Friday, May 19, 2017

Pixar

 Getting it’s start in 1974 as members of Alexander Schure’s Computer Graphics Lab, the team that would found Pixar then worked under George Lucas at LucasFilm, creating CG effects, with the eventual ambition to create the first CG movie. In 1986 they left LucasFilm after it became apparent that he would liquidate the section they worked in and created their own company. They decided that they still needed time to create a full length movie and instead became a computer hardware company. Their main product would be their Pixar Image Computer, a system primarily sold to government facilities and hospitals. Looking for someone to back them financially, Steve Jobs, who had just been fired from Apple, was interested. George Lucas still owned the group’s technology rights, so Steve Jobs had to wager with him. While Lucas initially found Job’s offer to be too low, no one else was interested, so he sold. Though they had sold products to Disney, no one else was buying and it caused Jobs to continue investing money into the company until he gained control of it. John Lasseter headed up the company’s animation department, initially starting as just four people, and in 1989 started making commercials for companies. In 1990, Pixar sold their hardware division to Viacom and focused solely on animation. Though they had started 1991 by laying off 30 employees, Pixar regained its footing by signing a three picture deal with Disney, the first being Toy Story. Despite this good news, the company was still not making money and Jobs considered selling it several times leading up into 1994. What changed was learning that Disney would be distributing Toy Story and buzz around the movie was generally good. Jobs decided to take a more hands-on approach with the company and named himself CEO. Toy Story became a certifiable hit and shares for Pixar climbed from $22 all the way to $49 before falling to $39 by end of day. Pixar creating a “Braintrust” shortly after, where directors, writers and lead storyboard artists would look at each other’s ideas and offer notes. This style of product development would later be adapted by Warner Animation Group.

Disney and Pixar’s sunny relationship didn’t last very long. Toy Story 2, originally meant to be a straight-to-video, was later changed to a theatrical release. Pixar was under the impression that since it started out as a straight-to-video, it didn’t count toward its three picture deal with Disney, but Disney said it did. Though the movie ended up being profitable for both companies, Pixar didn’t find the arrangement very equitable. They were making the films and Disney was just advertising and distributing them. Profits and production costs were split 50-50, but Disney owned the rights to the stories and sequel rights, plus collected a 10-15 percent distribution fee. Pixar demanded a new deal be put in place where they only paid Disney distribution fees and would pay for the movies themselves, thus gaining all the profit. Disney, of course, disagreed and things weren’t looking good. Steve Jobs and then-Chairman and CEO of Disney Michael Eisner’s contentious relationship didn’t help matters. Jobs declared that Pixar was actively looking for a new partner outside of Disney, with Disney creating Circle 7 animation, a CG film department that would create sequels for the Pixar movies they owned. Despite all the contention, the contract between the two kept being extended until they could come up with a permanent solution. Talks began again between the companies in 2005 when Eisner was out of Disney and Disney ultimately bought Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion in an all-stock deal. Jobs, owning 50.1% of Pixar’s stock, became the largest individual shareholder in Disney with 7%. For comparison, Eisner, who had once been the largest shareholder, now only held 1.7% and Roy Disney owned just 1%. As part of the deal, John Lasseter, who by then was Executive Vice President at Pixar, became Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and Disney Animation, as well as the Principal Creative Advisor for Disney Imagineering (they develop everything at the Disney Parks). Jobs was not retained as Pixar’s chairman and CEO, instead he took a seat at Disney’s Board of Directors. The deal had gone through thanks to current Disney CEO, Bob Iger, realizing that Disney Animation had not created any iconic characters in the last ten years, and that they’d all been Pixar’s. Disney Animation did hit its stride again once Lasseter took over, as from Bolt on they have come out with hit after hit. The closest Disney came to a hit before that in the last ten years was Lilo and Stitch. Part of the deal was that Pixar would still be a separate entity. This let them keep their HR procedures and made sure that Disney couldn’t scrap the Pixar name later on. Though Lasseter headed creativity for both animation studios, he kept them separate. If one studio had a problem with a production, they couldn’t ask the other for help. While he brought the Pixar Braintrust mentality to Disney Animation, Disney has kept in line with their own culture. Pixar has since expanded to a campus in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. That studio mainly works on Pixar shorts.

I would like to cover all of Pixar’s films in the future, so I’m not going to go super in depth for each film. Everyone reading this knows Pixar and knows that it stands head and shoulders above anything else out there. Disney has recently found its footing, but Pixar has been, for the most part, consistent. Three quarters of their movies have been met with near unanimous praise, and the others, Brave, Monster’s University, The Good Dinosaur, and both Cars films, having still decent reviews. The only real stinker out of the bunch is Cars 2. While I completely understand why Pixar released it theatrically, they really should have made it straight-to-DVD. Pixar and Disney are both going the routes of sequels right now, something both tried not to do very often. It remains to be seen if this is a good idea, as Pixar’s track record for sequels beyond Toy Story and Finding Nemo is not great (I still like Monster’s University).

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