at Lucasfilm.
The Graphics Group, which was one-third of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm, was launched in 1979 with the hiring of Edwin Catmull from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where he was in charge of the Computer Graphics Lab. He was then reunited with Alvy Ray Smith, who also made the journey from NYIT to Lucasfilm, and was made director of The Graphics Group. At NYIT, the researchers pioneered many of the CG foundation techniques—in particular the invention of the alpha channel (by Catmull and Smith). Years later, the CGL produced a few frames of an experimental film called The Works. After moving to Lucasfilm, the team worked on creating the precursor to RenderMan, called REYES (for "renders everything you ever saw") and developed a number of critical technologies for CG—including "particle effects" and various animation tools.
In 1982, the team began working on special effects film sequences with Industrial Light & Magic. In 1983, Nolan Bushnell founded a new computer-guided animation studio called Kadabrascope as a subsidiary of his Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatres company, which was founded in 1977. Only one major project was made out of the new studio, an animated Christmas movie for NBC starring Chuck E. Cheese and other PTT mascots. The animation movement would be made using Tweening instead of traditional cel animation. After the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, Bushnell started selling some subsidiaries of PTT to keep the business afloat. Sente Technologies (another division, was founded to have games distributed in PTT stores) would be sold to Bally Games and Kadabrascope would be sold to LucasFilm. The Kadabrascope assets s would be combined with the Computer Division of LucasFilm. Coincidentally, Steve Jobs, a main Pixar shareholder and former CEO, worked under Bushnell in 1983 as a technician at his other company Atari, which Bushnell sold to Warner Communications in 1976 to focus on PTT. PTT would later be sold to ShowBiz Pizza Place, a competitor, in 1985.
After years of research, and key milestones such as the Genesis Effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Stained Glass Knight in Young Sherlock Holmes, the group, which then numbered 40 individuals, was spun out as a corporation in February 1986 by Catmull and Smith. Amongst the 38 remaining employees, there were also Malcolm Blanchard, David DiFrancesco, Ralph Guggenheim and Bill Reeves, who had been part of the team since the days of NYIT. Tom Duff, also an NYIT member, would later join Pixar after its formation. With Lucas' 1983 divorce, which coincided with the sudden dropoff in revenues from Star Wars licenses following the release of Return of the Jedi, they knew he would most likely sell the whole Graphics Group. Worried that the employees would be lost to them if that happened, which would prevent the creation of the first computer animated movie, they concluded that the best way to keep the team together was to turn the group into an independent company. But Moore's Law also said that the first film was still some years away, and they needed to focus on a proper product while waiting for the computers to become powerful enough. Eventually, they decided they should be a hardware company in the meantime, with their Pixar Image Computer as the core product, a system primarily sold to government agencies and the scientific and medical community.
The newly independent company was headed by Edwin Catmull as President and Alvy Ray Smith as Executive Vice President. While looking for investors, Steve Jobs was interested, but Lucas found his offer too low. Yet he accepted it in the end after it turned out to be impossible to find other investors. Jobs, who had recently been fired from Apple Computer, paid $5 million to George Lucas for technology rights and put them and $5 million cash as capital into the company, and joined the board of directors as chairman.
Walt Disney Studios used a Pixar Image Computer and custom software written by Pixar as part of their Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) project, to migrate the laborious ink and paint part of the 2D animation process to a more automated method.
In a bid to drive sales of the system, Pixar employee John Lasseter—who had long been working on not-for-profit short demonstration animations, such as Luxo Jr. (1986), to show off the device's capabilities—premiered his creations at SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics industry's largest convention, to great fanfare.
The Image Computer never sold well. Inadequate sales threatened to put the company out of business as financial losses grew. Jobs invested more and more money in exchange for an increased stake in the company, reducing the proportion of management and employee ownership until eventually, his total investment of $50 million gave him control of the entire company. In 1989, Lasseter's growing animation department, originally composed of just four people (Lasseter, Bill Reeves, Eben Ostby, and Sam Leffler), was turned into a division that produced computer-animated commercials for outside companies. In April 1990, Pixar sold its hardware division, including all proprietary hardware technology and imaging software, to Vicom Systems, and transferred 18 of Pixar's approximately 100 employees. That same year, Pixar moved from San Rafael to Richmond, California to Burbank, California. Pixar released some of its software tools on the open market for Macintosh and Windows systems. RenderMan was one of the leading 3D packages of the early 1990s, and Typestry was a special-purpose 3D text renderer that competed with RayDream addDepth.
