“Movie Studio Profile: Pixar” by S.M. O’Connor

Pixar Animation Studios is a 3D computer-animated film studio located in Emeryville, California which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company, and started out in 1979 as Lucasfilm’s computer graphics group.  [After The Walt Disney Company also acquired Lucasfilm, it also became a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios.] Certain Pixar films have allusions to Star Wars as a nod to Pixar’s origin inside Lucasfilm.  Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010) both have multiple allusions to Star Wars.  Pixar is also known for making films with in-joke references to other Pixar films, which led to the Pixar Theory, a fan film theory that all Pixar films take place in the same fictional universe.  Actor John Ratzenberger, who is best known for playing Cliff Clavin on Cheers (1982-1993) and had a small role in Star Wars: Episode V – the Empire Strikes Back (1980) as Major Bren Derlin of the Rebellion, has provided the voices of characters in every Pixar feature film.

As the unit grew, it became known as The Graphics Group of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm.   George Lucas himself recruited computer scientist Edwin (“Ed”) Earl Catmull to head up the organization.  Dr. Catmull founded the Computer Division.  He had the title Vice President at Industrial Light & Magic (I.L.M.), the visual effects company Lucas had founded in 1975 as a division of Lucasfilm.  John Lasseter, who started out as an apprentice animator at Disney Animation in 1979, moved to the Graphic Group in Lucasfilm in 1984.  Dr. Alvy Ray Smith III, directed The Graphic Group’s first short film, The Adventures of André & Wally B. (1984), and Lasseter animated it.

Lucas was aware of the group’s potential, but was unwilling and unable to invest enough money into it to take it where it needed to go because he had to invest his money in other parts of the company if he was going to keep making movies of his own (which he did sparingly) and providing special effects for other filmmakers.  Consequently, in 1986, he spun-off Pixar as a separate company.

Pixar under the Ownership of Steve Jobs

      Apple, Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs (1955-2011) paid Pixar $5,000,000 and Pixar paid Lucasfilm for the Pixar technology and Jobs became the largest shareholder in Pixar.  Lucasfilm would continue to be able to use the Pixar Image Computer and other technology for use in the production of computer animation for films through I.L.M. and for home entertainment purposes by Lucasfilm’s Games Group.  He subsequently capitalized Pixar with another investment of $5,000,000.  Initially, Jobs owned a 70% stake in the company and the employees owned the remaining 30%.  Catmull and Smith co-founded Pixar and brought thirty-eight employees from Lucasfilm with them.  Jobs had the title Chairman of the Board.  Catmull had the title President and Chief Executive Officer, and was also on the Board of Directors.  Smith had the title Vice President (later Executive Vice President) and also sat on the Board of Directors.  Years before Disney released Toy Story, Pixar made money for the time in a deal with Disney whereby Pixar sold Disney the Computer Animation Production System (C.A.P.S.), which changed the way Disney made hand-drawn animated films. In 1988 and ’89, Jobs was Director and Principal Shareholder, Dr. Catmull was Chairman of the Board, and Chuck Kolstad was President.  Over time, Jobs invested more and more money in Pixar until he had spent $50,000,000 on the company and owned 100% of the stock by 1991.  In 1991, Disney approached Pixar about making a movie for Disney to release and provided the money for the production, a process which took three years.  Smith, meanwhile, left the company in 1991.  His relationship with Jobs had become increasingly contentious.  After movie critics in New York City viewed a preview of Toy Story (1995) in 1994, Jobs took the company public.

Disney Releasing Pixar Movies

      Originally, Pixar Animation Studios had a three-picture deal with Walt Disney Studios under which Pixar would produce three films that Disney would release.  Under this deal, Lasseter personally directed Toy Story (1995), co-directed A Bug’s Life (1998) with Andrew Stanton, and co-directed Toy Story 2 (1999) with Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon.  John Ratzenberger provided the voice of Hamm the Piggy Bank, which he has reprised in three sequels and three short films.   Toy Story had a budget of $30,000,000 and made $373,600,000 at the box office worldwide.  Lasseter won an Academy Award for Special Achievement for Toy Story, the first feature length computer animated film.    A Bug’s Life had a budget of $120,000,000 and made $363,500,000 at the box office worldwide.  Mr. Ratzenberger provided the voice of P.T. Flea.  Toy Story 2 had a budget of $90,000,000 and made $497,400,000 at the box office worldwide.

