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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pixar

Pixar
Pixar

1995’s ‘Toy Story’ wasn’t just an epic success because it was the first feature length animated film done entirely with computer graphics and one of the highest grossing films of the year. It was also a film that put the name “Pixar” on everyone’s lips.

From ‘Toy Story’ on through this year’s ‘Brave,’ Pixar established a level of quality by never talking down to kids or resorting to cheap gags and goofy characters. Their 13 films feature stories that can speak to kids and adults who used to be kids by entertaining them both on a very deep level while also making them laugh and cry. (Well, except for ‘Cars 2.’) With the release of ‘Finding Nemo 3D,’ we’ve decided to offer up a few fun facts about the house that Woody and Buzz helped to build.

1. Pixar was started under George Lucas, not Steve Jobs

george lucas and steve jobs
Alexandra Wyman and Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The late co-founder of Apple is often credited with bringing Pixar to life in the filmmaking world during the mid ’80s. It’s true that his  investments helped them reach their iconic status and level of influence in the film industry, but he wasn’t the first person to help start John Lasseter and the other dreamers at Pixar on their journey.

That credit should go to ‘Star Wars’ creator George Lucas and his Lucasfilm studio. According to the book “The Pixar Touch,” Lucas hired Dr. Ed Catmull, a computer science professor from the New York Institute of Technology, and his Computer Graphics Lab in 1979 to bring the work Catmull had done in computer graphics and animation into the film industry as part of his Industrial Light and Magic special effects studio. The team that would become the bulk of Pixar’s chief technology strategists worked on special  effects for such scenes as the stained glass knight sequence for ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ and, most famously, the “Genesis Sequence” for ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.’

“The Graphics Group,” as they were known at Lucasfilm, eventually branched out on their own when Jobs purchased the tech rights from Lucas for $5 million. (Lucas reportedly sold the rights to offset financial losses from his divorce and dwindling sales of ‘Return of the Jedi’ merchandise.) The new company was dubbed “Pixar” with Catmull as president and Jobs as Chairman. The name — coined by Aly Ray, Loren Carpenter and Rodney Stock — is a made-up Spanish word meaning “to make pictures.” Ray, who came from a Spanish-speaking background, originally suggested “Pixer.” Carpenter added the “ar” because it had a “high-tech” feel to it like “radar,” and the rest is history.

2. The toy from the short film ‘Tin Toy’ was supposed to be the star of ‘Toy Story’

In the early days of Pixar,  the company’s focus was on supplying their graphics creating Pixar Image Computer to the government and to medical outlets. (Disney also used the computers on their 2D, traditionally animated films.) Unfortunately, they were constantly losing money and Jobs had to keep pouring his own money into Pixar to keep it afloat. However, the team was rewarded for their efforts when they won their first Oscar in 1988 with the short film ‘Tin Toy.’

The success of this and other short films (one starring Luxo Jr., the bouncy lamp featured in Pixar’s logo) and commercials by Pixar led to talks with Walt Disney Pictures for a full-length animated film, tentatively called ‘Toy Story,’ that would star the tiny wind-up toy “Tinny” from the short. In the story, a young boy receives Tinny as a birthday present as well as a ventriloquist dummy who becomes jealous at the attention the young boy gives him. Tinny later became a G.I. Joe style action figure, Lasseter’s favorite as a boy, and then a space captain named Lunar Larry who would eventually become Buzz Lightyear. The dummy was changed to a cowboy named Woody, named after African American western character actor Woody Strode, to heighten the tension between the two toys from different eras. Of course, Jobs eventually made back his investments and them some.

3. The Pixar team came up with four movies in a single lunch

Shortly after completing ‘Toy Story,’ the chief creative staff for Pixar including Lasseter, Peter Docter, Joe Ranft and Andrew Stanton got together for a lunch meeting in 1994 that would become one of the most defining moments in the studio’s history. By the end of the hour long meeting, they came up with the ideas for the plots and basic characters for ‘A Bug’s Life,’ ‘Monsters Inc.,’ ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘WALL-E.’ Stanton would later remark, “There was something special that happened when John, Joe, Pete and I would get in a room. Whether it was furthering an idea or coming up with something, we just brought out the best in each other. It was like a band.” The teaser trailer for ‘WALL-E’ referenced the famous meeting.

4. ‘Toy Story 2’ almost went direct-to-video, ‘Toy Story 3′ was almost made by another animation studio

The first ‘Toy Story’ film became a massive commercial success and catapulted Pixar’s status from a small computer animation studio into a filmmaking powerhouse. Naturally, the studio moved on to another film project, ‘A Bug’s Life,’ but Disney wanted to capitalize on ‘Toy Story’s’ success with a sequel. Since Pixar was so focused on making ‘A Bug’s Life’ and animated sequels with a theatrical release were so rare, Disney opted for a direct-to-video release for ‘Toy Story 2.’