During this period Pixar continued its successful relationship with Walt Disney Feature Animation, a studio whose corporate parent would ultimately become its most important partner. As 1991 began, however, the layoff of 30 employees in the company's computer hardware department—including the company's president, Chuck Kolstad, reduced the total number of employees to just 42, essentially its original number. Yet Pixar made a historic $26 million deal with Disney to produce three computer-animated feature films, the first of which was Toy Story. By then the software programmers, who were doing RenderMan and IceMan, and Lasseter's animation department, which made television commercials (and four Luxo Jr. shorts for Sesame Street the same year), were all that remained of Pixar.
Despite the total income from these projects the company continued to lose money and Jobs, as chairman of the board and now the full owner, often considered selling it. Even as late as 1994 Jobs contemplated selling Pixar to another company, most notably Microsoft. Only after learning from New York critics that Toy Story would probably be a hit—and confirming that Disney would distribute it for the 1995 Christmas season—did he decide to give Pixar another chance. For the first time, he also took an active leadership role in the company and made himself CEO. Toy Story went on to gross more than $362 million worldwide and, when Pixar held its initial public offering on November 29, 1995, it exceeded Netscape's as the biggest IPO of the year. In only its first half-hour of trading Pixar stock shot from $22 to $45, delaying trading because of un-matched buy orders. Shares climbed to $49 before closing the day at $39.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Pixar gradually developed the "Pixar Braintrust," the studio's primary creative development process, in which all directors, writers, and lead storyboard artists at the studio look at each other's projects on a regular basis and give each other very candid "notes" (the industry term for constructive criticism). The Braintrust operates under a philosophy of a "filmmaker-driven studio," in which creatives help each other move their films forward through a process somewhat like peer review, as opposed to the traditional Hollywood approach of an "executive-driven studio" in which directors are micromanaged through "mandatory notes" from development executives ranking above the producers. According to Catmull, it evolved out of the working relationship between Lasseter, Stanton, Docter, Unkrich, and Joe Ranft on Toy Story.
As a result of the success of Toy Story, Pixar built a new studio at the Emeryville campus which was designed by PWP Landscape Architecture and opened in November 2000.
Pixar and Disney had disagreements after the production of Toy Story 2 (1999). Originally intended as a straight-to-video release (and thus not part of Pixar's three-picture deal), the film was eventually upgraded to a theatrical release during production. Pixar demanded that the film then be counted toward the three-picture agreement, but Disney refused. Though profitable for both, Pixar later complained that the arrangement was not equitable. Pixar was responsible for creation and production, while Disney handled marketing and distribution. Profits and production costs were split 50-50, but Disney exclusively owned all story and sequel rights and also collected a 10- to 15-percent distribution fee. The lack of story and sequel rights was perhaps the most onerous aspect to Pixar and set the stage for a contentious relationship.
The two companies attempted to reach a new agreement for ten months before it fell through in January 2004. The new deal would be only for distribution, as Pixar intended to control production and own the resulting film properties themselves. The company also wanted to finance their films on their own and collect 100 percent of the profits, paying Disney only the distribution fee. More importantly, as part of any distribution agreement with Disney, Pixar demanded control over films already in production under their old agreement, including The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006). Disney considered these conditions unacceptable, but Pixar would not concede.
Disagreements between Steve Jobs and then-Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner made the negotiations more difficult than they otherwise might have been. They broke down completely in mid-2004, with Disney forming Circle 7 Animation and Jobs declaring that Pixar was actively seeking partners other than Disney. Despite this announcement, Pixar did not enter negotiations with other distributors, although a Warner Bros. spokesperson told CNN, "We would love to be in business with Pixar. They are a great company." After a lengthy hiatus, negotiations between the two companies resumed following the departure of Eisner from Disney in September 2005. In preparation for potential fallout between Pixar and Disney, Jobs announced in late 2004 that Pixar would no longer release movies at the Disney-dictated November time frame, but during the more lucrative early summer months. This would also allow Pixar to release DVDs for their major releases during the Christmas shopping season. An added benefit of delaying Cars from November 4, 2005, to June 9, 2006, was to extend the time frame remaining on the Pixar-Disney contract, to see how things would play out between the two companies.