Peter Docter co-directed Monsters, Inc. (2001) with Lee Unkrich and David Silverman.  It had a budget of $115,000,000 and made $525,400,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of The Abominable Snowman, which he reprised in the sequel.  Monsters, Inc. won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Andrew Stanton directed Finding Nemo (2003) with Lee Unkrich.  It had a budget of $94,000,000 and made $867,900,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of the school of moonfish.  Finding Nemo won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Brad Bird, who had previously directed The Iron Giant (1999), which mixed traditional animation with computer animation, for Warner Bros. Feature Animation, directed The Incredibles (2004).  He also provided the voice of the character Edna Mode.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of The Underminer and reprised the role for the forthcoming sequel.  The Incredibles had a budget of $92,000,000 and made $633,000,000 at the box office worldwide.  It won both the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

Michael Eisner, who was Chairman of The Walt Disney Company from 1984 to 2005, ruined this deal when he told Lasseter that Toy Story 2 did not count toward the three films deal because production on it had started with it being a straight-to-video sequel, even though they changed their minds and upgraded the production to a theatrical film. The influence of Pixar on Disney Animation Studios has been such that Eisner shut down the traditional hand-drawn animation at Disney and in 2003 forced Roy E. Disney (1930-2009), the nephew of Walt Disney (1901-1966) and son of Roy O. Disney (1893-1971), from the Board of Directors, using Disney’s advanced age as a pretext.  [Roy E. Disney had personally overseen the animation studio as his family’s legacy, the way Lasseter oversees Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios now.]  This proved to be an exceedingly unwise move on the part of Eisner, who had previously done much to turn the animation studio that owned theme parks into a mass-media conglomerate.  Roy E. Disney, who owned 1% of the stock in The Walt Disney Company, ousted him. Eisner created a new C.G.I. animation department to rival Pixar called Disney Circle 7 Animation, but it did not produce any films.  Ultimately, the Board of Directors chose to fire Eisner in 2005 and buy Pixar from Steve Jobs.

Pixar under the Ownership of Disney

      In 2006, The Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar for $7,010,000,000.[1]  They paid for Pixar with stock in Disney.  Consequently, Jobs owned 7% of the stock in The Walt Disney Company.  At the time of his death, he owned 7.7% of the stock in Disney, and it was worth $4,600,000,000.[2]  When he died, the stock passed to the Steven P. Jobs Trust, which is headed by his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.[3]  Since there were multiple Disney heirs and they had diversified their stock portfolios,[4] the heirs of Jobs as of now own more stock in Disney than the heirs of Walt Disney and his brother.  The Estate of Steve Jobs is the single largest shareholder in Disney.  In 2013, The New York Times reported the Laurene Powell Jobs Trust had 131,000,000 shares of Disney stock (7.3% of the stock) worth approximately $8,700,000,000.[5]  George Lucas became the second-biggest shareholder in The Walt Disney Company when it paid for Lucasfilm for $4,050,000,000 with 40,000,000 shares of stock in Disney in 2012.

Subsequently, Robert A. (“Bob”) Iger, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, placed Catmull and John Lasseter in charge of Walt Disney Feature Animation (which they renamed Walt Disney Animation Studios and is also known as Disney Animation), where they reversed Eisner’s decision to completely forego the traditional hand-drawn animation process.  In 2007, Iger also gave them control of DisneyToon Studios (formerly known as Disney Movie Toons and Disney Video Premieres), which has produced a handful of theatrical films and a lot of straight-to-video, straight-to-D.V.D., and straight-to-stream films from DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990) to Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast (2015).  Under Disney as a parent company rather than a distributor, Lasseter co-directed Cars (2006) and co-directed Cars 2 (2011) at Pixar, and since 2007 has served as the executive producer of all Pixar and Disney Animation Studios films.  He is the Chief Creative Officer for Pixar, Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios, although he is currently on a sixth-month-long leave. The first Disney film Lasseter produced was Bolt (2008), which is a pretty good family-friendly film that is not quite as good as the best Pixar films, such as WALL·E (2008) and Up (2009), but better than several of its lesser efforts such as A Bug’s Life and Cars and the vast majority of the films made by DreamWorks Animation.

Lasseter’s co-director for Cars was Joe Ranft.  Cars had a budget of $120,000,000 and made $462,200,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Mack the truck and reprised the role in the sequels.

