It’s the stuff of legends—an animated anthropomorphic lamp, talking toys, 12 back-to-back box office successes, and a man adorned exclusively in Hawaiian T-shirts. Since shortly after its beginnings in 1986 as a computer hardware and software company, Pixar has charmed and captivated audiences of all ages with its comical, clever, and always poignant animated shorts and feature films. And at D23 Expo 2011, the company known for always looking ahead takes a well-deserved moment to acknowledge its team’s unfailing passion, creativity and hard work over the past 25 years.
Pixar heads to the D23 Expo
On Friday night of the Expo, John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, joined Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman and James Bilbray, member, Board of Governors, U.S. Postal Service, to dedicate U.S. Postal Service-issued Send a Hello Forever stamps that feature the characters of five popular movies created by Disney•Pixar Animation Studios: Buzz Lightyear and two green, three-eyed aliens from Toy Story; Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars; Remy the rat and Linguini from Ratatouille; the robot WALL-E and his plant from WALL-E; and Carl Fredricksen and Dug from Up. The stamps are now on sale nationwide.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told me that the U.S. Postal Service was going to honor Pixar with our characters on United States stamps,” John remarked during the 30-minute dedication. “I was so excited…I was very honored when I heard because I think it is a great way and a fun way to celebrate Pixar’s 25th anniversary. In classic Pixar fashion, we didn’t even know it was our 25th anniversary because we’re looking forward so much…. But the U.S. Postal Service did! And we’re so excited about that.”
On Saturday morning, John and other Pixar filmmakers took the stage to talk about Pixar’s upcoming slate of films at The Walt Disney Studios arena presentation, “Inside the Walt Disney Studios.” In addition to sharing art and sneak peeks of previously announced Brave and Monsters University, the animation studio had a surprise for the D23 Expo attendees. “You are the very first group to hear about two new Pixar movies,” John revealed to uproarious cheers from the audience. The first of these, as announced by director Bob Peterson, will be an original film about dinosaurs—the title of which is currently “Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs.” “I promise I’ll have the title to you by D24,” Bob quipped. The second film, to be directed by Pete Docter, is also untitled. “At Pixar we love to explore new worlds,” Pete said. “This time we’re excited to take you to the world inside your own head.”
Afterwards, Rich Ross, chairman, The Walt Disney Studios, helped Pixar celebrate its 25-year anniversary with a sugary surprise. “Here’s to 25 amazing years of unprecedented filmmaking,” he said before inviting Buzz and Woody to come on stage with a hefty and scrumptious-looking cake. Even the audience was in for a treat—each guest was given an individually packaged cupcake to commemorate the occasion.
Following the presentation, located in Stage 28, composer Michael Giacchino was joined by an animated audience to discuss his involvement with Pixar. In addition to composing music for The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up, Michael also lent his talents to such films as Star Trek, Super 8, and the upcoming Disney Studios release John Carter.
And later in the afternoon, John Lasseter joined others from the Pixar “brain trust”—Jim Morris, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Mark Andrews, Bob Peterson, Dan Scalon, Peter Sohn, and Ronnie Del Carmen—at “A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team” to share favorite memories and amusing anecdotes from the animation studio’s quarter-century history. While John reminisced about the significance of Luxo Jr., Andrew had some humorous stories for the audience. “We used to work really late hours,” Andrew said about his early days with the company. “One night we found a box of rubber bands, and we covered [Pete's] face with all the rubber bands.”
Pete, too, had a comical tale from the early days. “[One day] I saw some old doors above these empty office spaces… and I thought one of those doors would make a really cool desk. So I climbed up there and I was basically stealing this door, and I looked down and John walked by. He said, ‘Hey, Pete. Whatcha doing?’ …And I told him, ‘Well, I was going to use this as an animation desk.’ He then climbed up with me and helped me steal the door.” Due to the time it took to render animated scenes, the team often found themselves with a considerable amount of downtime on their hands. “We would just hang out,” John said with a laugh. “We’d get about a half an hour of work done and about four hours of screwing off.”
For the last few minutes of the panel, guests were invited to come up and share their favorite Pixar moments and memories. Some took the opportunity to offer thanks to the animation studio that has indelibly touched so many lives around the world. “Thank you for creating my childhood,” one woman said. “All of you have changed my life,” another emphatically announced.