Pending the Disney acquisition of Pixar, the two companies created a distribution deal for the intended 2007 release of Ratatouille, if the acquisition fell through, to ensure that this one film would still be released through Disney's distribution channels. In contrast to the earlier Disney/Pixar deal, Ratatouille was to remain a Pixar property and Disney would have received only a distribution fee. The completion of Disney's Pixar acquisition, however, nullified this distribution arrangement.
In 2006, Disney ultimately agreed to buy Pixar for approximately $7.4 billion in an all-stock deal. Following Pixar shareholder approval, the acquisition was completed May 5, 2006. The transaction catapulted Steve Jobs, who was the majority shareholder of Pixar with 50.1%, to Disney's largest individual shareholder with 7% and a new seat on its board of directors. Jobs' new Disney holdings exceeded holdings belonging to ex-CEO Michael Eisner, the previous top shareholder, who still held 1.7%; and Disney Director Emeritus Roy E. Disney, who held almost 1% of the corporation's shares. Pixar shareholders received 2.3 shares of Disney common stock for each share of Pixar common stock redeemed.
As part of the deal, John Lasseter, by then Executive Vice President, became Chief Creative Officer (reporting to President and CEO Robert Iger and consulting with Disney Director Roy E. Disney) of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios (including its division DisneyToon Studios), as well as the Principal Creative Adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering, which designs and builds the company's theme parks. Catmull retained his position as President of Pixar, while also becoming President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, reporting to Bob Iger and Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. Steve Jobs' position as Pixar's chairman and chief executive officer was also removed, and instead, he took a place on the Disney board of directors.
After the deal closed in May 2006, Lasseter revealed that Iger had realized Disney needed to buy Pixar while watching a parade at the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland in September 2005. Iger noticed that of all the Disney characters in the parade, not one was a character that Disney had created within the last ten years since all the newer ones had been created by Pixar. Upon returning to Burbank, Iger commissioned a financial analysis that confirmed that Disney had actually lost money on animation for the past decade, then presented that information to the board of directors at his first board meeting after being promoted from COO to CEO, and the board, in turn, authorized him to explore the possibility of a deal with Pixar. Lasseter and Catmull were wary when the topic of Disney buying Pixar first came up, but Jobs asked them to give Iger a chance (based on his own experience negotiating with Iger in summer 2005 for the rights to ABC shows for the fifth-generation iPod Classic), and in turn, Iger convinced them of the sincerity of his epiphany that Disney really needed to re-focus on animation.
Lasseter and Catmull's oversight of both the Disney and Pixar studios did not mean that the two studios were merging, however. In fact, additional conditions were laid out as part of the deal to ensure that Pixar remained a separate entity, a concern that analysts had expressed about the Disney deal. Some of those conditions were that Pixar HR policies would remain intact, including the lack of employment contracts. Also, the Pixar name was guaranteed to continue, and the studio would remain in its current Emeryville, California, location with the "Pixar" sign. Finally, branding of films made post-merger would be "Disney•Pixar" (beginning with Cars).
Jim Morris, producer of WALL-E (2008), became general manager of Pixar. In this new position, Morris took charge of the day-to-day running of the studio facilities and products.
After a few years, Lasseter and Catmull were able to successfully transfer the basic principles of the Pixar Braintrust to Disney, although meetings of the Disney Story Trust are reportedly "more polite" than those of the Pixar Braintrust. Catmull later explained that after the merger, to maintain the studios' separate identities and cultures (notwithstanding the fact of common ownership and common senior management), he and Lasseter "drew a hard line" that each studio was solely responsible for its own projects and would not be allowed to borrow personnel from or lend tasks out to the other. That rule ensures that each studio maintains "local ownership" of projects and can be proud of its own work. Thus, for example, when Pixar had issues with Ratatouille and Disney Animation had issues with Bolt (2008), "nobody bailed them out" and each studio was required "to solve the problem on its own" even when they knew there were personnel at the other studio who theoretically could have helped.
In November 2014, Morris was promoted to president of Pixar, while his counterpart at Disney Animation, general manager Andrew Millstein, was also promoted to president of that studio. Both continue to report to Catmull, who retains the title of president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.
On April 20, 2010, Pixar Animation Studios opened Pixar Canada in the downtown area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The roughly 2,000 square meters studio produced seven short films based on Toy Story and Cars characters. In October 2013, the studio was closed down to refocus Pixar's efforts at its main headquarters.
When Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios, and John Lasseter, then the executive vice president of Pixar, decided to move their studios from a leased space in Point Richmond, California, to larger quarters of their own, they chose a 20-acre site in Emeryville, California, formerly occupied by Del Monte Foods, Inc. The first of several buildings, a high-tech structure designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, has special foundations and generators to ensure continued film production, even through major earthquakes. The character of the building is intended to abstractly recall Emeryville's industrial past. The two-story steel-and-masonry building is a collaborative space with many pathways.
While some of Pixar's first animators were former cel animators, including John Lasseter, they also came from computer animation or were fresh college graduates. A large number of animators that make up the animation department at Pixar were hired around the time Pixar released A Bug's Life (1998) and Toy Story 2 (1999). Although Toy Story was a successful film, it was Pixar's only feature film at the time. The majority of the animation industry was (and still is) located in Los Angeles while Pixar is located 350 miles (560 km) north in the San Francisco Bay Area. Also, traditional hand-drawn animation was still the dominant medium for feature animated films.
With the scarcity of Los Angeles-based animators willing to move their families so far north, give up traditional animation, and try computer animation, Pixar's new hires at this time either came directly from college or had worked outside feature animation. For those who had traditional animation skills, the Pixar animation software (Marionette) was designed so that traditional animators would require a minimum amount of training before becoming productive.
In an interview with PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, Lasseter said that Pixar's films follow the same theme of self-improvement as the company itself has: with the help of friends or family, a character ventures out into the real world and learns to appreciate his friends and family. At the core, Lasseter said, "it's gotta be about the growth of the main character and how he changes."
As of 2016, every Pixar feature film produced for Disney has included a character voiced by John Ratzenberger, who had famously starred in the TV show Cheers. Pixar paid tribute to their "good luck charm" in the end credits of Cars (2006) by parodying scenes from three of their earlier films, replacing all of the characters with motor vehicles. After the third scene, Mack (his character in Cars) realizes that the same actor has been voicing characters in every film and angrily demands to know "What kind of a cut-rate production is this?"
Due to the traditions that have occurred within the film, such as anthropomorphic animals and easter egg crossovers between movies that have been spotted by fans, a blog post entitled The Pixar Theory was published in 2013 by Jon Negroni to make the belief that all of the characters within the Pixar universe were related.
Toy Story 2 was originally commissioned by Disney as a 60-minute direct-to-video release. Expressing doubts about the strength of the material, John Lasseter convinced the Pixar team to start from scratch and make the sequel their third full-length feature film.
Following the release of Toy Story 2 in 1999, Pixar and Disney had a gentlemen's agreement that Disney would not make any sequels without Pixar's involvement, despite their own right to do so. After the two companies were unable to agree on a new deal, Disney announced in 2004 they would plan move forward on sequels with/without Pixar, and put Toy Story 3 into pre-production at Disney's new CGI division Circle 7 Animation. However, when Lasseter was placed in charge of all Disney and Pixar animation following the 2006 merger of the companies, he put all sequels on hold and Toy Story 3 was cancelled. In May 2006, it was announced that Toy Story 3 was back in pre-production with a new plot and under Pixar's control. The film was released on June 18, 2010, as Pixar's eleventh feature film.
Shortly after announcing the resurrection of Toy Story 3, Lasseter fueled speculation on further sequels by saying, "If we have a great story, we'll do a sequel." Cars 2, Pixar's first non-Toy Story sequel, was officially announced in April 2008 and released on June 24, 2011, as their twelfth. Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001), was announced in April 2010 and initially set for release in November 2012; the release date was pushed to June 21, 2013, due to Pixar's past success with summer releases, according to a Disney executive.
In June 2011, Tom Hanks, who voiced Woody in the Toy Story series, implied that Toy Story 4 was "in the works," although it had not yet been confirmed by the studio. In April 2013, Finding Dory, a sequel to Finding Nemo, was announced for a June 17, 2016, release. In March 2014, The Incredibles 2 and Cars 3 were announced as films in development. In November 2014, Toy Story 4 was confirmed to be in development with Lasseter serving as director. In an interview, Lasseter stated that "[a] lot of people in the industry view us doing sequels as being for the business of it, but for us, it's pure passion...One of the things that was very important for me as an artist is to continue directing. When I direct, I get to work with the individual artists, with the animators." In August 2015, at the D23 Expo, Lasseter said that the film would focus on the romance between Woody and Bo Peep. Its story will be built on the fact that Bo Peep was absent in Toy Story 3, with Woody and Buzz Lightyear trying to find her and bring her back.
