Pixar

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Story is king.
Pixar company motto

Once upon a time, George Lucas used some of his money to form a new division at Lucasarts known as "Graphics Group". The company originally did this and that for a while, most notably the Genesis planet simulation from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the stained-glass knight from Young Sherlock Holmes. Working there was one John Lasseter, who created a CGI short entitled The Adventures of Andre and Wally B in his downtime, with the assistance of computer genius Ed Catmull.

Seeking money for his divorce costs (and also because of the failure known as Howard the Duck), Lucas eventually sold it to Steve Jobs for ten million dollars. The company was named Pixar after their first product, a video rendering computer for medical use. Though it didn't sell very well, Steve Jobs continued to pour money into it, and Pixar repurposed itself as a firm creating computer-animated commercials for companies such as Listerine Mouthwash and Lifesavers candies.

At the same time, John Lasseter continued to use CGI to make short films and showed them around at conventions, specifically the computer-graphics convention SIGGRAPH. While other people were showing landscapes and technical demos, Lasseter's short Luxo Jr. was a masterpiece in storytelling that established several new CGI tricks and demonstrated the narrative ability of the art. Pixar's subsequent shorts secured their status as the leader in computer animation.

In short order, Pixar moved away from medical imaging, instead continuing to refine their RenderMan digital rendering software while making commercials even as they set out to accomplish a very lofty goal -- to make the |first ever feature-length all-CGI film. The rest is history: Pixar signs a distribution deal with Disney Animated Canon, Pixar makes a lot of hits, Pixar and Disney have issues, Disney gets a new boss, Pixar and Disney kiss and make up, Disney buys Pixar (for more than seven billion dollars, making Jobs' ten-million-dollar purchase a real steal), and all is well.

When Pixar makes a movie, you can pretty much expect it to be critically well received. 11 out of the 12 films released so far (Cars 2 being the odd one out) have been nominated for at least one Oscar; in 2010, Up became the second animated film (and first CGI film) to be nominated for Best Picture, and the next year, Toy Story 3 became the third animated (and second CGI film) to get that nomination. Only one of the studio's films (Cars 2) has really failed critically; on Rotten Tomatoes, the first two Toy Story films have perfect scores (the third has a 99% rating) and their third-lowest rated movie (A Bug's Life) has a 91% rating. Many of their films sit on the Internet Movie Database's "top 250 films" list, and Pixar is usually topping that site's "50 best animated films" list. Nearly all of their films take their subjects and turn them on their heads (friendly monsters who only scare for their day jobs, race cars who learn to take it slow and that there's more to life than winning, robots who teach humans how to feel emotions again, etc.) and in doing so pack them full of humor (including jokes that go way over the heads of kids) and drama.

Of course, if you think they're not business-minded, keep in mind that their films have never failed financially, either. Of their first ten films, only two (Toy Story and A Bug's Life) have failed to break the $200 million dollar mark in the US, and none of them failed to break the $200 million mark in foreign box office take; the studio's highest-grossing film, Toy Story 3 made over a billion dollars worldwide (becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time and the first animated film to earn a billion). The average domestic box office take of a Pixar film is around $250 million, and all of their films have made over six billion dollars in combined domestic and foreign box office take. Also worth noting: every single Pixar film has opened at the #1 spot in the weekend box office. All of Pixar's films are among the top ten highest-grossing films of the year they've been released.

Lest you think that they're just a bunch of artists, though, you should know that their first Academy Award wasn't for a movie -- it was for PhotoRealistic RenderMan, the software that they make and license to other filmmakers that fuels an innumerable amount of CG in films. It was the first Academy Award given out for a piece of software.

They also seem to be a very personal and humble company:

Pixar itself is located in Emeryville, California on a huge campus of the type more commonly associated with tech companies in nearby Silicon Valley-- complete with a high-quality cafeteria (with dedicated chef), an exercise facility, a soccer field, and hallways lined with concept art, employee projects, and life-size statues of Pixar characters (including a 2-story-tall Luxo lamp). The best part: it is possible (though difficult) to get tours.

Works animated by Pixar include:

For a list of the studio's shorts, go here.

To get a little information about the people behind the 'toons, go here.

There's also this, if you want to know everything about Pixar's early history.

