Creativity Through Time
June 23, 2011

Creativity Through Time

How Pixar changed the look of animated films
Just mention the name “Pixar” and just about everyone, young and old alike, breaks into a smile. For years, Disney/Pixar’s CG animated features have raised the technical bar in computer graphics, and its heart-warming story lines are held dear around the world.

As Disney/Pixar revs up its creative engine once again, with the release of its 12th CG animated feature, we present a look at the studio’s accomplishments over the years.

Feature Films
On November 22, 1995, Pixar Animation Studios forever impacted the future of filmmaking, storytelling, and the medium of animation with the release of its first feature film, “Toy Story.” Released nine years after the founding of Pixar, “Toy Story” exhibited years of creative and technical achievements from a small group of passionate computer scientists and animators, led by present-day president Ed Catmull and chief creative officer John Lasseter. The film, marking the birth of the new medium of computer animation, went on to become the highest grossing film of 1995 with $362 million in worldwide box-office receipts. Lasseter, director of “Toy Story,” was honored with a Special Achievement Academy Award for his "inspired leadership of the Pixar ‘Toy Story’ team resulting in the first feature-length computer animated film."

Since the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios, in partnership with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, has also created and produced “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) and most recently “Toy Story 3” (2010). The films have resulted in an unprecedented streak of both critical and box-office successes, and combined to gross more than $6.5 billion at the worldwide box office. The feature films, through “Toy Story 3,” have garnered 40 Academy Award nominations, nine Oscars, seven Golden Globes and numerous other accolades. “Cars 2” speeds into theaters this summer.  

From toys, bugs, monsters, fish and superheroes, to cars, rats, robots and septuagenarians, Pixar's talented creative and technical teams have given audiences of all ages some of the most beloved characters in film. Pairing these unique, relatable characters with compelling stories and immersive, believable worlds, Pixar continually delivers on its promise to truly entertain audiences all over the world.

Short Films
Pixar Animation Studios has long believed in making short films. In 1986, Pixar's first-ever short, “Luxo Jr.,” launched a new direction in animated filmmaking, using three-dimensional computer animation to tell a story. Since then, nearly every feature film that Pixar has released has included a short beforehand, bringing back a tradition that was once an expected pleasure for filmgoers.

Pixar's shorts have helped foster and develop technologies and talent at the studio, but they are mostly made for one simple reason: love of the art form. From the toy-tormenting baby in “Tin Toy” (1989) to the adorable storks in “Partly Cloudy” (2009), Pixar's shorts have delighted audiences and earned critical praise, garnering 10 Academy-Award nominations and three Best Animated Short Film Academy Awards. “Day & Night,” the studio's most recent Oscar-nominated short, debuted in theaters with “Toy Story 3.”

Since its incorporation, Pixar has been responsible for many important breakthroughs in the application of computer graphics for filmmaking. Consequently, the company has attracted some of the world's finest talent in this area. Pixar's technical and creative teams have collaborated since 1986 to develop a wealth of production software used in-house to create its movies and further the state of the art in CG moviemaking. This proprietary technology allows the production of animated images of a quality, richness and vibrancy that are unique in the industry, and above all, allows the filmmakers to precisely control the end results in a way that is exactly right for the story. Pixar continues to invest heavily in its software systems and believes that further advancements will lead to additional productivity and quality improvements in the making of its computer-animated films.

Pixar also has a long-standing tradition of sharing its advances within the broader CG community, through technical papers, technology partnerships, and most notably, through its publicly available RenderMan product for the high-quality, photorealistic images. RenderMan remains the standard in CG film visual effects and feature animation, and has been honored with an Academy Award for technical achievement.

In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Board of Governors honored Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios; Loren Carpenter, senior scientist; and Rob Cook, vice president of software engineering with an Academy Award of Merit "for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar's RenderMan." In 2002, the Producer's Guild of America honored Pixar with the Guild's inaugural Vanguard Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in new media and technology.

Creative Team
Pixar's creative department is led by chief creative officer John Lasseter, an Academy Award-winning director and animator. Under the guidance of Lasseter, Pixar has built a creative team that includes a department of highly skilled animators, a story department and an art department. This team is responsible for creating, writing and animating all of Pixar's films. Pixar strives to hire animators who have superior acting ability—those able to bring characters and inanimate objects to life, as though they have their own thought processes. In order to attract and retain quality animators, the company founded Pixar University, which conducts three-month-long courses for new and existing animators. Pixar also has a complete production team that gives the company the capability to control all elements of production of its films. Pixar has successfully expanded the production team so projects may be worked on simultaneously.

Disney Relationship
Since the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Disney in 1937, animated films have become one of the most universally enjoyed forms of entertainment. Disney has a long history of developing, producing, and distributing films such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” The stories and characters of these popular animated feature films have become part of our modern mythology, enjoyed generation after generation. Traditionally, these popular animated feature films have been created using the time-consuming and labor-intensive process of two-dimensional, hand-drawn cel animation.

In May 1991, Pixar entered into an agreement with Walt Disney Pictures for the development and production of up to three computer-animated feature films to be marketed and distributed by Disney. It was pursuant to this agreement that “Toy Story” was developed, produced and distributed. In February 1997, Pixar entered into a new co-production agreement with Disney pursuant to which Pixar, on an exclusive basis, agreed to produce five original computer-animated feature-length theatrical motion pictures for distribution by Disney. The five original pictures under the agreement were “A Bug's Life,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Cars.” “Toy Story 2,” the theatrical sequel to “Toy Story,” was released in November 1999, and is also included in the co-production agreement. “Ratatouille” was subsequently added to the terms of the co-production agreement in January 2006.

On January 24, 2006, Pixar entered into an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to merge the two companies. The deal was approved by shareholders of both companies and the merger became effective on May 5, 2006. Pixar is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.