Brad Bird directed Ratatouille (2007) with Jan Pinkava.  It had a budget of $150,000,000 and made $620,700,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Mustafa the waiter.  Ratatouille won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Andrew Stanton directed WALL·E.  It had a budget of $180,000,000 and made $533,300,000 at the box office worldwide. Ratzenberger provided the voice of John.  WALL·E won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Peter Docter co-directed Up with Bob Peterson.  It had a budget of $175,000,000 and made $735,100,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Tom the construction worker.  Up won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

On Sunday, September 6, 2009, George Lucas presented Messrs. Lasseter, Bird, Docter, Stanton, and Unkrich with the Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion) for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival.  This award is shaped like the winged lion that is the heraldic symbol of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the Patron Saint of Venice.[6]  There are two Golden Lion awards given out at the Venice Film Festival, also known (in English) as the Venice International Film Festival.  Introduced in 1949, the Golden Lion is the most distinguished award given out at the Venice Film Festival,[7] and one of the most prestigious awards in the filmmaking industry, along with the Palme d’Or and the Golden Bear.[8] This award is given out to the director of the best film screened at the film festival.  The second Golden Lion award, first given out to Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900-1989) in 1969, is an honorary award for producers, directors, and movie stars who have had a significant impact on cinematic history.  Founded in 1932, the Venice Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world, and one of the Big Three film festivals with the Cannes Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival.[9]

Lee Unkrich directed Toy Story 3. It had a budget of $200,000,000 and made $1,067,000,000 at the box office worldwide.  Toy Story 3 won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Lasseter’s co-director for Cars 2 was Brad Lewis. Cars 2 had a budget of $200,000,000 and made $562,100,000 at the box office worldwide.

Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell co-directed Brave (2012).  It had a budget of $185,000,000 and made $540,400,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of the guard Gordon.  Brave won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Dan Scanlon directed Monsters University (2013).  It had a budget of $200,000,000 and made $744,200,000 at the box office worldwide.

Peter Docter co-directed Inside Out (2015) with Ronnie del Carmen.  It had a budget of $175,000,000 and made $857,600,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Fritz.  Inside Out won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Peter Sohn directed The Good Dinosaur (2015).  It was the least profitable Pixar film because the profit was “only” $100,000,000 and change.  The budget was somewhere between $175,000,000 and $200,000,000 and it made $332,200,000 at the box office worldwide. Ratzenberger provided the voice of Earl the Velociraptor.

Andrew Stanton co-directed Finding Dory (2016) with Angus MacLane.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Bill the Crab.  The budget was $200,000,000 and it made $1,028,600,000 at the box office worldwide.

Brian Fee directed Cars 3 (2017).  The budget was $175,000,000 and it made $383,900,000 at the box office worldwide.

Lee Unkrich co-directed Coco (2017) with Adrian Molina.  The budget was somewhere between $175,000,000 and $200,000,000 and it made $769,400,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Juan Ortodoncia.  Coco won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Brad Bird directed the upcoming The Incredibles 2 (2018).  Josh Cooley directed the upcoming Toy Story 4 (2019).  For the foreseeable future, this will be the last Toy Story film, because Pixar wants to concentrate on original stories rather than sequels.

Shorts and Television Specials

      John Lasseter directed the short films LUXO Jr. (1986), which was shown in theaters before Toy Story 2; Red’s Dream (1987), Tin Toy (1988); and Knick Knack (1989), which was shown in theaters before Toy StoryTin Toy won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, which Lasseter and Bill Reeves accepted. Jana Pinkava directed Geri’s Game (1997), which was shown in theaters before A Bug’s Life, and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.  Ralph Eggleston directed For the Birds (2000), which was shown in theaters before Monsters, Inc., and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.  Bud Luckey directed Boundin’ (2003), which was shown in theaters before The Incredibles.  Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews co-directed One Man Band (2005), which was shown in theaters before Cars.  Gary Rydstrom directed Lifted (2006), which was shown in theaters before Ratatouille.  Doug Sweetland directed Presto (2008), which was shown in theaters before WALL·E.  Peter Sohn directed Partly Cloudy (2009), which was shown in theaters before Up.  Teddy Newton directed Day & Night (2010), which was shown in theaters before Toy Story 3.  Enrico Casarosa directed La Luna (2011), which was shown in theaters before Brave.  Gary Rydstrom directed Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation (2011), which was shown in theaters before Cars 2.  Mark Walsh directed Toy Story Toons: Partysaurus Rex (2012), which was shown in theaters before the re-release of Finding Nemo.  Saschka Unseld directed The Blue Umbrella (2013), which was shown in theaters before Monsters University.  James Ford Murphy directed Lava (2014), which was shown in theaters before Inside Out.  Sanjay Patel directed Sanjay’s Super Team (2015), which was shown in theaters before The Good Dinosaur.  Alan Barillaro directed Piper (2016), which was shown in theaters before Finding Dory, and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.  Dave Mullins directed Lou (2017), which was shown in theaters before Cars 3.  Brian Larsen directed Smash and Grab (2018), which will be shown in theaters before Incredibles 2.

