Pixar's climb to the pinnacle of computer animation success was a quick one, and the company continues to push the envelope in its art- and technology-inspired endeavours.
And no-one would argue with that. Pixar deserves to blow its own trumpet. Today, it's a very successful company. Once the computer graphics branch of Lucasfilm (it was bought by Steve Jobs in 1986), Pixar is now a world-leading, award-winning digital animation studio 'with the technical, creative and production capabilities to create a new generation of animated feature films.' Responsible for A Bug's Life, Toy Story and Monsters Inc., few people in the world will not have been touched at some point by the seemingly endless, colourful, creativity that flows out of the Pixar studios.
The company's self-proclaimed objective is to 'develop computer-animated feature films with a new three-dimensional appearance, memorable characters and heartwarming stories that will appeal to audiences of all ages.' And that's exactly what they do. In 1995, Toy Story was released (distributed by Disney1) and this hilariously entertaining film was a box-office smash grossing $192 million in the States in its first year - a record - and $358 million worldwide. But more than that, Toy Story was the world's first fully computer-animated feature film.
The thing about Disney is that the animations are cute. But Pixar's have got a bit of bite to them. In 'Toy Story' they take Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker theme that bit further and they show how the toy room really comes alive.
Next door there's a kid who tortures the toys - a typical maladjusted pre-teen - who takes his frustrations out on them and does some genuinely disturbing things. We get to see the toys' reactions and they're really terrified. It's definitely not traditional Disney.
- A Researcher and fan
'Eat my Shorts'
For those involved in the world of animation, this was a dream come true. Previously, computer-generated animation had featured as part of a film only; it had never before accounted for all of it. In the 1980s and early '90s, Pixar had built up a solid reputation for its creative ingenuity with a series of successful commercials for various companies including All-Bran, Listerine, Volkswagen and the Californian Lottery, among others. (It also designed the logos for IBM and Paramount.) The adverts, together with Pixar's much-lauded short films (which consistently win industry garlands) hinted at the team's potential, that which would eventually spawn full-length computer-generated classics. The Pixar shorts are:
These short films can all be viewed (at least in part) on Pixar's lovely website (it really is worth a look) at Pixar.com.
1991 and all that...
In 1991, the filmic possibilities offered up by computer-generated animation were made glaringly apparent by that year's two main cinema releases: Beauty and the Beast and Terminator 2. Ed Catmull, one of the heads of Pixar, sensed a change in the wind and significantly was in a position to do something about it:
So what happened was in 1991 Beauty and the Beast came out, Terminator 2 came out and Disney announced that they had entered into a relationship with us to do a feature length film computer animated film for them. Beauty and T2 were phenomenal financial successes and all of a sudden everybody noticed. That was the turning point, for all the ground work that other people had been doing yet hadn't been noticed before. It all turned around in 1991, it was the year when the whole entertainment industry said 'Oh my God!' and it took them by storm. Then they all started forming their groups and their alliances and so forth.
In response to the climate of time, in 1991 an agreement was announced whereby Disney and Pixar would create the first computer-animated full-length feature film - Toy Story4.
Innovation and Beyond
Subsequent films after Toy Story, both short and feature-length, would showcase the sheer creativity of Pixar. Their innovations in the field of computer-generated animation are exemplary. In the 1997 classic short, Geri's Game, where an old man plays and beats himself at chess, some ground-breaking animation was introduced, especially in the detail of the old man's skin and cloth. Geri went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
In 1998, A Bug's Life went on to break new box office records and in 1999, Toy Story 2 went on to break even more, grossing $245 million in the States and $483 million worldwide. At the time of writing, Monsters Inc. has garnered great reviews and generally wowed its public with the now familiar but no less loved 'memorable characters and heartwarming stories'. The animation's superb too, in particular the fur of the beasts which is staggeringly lifelike.