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The History of Pixar Animation Studios

VO: Rebecca Brayton
This company pioneered the use of computer animation, and its beloved characters and stories delight both young and old. Originally founded in 1979 as The Graphics Group, it was once a computer division within Lucasfilm. However, after trading hands several times, it came to be partnered with Disney. During the course of this evolving collaboration, the studio created such beloved films as Toy Story, The Incredibles and Cars. A pioneer and trendsetter in the genre of 3D animation, Pixar continues to impress audiences with its highly emotional and spectacular movies. Join as we explore the history of Pixar Animation Studios.

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The History of Pixar Animation Studios

This company pioneered the use of computer animation, and its beloved characters and stories delight both young and old. Welcome to and today we’ll be taking a look at the history of Pixar.

This animation studio was originally founded in 1979 as The Graphics Group, and was a computer division within Lucasfilm.

From the beginning, the company was focused on technology that would allow traditional Cel animators to work with computer graphics. Early projects included various short, cutting edge film sequences. These were often made in collaboration with the sister division, Industrial Light and Magic, and included the 3D Genesis Effect seen in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Despite a bright future pioneering 3D content, George Lucas sold The Graphics Group to Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs in 1986 for only ten million dollars, five of which went directly to the company as capital. The reason for the sale was Lucas’ cash problems, and these were due to his divorce, a sudden decline in interest in his “Star Wars” franchise, and his overestimation of the box office flop, “Howard the Duck.”

Under Steve Jobs, The Graphics Group began selling sophisticated computer hardware. The company was renamed Pixar after its central creation, the Pixar Image Computer. They ended up selling this technology mainly to government groups and the medical population.

Disney became a valued customer, and adapted the technology to their own secret animation project called CAPS. This allowed Disney to computerize the inking, painting and post-production processes for their films.

Meanwhile, Pixar employee John Lasseter used the system to create sample animations, such as the short film “Luxo Jr.” This film showcased the small hopping desk lamp that eventually became the company’s mascot. Ironically, these animations were never meant for a wide audience, but were designed as tech demos to sell hardware. Despite Pixar’s initial aspirations in hardware manufacturing, the company’s demos were met with huge fanfare. Pixar was then asked to begin creating CGI commercials.

Because of this newfound direction, Steve Jobs decided to sell Pixar’s hardware division in 1990, and moved the company to California. Soon after, Disney asked them to produce three CGI feature films. The first of these was “Toy Story.”

After a long development period, “Toy Story” debuted in 1995, and grossed more than 350 million dollars worldwide. The film also set most of the industry’s CGI animation benchmarks.

Following that enormous success, Pixar set about creating “A Bug’s Life,” and then went to work on “Toy Story 2.” That film was originally requested as a 60 minute, direct-to-video film; however Pixar successfully fought to make it a proper theatrical sequel.

Despite the 2.5 billion dollars in revenue that Pixar’s films had raked in, the company developed a strained relationship with Disney. Pixar thought it was unreasonable that Disney owned all rights to stories and sequels, despite the fact they were only responsible for marketing and distribution.

During a series of renegotiations and compromises, Pixar created such beloved classics as “Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Cars.”

Seeing the amazing value and talent at Pixar, Disney decided to outright purchase the company in 2006. However Pixar remained a separate entity, and retained its name and California studio.

Following this development, Pixar released “Ratatouille” as the first film under their new parent company.

With their struggles behind them, the creative forces at Pixar soon crafted a yearly succession of hits, including “Wall-E,” “Up,” and their long-gestating and highly emotional finale to the “Toy Story” trilogy.

In 2011, Pixar revisited their popular “Cars” franchise with a direct sequel, and began work on the project “Brave” as well as the long-awaited follow-up to “Monsters Inc.,” “Monsters University.”

Pixar is a pioneer and trendsetter in the genre of 3D animation, and continues to impress audiences with its highly emotional and spectacular creations, some of which have become mascots of Disney and its theme parks.

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