Peter Docter and Roger L. Gould co-directed Mike’s New Car (2002), which was released on the D.V.D. for Monsters, Inc.  Brad Bird directed Jack-Jack Attack (2005), which was released on the D.V.D. for The Incredibles.   John Lasseter directed Mater and the Ghostlight (2006), which was released on the D.V.D. of Cars.  Jim Capobianco directed Your Friend the Rat (2007), which was released on the D.V.D. for Ratatouille.  Angus MacLane directed the theatrical short films BURN·E (2008), which was released on the D.V.D. of WALL·E, and Toy Story Toons: Small Fry (2011), which was shown in theaters before The Muppets (2011).  He also directed the half-hour-long television special Toy Story of Terror (2013), which debuted on the Disney-owned television network A.B.C. Ronnie del Carmen directed Dug’s Special Mission (2009) and Josh Cooley directed George & A.J. (2009), both of which were released on the D.V.D. for Up.  Brian Larsen directed The Legend of Mor’du (2012), which was released on the D.V.D. for Brave.  Kelsey Mann directed Party Central (2013), which was released on the D.V.D. for Muppets Most Wanted (2014).  Josh Cooley directed Riley’s First Date? (2015), which was released on the D.V.D. for Inside Out.  Ross Stevenson directed Marine Life Interviews (2016), which was released on the D.V.D. for Finding Dory.  James Ford Murphy directed Miss Fritter’s Racing Schoool (2017), which was released on the D.V.D. for Cars 3.  Lee Unkrich directed Dante’s Lunch – A Short Tail (2017), which was released on the D.V.D. for Coco.  Steve Purcell directed the half-hour-long television special The Toy Story that Time Forgot (2014), which debuted on A.B.C.

Car Toons is a series of shorts, most of which star Mater the tow truck (voiced, as in the films, by the stand-up comic Larry the Cable Guy).  There have been fifteen episodes, thus far.  Keith Ferguson replaced Owen Wilson as the voice of Lightning McQueen until the last episode, “The Radiator Springs 500 ½,” which debuted on the Disney Channel in 2014.  The first eleven episodes star Mater and have the title Mater’s Tall Tales and were released between 2008 and 2012.  John Lasseter directed the first seven episodes and Rob Gibbs directed the other four.  These eleven episodes feature Mater relating fictional or exaggerated stories with himself as the hero to Lightning McQueen, and Mater always insists Lightning McQueen was there.  The first three episodes, “Rescue Squad Mater,” “Mater the Greater,” and “El Materdor” appeared on Toon Disney (now Disney XD) in October of 2008.  “Tokyo Mater,” the fourth episode, was shown in theaters before Bolt.  The fifth episode, “(U.F.M.) Unidentified Flying Mater” debuted on the Disney Channel on November 20, 2009.  “Monster Truck Mater,” the sixth episode, debuted on the Disney Channel on July 30, 2010.  “Heavy Metal Mater,” the seventh episode, debuted on the Disney Channel on October 8, 2010.  The eighth and ninth episodes, “Moon Mater” and “Mater Private Eye” debuted on the D.V.D. and Blu-ray of the anthology Mater’s Tall Tales (2010).  “Air Mater,” the tenth episode, debuted on the D.V.D. and Blu-ray of Cars 2.  “Time Travel Mater,” the eleventh episode, debuted on the Disney Channel on June 5, 2012.  The last four episodes had the series title Tales from Radiator Springs.  Jeremy Lask directed the first three of these episodes, all of which debuted on the Disney Channel on March 22, 2013: “Hiccups,” “Bugged,” and “Spinning.”  Rob Gibbs and Scott Morse co-directed the fourth and final episode, “The Radiator Springs 500 ½,” which debuted on Disney Movies Anywhere (now Movies Anywhere), a cloud-based digital rights locker, on May 20, 2014 and on the Disney Channel on August 1, 2014.

