In the 28 years that Pixar has been around, the animation studio has raked in 27 Oscars and over $8 billion dollars in gross revenues — off of only 14 movies.
That’s more than $US500 million per feature.
How does a company reach such insane levels of excellence?
In new book “Creativity, Inc,” long-time Pixar president Ed Catmull reveals the story behind the pixels, from the origin of the name to its wacky company perks and what really happened with Steve Jobs.
Find the most surprising bits of Pixar’s journey below.
The main building on campus is called the Steve Jobs Building.
Pixar’s campus design originally separated different employee disciplines into different buildings — one for computer scientists, another for animators, and a third building for everybody else. But because Jobs was fanatic about these unplanned collaborations, he envisioned a campus where these encounters could take place, and his design included a great atrium space that acts as a central hub for the campus.
The biography adds that Jobs believed that, “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
There’s an annual event called “Pixarpalooza.”
Since 2009, there’s been an annual Battle of the Bands with Pixar employees.
Animators can go wild decorating their workspaces.
The Pixar team does much more than put up posters in their offices. The decoration gets a little maximal:
“(Employees) spend their days inside pink dollhouses whose ceilings are hung with miniature chandeliers, tiki huts made of real bamboo, and castles whose meticulously painted, 15-foot-high Styrofoam turrets appear to be carved from stone,” Catmull writes.
They have an ergonomist come in on a weekly basis.
Her name is Arlie Stern. She makes adjustments to the animators’ workstations, so they don’t get repetitive stress injury from years of hardcore mouse-clicking.
“The work (of animators) is precision intensive,” she says. “Precision is a killer on the body, because in order to do something that requires precision with the body, you need to rest the arm, and if you don’t give people a place to rest the arm, they’re going to place the wrist on the desk right on the carpal tunnel,” which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Disney wanted the original “Toy Story” to be a musical.
Since the conglomerate had so much success with musicals — “Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin” to name a few — its execs thought that “Toy Story” should have some musicality, too. But Pixar said no.
Pixar didn’t (quite) start as a movie maker.
First it sold hardware, then software, and then it made animated short films and ads, Catmull shares. Its first big product was a high-end imaging computer with professional applications from meteorology to medicine. While the device never sold well, employee John Lasseter made computer-animated films to show off what it could do, like the groundbreaking Luxo Jr. in 1986.
Pixar also did some animated sequences for films, with Disney being an important partner. In order to bring in some cash, Pixar started making commercials for brands like Listerine, Trident, and Lifesavers in the early ’90s. Then Pixar signed a three-movie deal with Disney, leading to “Toy Story” in 1995 — and everything changed.
The name “Pixar” sprang out of a conversation between the co-founders.
Early in Pixar’s life, co-founder Alvy Ray Smith thought the name should be “Pixer,” since it sounded like a fake Spanish verb for “to make pictures.” But another cofounder, Loren Carpenter,
liked “Radar,” since that sounded futuristic. So they combined the two: “Pixer + Radar = Pixar!” Catmull writes.
When Pixar started in 1986, its biggest product was the Pixar Imaging Computer.
“Who’s going to buy a $US125,000 image processor that requires a host computer and has software development tools but no applications software?” asked the June 1986 issue of Computer Graphics World.
Before Pixar was its own thing, it was part of Lucasfilm.
In 1979, George Lucas recruited Catmull to helm the computer division of the rapidly growing film production company.
Pixar became its own company thanks to Steve Jobs.
In 1986, Jobs bought what was then Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics Division, then spun it off, turning it into an independent company.
“Toy Story 2” was originally supposed to be direct-to-video.
Disney didn’t dig sequels for animated movies. They tried one
, a rodent-filled romp called “Rescuers Down Under,” and it promptly bombed upon release. Luckily, Pixar pushed back.
Movies at Pixar take forever to make.
“They are not beautiful, mature versions of the adults they will grow up to be,” Catmull writes. “(The first mock-ups) are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” And that’s why they take forever to make: “Monsters University,” for instance, took over four years to complete.
Pixar is guided by a “Brain Trust.”
It’s a tiny group of leaders — originally early employees like John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and Joe Ranft — who give intensely candid critiques of films in progress.
Pixar has a school called Pixar University.
Free classes include sculpting, painting, ballet, and live-action filmmaking.
“Simply by providing an excuse for us to all toil side by side, humbled by the challenge of sketching a self-portrait or writing computer code or taming a lump of clay,” Catmull writes, “P.U. changed the culture for the better.”
Jobs wanted to sell Pixar to Microsoft.
When a Pixar movie blows up at the box office, bonuses are handed out by hand.
When Pixar produces a run-away hit, Catmull and the rest of the leadership team hand out checks to every person who worked on the movie.
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