Toy Story was the first Pixar film to be adapted onto television, with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command film and TV series. Cars became the second with the help of Cars Toons, a series of three-to-five-minute short films running between regular Disney Channel shows and featuring Mater (the tow truck voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy). Between 2013 and 2014, Pixar released its first two television specials, Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot.
All Pixar films to date have been computer-animated features, but WALL-E so far has been the only Pixar film to not be completely animated, as it featured a small amount of live-action footage. 1906, the live-action film by Brad Bird based on a screenplay and novel by James Dalessandro about the 1906 earthquake, was in development but has since been abandoned by Bird and Pixar. Bird has stated that he was "interested in moving into the live-action realm with some projects" while "staying at Pixar [because] it's a very comfortable environment for me to work in."
The Toy Story Toons short, Hawaiian Vacation also includes the fish and shark as live-action.
Jim Morris, general manager of Pixar, produced Disney's John Carter (2012), which Pixar's Andrew Stanton co-wrote and directed.
Pixar assisted in the story development of Disney's The Jungle Book (2016), as well as providing suggestions for the film's end credits sequence.
Pixar representatives have also assisted in the English localization of several Studio Ghibli films, mainly those from Hayao Miyazaki.
Michael Wallis, the voice of Sheriff from the Cars franchise and a Route 66 consultant for the first two films, said in an August 2013 interview that Pixar would make a third film in the series, which will go back to Route 66 and will also include Route 99; a release date of June 16, 2017, was later announced.
In April 2012, Pixar announced its intention to create a film centered on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, which will be directed by Lee Unkrich. In 2015, the film's title was announced as Coco, and a planned release on November 22, 2017, was announced.
A sequel to The Incredibles was announced in March 2014, to be directed by Brad Bird, with a release date set for June 15, 2018.
In November 2014, it was announced that John Lasseter will direct Toy Story 4, scheduled for release on June 21, 2019.
Two untitled Pixar films have been scheduled for March 13 and June 19, 2020, which are said to be original projects.
The Pixar Co-op Program, a part of the Pixar University professional development program, allows their animators to use Pixar resources to produce independent films. The first CGI project accepted to the program was Borrowed Time (2016); all previously accepted films were live-action.
Since December 2005, Pixar has held exhibitions celebrating the art and artists of Pixar, over their first twenty years in animation.
Pixar celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2006 with the release of Pixar's seventh feature film, Cars, and held two exhibitions, from April to June 2010, at Science Centre Singapore, in Jurong East, Singapore, and the London Science Museum, London. It was their first time holding an exhibition in Singapore.
The exhibition highlights consist of work-in-progress sketches from various Pixar productions, clay sculptures of their characters, and an autostereoscopic short showcasing a 3D version of the exhibition pieces which is projected through four projectors. Another highlight is the Zoetrope, where visitors of the exhibition are shown figurines of Toy Story characters "animated" in real-life through the zoetrope.
Pixar celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011 with the release of its twelfth feature film, Cars 2. Pixar had celebrated its 20th anniversary with the first Cars. The Pixar: 25 Years of Animation exhibition was held at the Oakland Museum of California from July 2010 until January 2011. The exhibition tour debuts in Hong Kong and was held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, between March 27 and July 11, 2011. In 2013 the exhibition was held in the EXPO in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. On November 16, 2013, the exhibition moved to the Art Ludique museum in Paris, France, with a scheduled run until March 2, 2014. The exhibition moved to three Spanish cities later in 2014 and 2015: Madrid (held in CaixaForum from March 21 until June 22), Barcelona (held also in Caixaforum from February until May) and Zaragoza.
Pixar: 25 Years of Animation includes all of the artwork from Pixar: 20 Years of Animation, plus art from Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3.
The Science Behind Pixar is a travelling exhibition that first opened on June 28, 2015, at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts. It was developed by the Museum of Science in collaboration with Pixar. The exhibit features forty interactive elements that explain the production pipeline at Pixar. They are divided into eight sections, each demonstrating a step in the filmmaking process: Modeling, Rigging, Surfaces, Sets & Cameras, Animation, Simulation, Lighting, and Rendering. Before visitors enter the exhibit, they watch a short video at an introductory theater.
The exhibition closed on January 10, 2016, and moved to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it opened on March 12 and will close on September 5. After that, it will move to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California and be open from October 15, 2016, through April 9, 2017. It will make another stop at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota from May 27 through September 4, 2017.