The November 22, 1995 it is a date marked in red in the history of animation. The night of that Thanksgiving day in the United States Toy story the first animated film made entirely by computer, and ultimately, the lighthouse that would mark a 180 degree turn in the history of cinema.
Toy Story was an unprecedented success that grossed nearly $ 400 million and that would mark the way to the ascension of the Pixar studio, acquired 11 years later by Disney, who was its initial partner and distributor in this adventure.
However, behind this success story also hides the intrahistory of the business comings and goings of many of its protagonists and, above all, a technological career based on trial-error and the confidence in doing something good that many times came close to ending in ruin.
This is the other story of Pixar and how Toy Story was a cluster of brilliant minds that came together at the right time and, most importantly, clinging to a unique idea.
Join engineers and draftsmen
The history of Pixar is marked by three great names and several more that often end up overlapping by the first. Edwin catmull (Virginia, 1945) computer scientist but in love with animation who would end up being the president of Pixar and the Disney animation branch until 2018, when he retired, John lasseter (Los Angeles, 1957), the director of Toy Story and largely the promoter of the crusade from Disney’s more conservative animation branch; Y Steve Jobs (San Francisco, 1955), the founder of Apple who would eventually also save Pixar financially when he was expelled from his own company.
Catmull, Jobs and Lasseter
From this equation of notable names, the figure of Alvy ray smith (Texas, 1943), a computer scientist who confused Pixar independently with Catmull in 1986, and who, in addition to being the director of the first short film created entirely by computer (The Adventures of André & Wally B., 1984), was the creator of much of the software needed to make Pixar tapes.
The union between technology and animation is also shown in the alma mater of the visible heads of this story. While John Lasseter began his career at the CalArts center (California Institute of Arts) a center promoted by Walt Disney which would serve as a quarry for many of its cartoonists, Catmull, after training in computing at the University of Utah, would already develop a reference center in the field of 3D computer animation at the New York Institute of Technology.
The first taste of what Catmull and his team could do was already seen in theaters in 1976, time Futureworld was released the sequel to the original Westworld film in which Catmull’s team helped create a still very archaic 3D hand.
The firings of Lasseter and Jobs, their meeting point
Lasseter was making a career at Disney participating in projects such as 101 Dalmatians, until in 1982 his vision of animation changed after seeing Tron, the film today turned into a pioneering cult film in many ways in the introduction of digital techniques.
Driven by this vision, and with the help of animator Glen Keane, who would later become one of Disney’s heavyweights, he proposed to the studio the idea of working on a project of drawings on a computer-generated background. That was the origin of the short The Brave Toaster (1983), which in the end, would end up assuming the departure of Lasseter.
“Computer animation is either cheaper or it doesn’t make sense,” a phrase attributed to Ron W. Miller, president of Disney between 1980 and 1984.
Lasseter himself tells in the documentary available on Disney Plus The Story of Pixar that after presenting the footage to the directors, he was fired within minutes. That was the era in which Disney was going through its darkest stage, with films that were not quite right after the death of Walt Disney and under the presidency of Ron W. Miller, a leader who would end up leaving the company after Ron Disney’s attempts to redirect the ship.
After your dismissal, Lasseter ended up being hired by Catmull -and that’s when the stories start to cross- that together with Smith had been working for some time in a new branch within ILM of Lucasfilm dedicated to exploring the possibilities of computer-generated images.
With Lasseter hardly knowing anything about technology, but with Smith creating what today we would understand as the first drawing-software interface, the work at ILM went forward, until resulting in the first photorealistic character created by computer: the knight of the glass. already mythical from The Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).
But the excesses would not end there. The divorce of George Lucas that forced him to dispose of actions and the lack of resources to enhance computer animation ended up causing the branch within ILM led by Catmull, Smith and Lasseter to exit, forming a new company with an uncertain course, which would already be called Pixar.
The name of Pixar comes from a small computer that Catmull, Smith and their team had created to render animations optimally. The technological race that animation entailed was going to take another hit shortly after with the entry of a heavyweight.
Steve Jobs, after his complicated exit from Apple in 1985, trusted in the Pixar project investing 10 million dollars to keep it afloat. A money that, by the way, would not see any return until the premiere of Toy Story 10 years later.
The article 25 years of ‘Toy Story’: how two layoffs changed the history of animation forever was published in Hypertext.