Pixar Celebrates 31st Anniversary
“I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” – Edna Mode, The Incredibles
While that may be the mantra of Pixar’s fabulous Edna Mode, just for today, it may be acceptable to take a little peek back. Yesterday, the creative powerhouse that produced such hits as Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and of course the Toy Story franchise, celebrated its 31st anniversary. Pixar consistently amazes with their ability to turn out stories that captivate and improve upon the technology that make them all possible. While it may be known for creating the first full length computer animated film and several others after that, many do not know much about Pixar before Toy Story’s 1995 release.
The story of Pixar’s beginning is one of passion, technology, and trusting your gut. Pixar began as a technology company. The original team was formed in February of 1986 from a team of 40 people that were previously a computer graphics R&D department for Lucasfilm. This passionate team, along with Pixar’s President Ed Catmull, set out to improve and even create the technology that would help them realize their dream of a fully computer animated feature film. In that same year, John Lasseter, one fraction of Pixar’s “Brain Trust” and current Chief Creative Officer of Disney and Pixar Animation, took his short film Luxo Jr. to the computer graphics conference, SIGGRAPH. He wowed audiences with the ability to make a faceless desk lamp named Luxo Jr. display emotions through movement alone. Lasseter has shared that after its premiere, someone approached him to discuss the short film. He was shocked to realize that although they were at a computer graphics conference, the question was not about the tech used to create the short, but about how the title character was feeling in the short. This interaction served as a reassurance of what Lasseter and the team at Pixar had dreamed this type of animation could become: a viable art form where new advances in technology could serve the storytelling while gracefully taking the backseat and allowing the story to shine. They continued to create new short films, expanding the technology further, and inching closer to the full-length film they desired. Interestingly, the little lamp would become a widely identifiable icon representative of the company, hopping in to replace the “I” in the Pixar logo in the animated snippet before each of their films.
Although they are lauded for being the first to create a film completely with computer animation (and a hugely successful one at that), it did not happen without complications. Pixar began to gain steam and entered into a contract agreement with Disney. Per the contract, Pixar would make three computer animated films in partnership with the animation giant. Reminiscent of the resistance Walt Disney faced as he was creating Snow White, that there was no way an audience would sit through a feature length animated film, was the line of criticism from Disney in the early days of creating Toy Story that said Pixar needed to make sure it was gritty enough to keep adults interested while following their time-tested formula for creating successful animated movies. This formula consisted largely of components such as breaking out into song, having a fairy tale type love story, and a cut and dry villain; all things that the original Pixar story team had previously decided they did not want in their movie. Pixar took these notes from Disney and attempted to implement them. However, they discovered that by trying to make Toy Story edgier, the character of Woody had become astonishingly insufferable and altogether unlikeable.
Understandably, the screening at Disney did not go well. It was clear that something just was not working with the story and the team from Pixar was told that they would need to move the work on the film to the Disney studios where they could be carefully monitored and guided in the right direction. Unhappy with that plan, the creatives from Pixar requested that they be given a bit more time to make some adjustments. Their request granted, they returned to the studio, reworked the story, and made the changes to Woody that turned him back into the loveable, yet flawed character he is today. They discarded the notes on the “formula” and decided they would make the movie they originally intended to make, with no large musical numbers and no love story, but simply focusing on creating a story they would enjoy watching themselves. The next screening at Disney had a much warmer response. By reverting to their original vision and trusting their own creative intuition, the story had finally gotten the heading it required to gain Disney’s approval. The Pixar team was then able to finish realizing their dream of creating a computer animated feature, and in the process, laying a blueprint that the new company would trust and follow in its future creative endeavors.
Pixar continues to follow their creative passions and instincts while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of technology to provide its audiences with the best possible experience. Pixar will be releasing two movies this year: the original movie Coco and Cars 3, and with new installments to the Toy Story franchise and a sequel to The Incredibles on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what new adventures Pixar brings to its 31st year and beyond.