Pixar provides examples of the following tropes:
  • All CGI Cartoon: Trope Maker, with Toy Story.
  • Arch-Competitor: With Dreamworks Animation, though greatly exaggerated by Dreamworks' Hatedom.
  • Black and White Morality: All Pixar films thus far except the original Toy Story and Finding Nemo (and arguably WALL-E, as the villain there was just following his programming way too seriously).
  • Breakthrough Hit: Toy Story
  • Broken Streak: After 11 consecutive films with a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Cars 2 is released to 39% on RT. Cue Internet Backdraft.
    • Also, ever since the Academy Awards established the "Best Animated Feature" category in 2001, Pixar films have been inevitably nominated... until Cars 2.
  • Cash Cow Franchise: Merchandise for the Cars series has been noted to sell extremely well.
  • Celebrity Voice Actor: While Pixar doesn't advertise the celebrities as blatantly as Dreamworks Animation, they're still very guilty of using celebrities for the voices.
  • Continuity Nod: They frequently reference past productions, from shorts (Luxo Jr.'s ball is a frequent sight) to movies (the Pizza Planet truck being the most blatant example)
  • Doing It for the Art: Steve Jobs spent a fortune on this small company that no one knew about for a decade before they exploded into fame.
  • Dueling Movies: Averting this trope is the reason Pixar stopped production on Newt (Blue Sky's Rio had roughly the same plot).
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The happy endings never come easy in Pixar movies.
  • Genre Busting: Their films tend towards this.
  • Ink Suit Actor: Several of the characters in the Cars films are based on a certain vehicle associated with their actor (i.e. Sig Hansen as a sentient version of the Northwestern).
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Pixar employees sometimes voice their characters rather than hiring outside actors. This results in some recognizable voices between the different films.
    • Linguini from Ratatouille and Bernie the Teacher from The Incredibles both have the same voice.
  • Most Writers Are Male: John Lasseter on why Pixar hasn't had a female main character before Brave: "We're a bunch of guys".
  • Motion Capture: Under no circumstances. They are animators, they are proud of it, they do all the motion work by hand fame-by-frame, and they stamp their credits with a certification to that effect in an era when almost all other CGI uses it.
  • Not So Above It All: Literal example: Cars 2 is the first Pixar movie to ever receive a "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Once an Episode/Running Gag/Early-Bird Cameo: The Pizza Planet truck, giving a role to John Ratzenberger in every film, putting a cameo of a character from the next film to be released, and the one listed in Shout-Out.
  • Otaku: Watch some of their movies and just look at how many references they make to Japan. Lassetter is a long time admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, they've become professional friends, and Miyazaki's stamp of approval was instrumental in helping Toy Story catch on in Japan. Disney, under the direction of a Pixar-related employee, is the only studio Miyazaki blesses with English dubs of his work.
    • Lassetter even flew Japanese girl group Perfume to the premiere of Cars 2 and surprised them with full knowledge of their back catalogue during lunch together. They recorded a J-Pop single for the film in which the characters visit Tokyo.
  • Papa Wolf: About half of Pixar's male leads are fathers (Bob Parr, Marlin) or substitute fathers (Sulley, Carl, arguably |Woody and Buzz) whose main conflict in their respective movies is both protecting their children (or just being there for them, as with Woody's case) as well as dealing with the physical and emotional baggage of that responsibilty. Considering that many of Pixar's Regulars were starting to have families of their own during Pixar's earlier filmmaking years, it makes more than enough sense.
  • Production Foreshadowing: Happens enough times for a Pixar movie being the page image.
  • Production Posse: See Pixar Regulars for more info.
    • True Companions: Having worked with each other for nearly twenty years (some having worked even longer beforehand), the Regulars are pretty tight-knit.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot: By the early 1990s, everything CG was kinda plastic... so Pixar did |a film starring plastic characters. Then computer technology allowed to depict living animals better (bugs, furry/scaly creatures, fish, and then humans).
  • Scenery Porn: The Incredibles's commentary mentions having entire meetings devoted to the placement of the food at the dinner table during one scene.
  • Shout-Out: A113 shows up in every Pixar film.
  • Shown Their Work: While Pixar does mix some things around for the sake of Artistic License, it plays this very straight.
  • Stunt Casting: Subverted! Pixar certainly has commendable star power for each film, but make it a point to match the actor to the character, not vice versa.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Many a Pixar hero doesn't get along well with his co-protagonist or Sidekick for most the film.
  • What Could Have Been: Of course, the ill-fated Newt. Its plotline is said to be similar to Rio (and Alpha and Omega).
    • Brenda Chapman's version of Brave. We may never be sure why she was laid off, but it seems to have disappointed a lot of people in the industry, including some Pixar employees.
      • In fact, anytime Pixar replaces a director on their films (which so far only happened a few times, thank goodness) will get this reaction. Brad Bird was put on Ratatouille at the last minute and had to work with revising the script and making the rats less anthropomorphic than what the original director had. Of note, Chef Gusteau was to be alive through the whole movie instead of an imaginary being.
    • Toy Story was almost the victim of Executive Meddling thanks to Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg continually pushed for a more adult, cynical Toy Story, making Woody even more of a jerkass and relying heavily on insult humor. The result backfired horribly; at a screening for the Disney execs, Roy Disney declared it the worst thing he'd ever seen, and Disney was ready to scrap the whole project until the writers were finally left alone to write the story they wanted to write. The rest is history.
    • Later on, Pixar also had to deal with Michael Eisner. During the Disney v. Pixar negotiations, Eisner created Circle 7 Animation, which would have churned out horrible Disney Brand Cheapquels to Pixar films including Toy Story 3 which would have seen Buzz Lightyear recalled to Europe. Thankfully, he was fired, the studio got shut down, and Disney purchased Pixar.