And as our tribute to this beloved animation studio’s 25-year anniversary, D23 takes a look back at the people, movies, and moments that have helped characterize Pixar as a creative force to be reckoned with.
The Birth of an Animation Giant
When George Lucas sought to disband Graphics Group, a costly part of Lucasfilm’s Computer Division, Steve Jobs, Apple cofounder, famously swept in and saved the team for a cool $10 million—$5 million in capital and $5 million directly to George. The new group officially became Pixar on February 3, 1986. But Pixar wasn’t out of hot water just yet—the company’s primary product, the Pixar Image Computer, wasn’t selling.
It was around this time that Pixar’s four animators began producing computer-animated commercials for outside companies. “Animation was a pet project in the background because it wasn’t feasible at the time,” Ed Catmull, president, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, tells D23. But by April 1990, the computer hardware division had been sold off, the offices had moved across the bridge from San Rafael to Richmond, Calif., and—importantly—the company had been refocused. Under the guidance of Ed and John, Pixar hired new animation talent and took on such clients as Tropicana and Listerine. However, the company had dreams that far exceeded animated commercials
The first full-length feature film
It wasn’t long before Pixar got a call from The Walt Disney Company. “I remember having a discussion with Peter Schneider (at the time, the president of Walt Disney Feature Animation) down in his office, in which he said he’d like Pixar Animation to do a feature film for Disney,” says Ed. “And I said, ‘Well, it’s a little too early for us. We need to develop things a little bit more. We need to do a half-hour television special first.’ And he said, ‘If you can do a half hour, you can do an hour and a half.’ I said, ‘Ok.’ That was the end of the discussion. But I remember that discussion very well.”
Shortly thereafter in 1991, Pixar struck a $26 million deal to produce three computer-animated feature films for The Walt Disney Company. The irony, of course, is that his enthusiasm for and insistence upon computer animation was partly behind John’s departure from Disney in the early 80s. “When Disney stopped pushing the technology, it actually hurt the films,” says Ed. “But they didn’t know it at the time. The trick is to realize that it’s part of the mix. It isn’t about technology, but having technology in the environment helps us adapt. Because the one thing we’re absolutely certain of is that things are going to change.”
Directed by John Lasseter, Toy Story, Pixar’s first full-length film, was released in 1995 and went on to earn more than $361 million in global box office. And it also garnered widespread critical favor. “When Toy Story came out, what I remember is that most of the reviews only referred to the fact that it was computer animated in like one sentence in the whole review,” Ed says. “The rest of it was about the movie. We took that, on the technical side, as an incredible success, because it wasn’t about the technology, it was about the movie.”
All about teamwork
Over the next few years, Pixar Animation Studios continued to make animated films, and The Walt Disney Company continued to distribute them. It wasn’t until disagreements over Toy Story 2 that the two studios seriously considered an alternative arrangement. In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion, making Steve Jobs Disney’s largest shareholder and placing John Lasseter at the creative helm of both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. What didn’t change, however, is the culture for which the company is now famous. “After Toy Story, it became clear to me that the goal for us as a group needed to be to have a sustainable creative culture,” Ed explains. “That required looking at a lot of things, because there are a lot of things that can take you off the rails, take you in a wrong direction.”
And the hits keep on coming
Since Toy Story‘s release in 1995, Pixar has produced 11 additional full-length films, including A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Cars 2 (2011). Together, these 12 films and countless animated shorts have grossed more than $6.5 billion worldwide and earned 29 Academy Awards. Not to mention the success of the consumer products—today, the Cars franchise alone is not only Disney’s largest consumer products franchise, but is positioned to become the largest franchise in the world. Pixar characters can also be found in rides and attractions at the parks, with the latest Pixar-inspired world, Cars Land, set for a summer 2012 opening at Disney California Adventure.
“I just can’t believe it’s been 25 years and we’ve completed our 12th movie,” John muses about Pixar’s achievements. “I’m very proud of Pixar—very proud of all our films and all the characters. What means the most to me are the people—all the families, all the moviegoers that we’ve entertained. That is why we do what we do, pure and simple. It’s about making the highest-quality films. Not just animated films, but films that truly, deeply entertain audiences of all ages, of all genders, of all nationalities. That’s what we set out to do. We just make movies, the kind of movies we like to watch.”
By D23′s Sarah Smith