Unfortunately, the early version didn’t meet Lasseter’s high standards and they had just eight months to deliver it to Disney. The team scrapped the initial version of the film and went back to work. (As revealed in the Pixar Stories’ video above, the film was also nearly completely erased during production.) Disney loved the revised ‘Toy Story 2′ so much that they decided to give it a theatrical release instead. It would earn $120 million more than the first ‘Toy Story’ movie.

Several years later, when it appeared that Pixar was going to split from the Mouse House, Disney chairman Michael Eisner formed the Circle 7 Animation Studio to create ‘Toy Story 3′ as well as sequels to ‘Monsters Inc’ and ‘Finding Nemo.’ Eventually, Pixar and Disney worked out their differences, and Pixar heads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were put in charge of Disney animation. Not coincidentally, Circle 7 was immediately shuttered and Disney’s version of ‘Toy Story 3′ — which would have seen the gang rescuing a malfunctioning Buzz from Taiwan — never came to pass.

5. The Pixar staff are allowed to design their own work spaces

The offices of the famed animation studio located in Emeryville, California were designed as a workspace to foster creativity and collaboration. The staffers’ workspaces are no exception. Animators work in specially designed sheds instead of cubicles that they can make to look like anything they want from a backyard workshed to a western-themed saloon. One animator, Andrew Gordon, actually discovered a hidden room in his workspace that he turned into a private space dubbed “The Love Lounge.”

Andrew Stanton discovered Gordon’s secret room and just as Gordon thought he was going to be fired for hiding out and goofing off, Stanton thought it was so cool that he invited his boss Steve Jobs to take a tour of the private room as well as several big name celebrities who visited the studio. Eventually, Gordon added a sliding bookcase over a secret access button that could open the “Love Lounge.”

6. Pixar has its own “cereal bar”


Most offices gab about their latest project or last night’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ around a coffee pot or a water cooler. Pixar’s employee hub is a free and extensive cereal bar. The entire studio is designed to be a free, fun and open meeting space where employees meet and converse throughout the workday and Lasseter called its famed cereal bear “the center, core and culture of Pixar.” So if their next movie is about Tony the Frosted Flakes tiger teaming up with the Trix Rabbit, you’ll know why.

7. The “Pizza Planet Truck” has a cameo in every Pixar movie except one

‘Cheers’ actor and voiceover artist extraordinaire John Ratzenberger may have the most appearances in any of Pixar’s feature-length films, but the beat-up Toyota truck with the plastic spaceship on top from the first ‘Toy Story’ film comes in a very close second. Every film except ‘The Incredibles’ features this classic clunker somewhere in its many digitally animated frames. Even Pixar’s Scottish epic ‘Brave’ features a shot of the truck, despite the fact that it takes place in medieval times.

8. The voice of Boo in ‘Monsters Inc.’ wouldn’t sit still long enough to be recorded

One of the biggest stars of 2001’s ‘Monsters’ Inc.’ wasn’t a monster, but a little girl nicknamed ‘Boo’ who scares the monsters more than they scare her. Not only did the animators do a brilliant job of bringing a precocious little girl to life, but she was also voiced by an actual two-year-old named Mary Gibbs. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the attention span that most trained actors do when they step behind a Pixar microphone. So the recording team actually had to follow her around as she talked and matched whatever sounds she could make to the actions on screen. Seeing as how the upcoming ‘Monsters University’ is a prequel, it’s safe to say the Pixar team won’t have the same baby wrangling problems.

9. Tom Hanks’ brother Jim is also the voice of Woody

The massive success of the ‘Toy Story’ movies and other Pixar films have also led to some huge franchising and merchandising deals. Unfortunately, the characters’ original voice actors aren’t always available or affordable enough to lend their distinctive tones to the thousands of toys, TV shows or video games that accompany the main movie. Tom Hanks, the voice of Woody in all three ‘Toy Story’ films, faced just such a problem after the massive success of the first film, so Disney/Pixar hired his brother Jim to fill in for Woody when he’s not available.

Jim Hanks provides the voice of Woody in all of his voice activated toys and figurines, video games and even the “Toy Story Mania” ride at Disney’s theme parks. He was even going to provide the voice for Woody in the direct-to-video version of ‘Toy Story 2′ before Disney decided to go with a big screen release.

10. The water they made for ‘Finding Nemo’ was too real

With each new movie, Pixar prides itself on achieving some new animation breakthrough or technique. The work on the ocean environment for ‘Finding Nemo’ is no exception. The film’s supervisor animator, Dylan Brown, recalled some early tests that were so good that, “we couldn’t tell the difference between the re-created footage and the original. It blew us away.” They sent the animators back to the drawing board because they didn’t want the audience to think they were staring at real footage of the ocean.

Next: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Batman

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