And How Young Sherlock Holmes Unexpectedly Paved The Way For Pixar
The story of how Pixar began is a fascinating one when you consider the creative risks that a young John Lasseter
took that ultimately cost him his job at a company he would later (practically) run! This, somewhat Shakespearean tale, can be punctuated quite well by a series of films that all, in some way, lend themselves to the development of the Pixar we know and love...
1. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
In 1975 the California Institute of the Arts set up a new programme for animation, taught by three members of Disney's 'Nine Old Men', whilst that is impressive in itself the students they taught in that inaugural year included John Lasseter, Brad Bird
, John Musker
, Henry Selick
and Tim Burton
with artists like Joe Ranft
, Andrew Stanton
and Pete Docter
. After graduating Musker, Bird, Selick and Burton all went to work on Disney's scheduled Christmas 1980 release The Fox and the Hound
, alongside the likes of Ron Clements
(who would later work with Musker on directing Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid), Don Bluth
and Glen Keane
. Unfortunately the old guard and the new blood clashed over the film's direction and many of the film's animators walked out on the production. Bluth left the company and began making his own rival animated films such as The Secret of NIMH and The Land Before Time. Bird also quit, working as an animator on Martin Rosen's The Plague Dogs before collaborating with Tim Burton on animated short Family Dog and then joining Klasky Csupo where he helped develop The Simpsons for television. The film was delayed for half a year so they could catch up with the departure of a fifth of their animation team, but those shake-ups would certainly lead the way into a new lease of life for Disney and begin cementing the relationships that would undoubtedly prove responsible for some of Pixar's greatest successes.
2. Tron (1982)
Whilst animating Disney's Mickey's Christmas Carol, John Lasseter was shown some early footage of a film called Tron
by his friends Jerry Rees
and Bill Kroyer
. Lasseter was blown away by the footage - specifically the lightcycle chase - and began to imagine the potentiality for how computer animation could be used alongside traditional animation to create visually stunning new worlds. Lasseter summed up his reaction to this new animation technique and its significance for what-would-become Pixar with the simple statement; "Without Tron there would be no Toy Story."
3. The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Lasseter began talking to fellow animator Glen Keane
about how wonderful it would be to make an animated film where the backgrounds were computer graphics with traditional hand-drawn animation for the characters. Lasseter showed Keane the book The Brave Little Toaster
by Thomas Disch
, and though they agreed it would be a good choice they chose Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are
as the subject for a short test clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvIDRoO8KnM Having completed the test, and now working alongside Thomas L. Wilhite
, they went to a pitch meeting with the Disney animation administrator Ed Hansen
and the head of the studio, the project was cancelled due to a lack of cost benefits. Lasseter, later reflected that "at the time, Disney was only interested in computers if it could make what they were doing cheaper and faster. I said, `Look at the advancement in the art form. Look at the beauty of it.' But, they just weren't interested." Once the meeting was over Lasseter was summoned back to Hansen's office and his contract with Disney was immediately terminated. The Brave Little Toaster was ultimately completed and released by Disney in 1987 as a traditionally animated film, with Jerry Rees directing and co-writing the screenplay with Joe Ranft, a friend of Lasseter's who would be hired as head of story when Pixar formed in 1991.
4. The Adventures of Andre and Wally B (1984)
Whilst sourcing crew members for his proposed 2D/3D animation Lasseter had met Alvy Ray Smith
and Ed Catmull
at Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group. After he was fired Lasseter met up with Catmull again and was hired as an interface designer, working on their first fully computer animated short The Adventures of Andre and Wally B
5. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Another notable achievement for the Graphics Group was their creation of the first fully computer-generated character to be included in a live action film. It pops up in a brilliantly surreal sequence during Barry Levinson's
under-rated adventure romp; when a vicar is spiked by a dart poisoned with hallucinogenics he suddenly sees the stained glass windows of his church changing before his eyes, until, suddenly, the glass knight leaps from the window and stalks menacingly towards him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT-qV41ovv4 It was nominated for the 1985 Best Visual Effects Academy Award but lost out to Cocoon. Shortly afterwards, in 1986, the Graphics Group was acquired by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs
and re-named Pixar. The company primarily dealt in hardware sales, but Lasseter's showcase short films - such as Luxo Jr.
- received acclaim and so he started producing computer animated commercials. In 1990 Jobs sold off Pixar's hardware division, and in 1991 made a deal with Walt Disney Pictures to produce three computer animated films. But the company was still losing money and Job considered selling it right up until 1994 when Disney confirmed it would distribute the first of these films, Toy Story
, around Christmas 1995.