Walt Disney Television Animation (originally The Walt Disney Pictures Television Animation Group and now Disney Television Group) produced the direct-to-video special Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins (2000), which was the pilot of the television series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2001), a traditional, hand-drawn animated series which aired on U.P.N. and A.B.C.  This was a highly metafictional as it was supposed to be an animated television series that supported a toy line, like the real-world animated shows He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985), My Little Pony ‘n Friends (1986-1987), Challenge of the Gobots (1984-1985), The Transformers (1984-1987), or G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983-1986), but existed within the fictional universe of the Toy Story films.  It was set after Toy Story 2, so it pitted Buzz Lightyear’s organization, Star Command, against Emperor Zurg.  Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld) provided the voice of Buzz Lightyear instead of Tim Allen.  Pixar made the 3D animation framing device opening of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, which involves the toys watching a V.H.S. tape of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins. For this opening, Tim Allen reprised the role of Buzz Lightyear, as he has for the more recent Toy Story short films. Instead of Tom Hanks, his younger brother, Jim Hanks, provided the voice of Woody for the framing device.  Wayne Knight, who had provided the voice of evil toy collector and toy store owner Al McWhiggen in Toy Story 2, provided the voice of Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.  [Andrew Stanton, who had co-written the first three Toy Story films and Monsters, Inc., and directed or co-directed several other Pixar films, had provided the voice of Evil Emperor Zurg in Toy Story 2.]  Stanton, rather than Ratzenberger, provided the voice of Hamm for the framing device.  Four other actors reprised their roles from the theatrical films.  Wallace Shawn provided the voice of Rex, R. Lee Ermey provided the voice of Sarge, Jeff Pidgeon provided the voice of the Squeeze Toy Aliens, and Joe Ranft provided the voice of Wheezy the Penguin.

Planes (2013) is a 3D computer-animated feature film that is a spin-off of the Cars films and is set in the fictional universe of Cars, but was made by DisneyToon Studios.  Klay Hall was the director.  Lasseter co-wrote the original story and was executive producer.  It had a budget of $50,000,000 and made $239,300,000 at the box office worldwide.  Ratzenberger provided the voice of Harland the jet pushback tug.  The movie did well enough to have a sequel of its own, Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014), directed by Roberts Gannaway.  It made $151,100,000 at the box office worldwide.  Lasseter announced in 2017 at the D23 Expo that there would be a third film, set in outer space, to be released in 2019, but on March 1, 2018, Disney removed it from the release schedule.

END NOTES

[1] Rob Golum, “Job’s 7.7% Disney Stake Transfers to Trust led by Widow,” Bloomberg, 23 November, 2011 (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-23/steven-jobs-trust-reports-holding-7-7-stake-in-walt-disney-1-.html/) Accessed 03/27/18

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] This is to say they sold stock in Disney to purchase stock in other companies so if any one company they invested in suffered a reversal of fortune, it would not ruin them.  This is standard financial advice for the heirs of company founders.  Sometimes, company owners do it themselves, as for example Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

[5] Peter Lattman and Claire Cain Miller, “Steve Jobs’s Widow Steps Onto Philanthropic Stage,” The New York Times, 27 May, 2013 (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/business/steve-jobss-widow-sets-philanthropy-goals.html?_r=0&pagewanted=all) Accessed 03/27/18

[6] There is a famous bronze statue of the winged lion in the Piazzetta di San Marco between the Palaso Dogal (Doge’s Palace) and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library of Saint Mark’s), designed by Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino (1486-1570).  The title doge roughly translates as duke, but to be a doge was to be a prince (as in the ruler of a principality, such as Lichtenstein or Monaco or Wales, not as in the son of an emperor or king).  The Doges of Venice and Genoa were the chief magistrates of those city-states.  The aristocracy of Venice elected the Doges of the Serene Republic of Venice, who ruled for the remainder of their lives, from 697 to 1797.  Venice evolved from a colony of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) into a sovereign republic.

[7] The Golden Lion replaced the Gran Premio Internazionale di Venezia (Grand International Prize of Venice) given in 1947 and 1948, which replaced the Coppa Mussolini (Mussolini Cups) given out between 1934 and 1942.

[8] The Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) is given out at the Cannes Film Festival.  The Golden Bear and Silver Bears are given out at the Berlin International Film Festival.

[9] It is part of the Venice Biennale art exhibition, which the Venetian City Council established in 1893 to celebrate the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Umberto I (1844-1900), King of Italy (1878-1900), and Queen Margherita (1851-1926).  They were first cousins who both belonged to the House of Savoy and wed in 1868.

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