Before becoming a trusted global brand and before fostering the greatest animation renaissance since the pie-eyed dreams of Walt Disney, Pixar was a small Lucasfilm unit creating industry tools and movie effects.
And before even that, John Lasseter, Pixar CFO and chief visioneer for much of the company’s life, was working at Disney. Below is a 1983 animation test he directed at Disney, demonstrating the potential of 3D computer graphics with a Where The Wild Things Are adaptation.
The potential of CG came into clearer focus when Lucasfilm distributed The Adventures of Andre and Wally B in 1984. Developed in-house by The Graphics Group (directed by Alvy Ray Smith, animated by Lasseter), the fully CG short was attached to showings of Brazil.
In 1986, Steve Jobs, ever the plucky entrepreneur, purchased The Graphics Group from Lucasfilm. Rechristened Pixar, the company grew on a business model that maintained their path of creating computer industry tools while exploring their more artistic inclinations. Beach Chair is one of two famous animation tests from that year. (The other, Waving Flags, can be found as an easter egg on the Pixar Short Films Collection.)
As the CG short film market was tough (e.g. non-existent) in the 80s, Pixar supported themselves with commercial and educational work. They produced a series of Sesame Street shorts with Luxo Jr. and Luxo Sr. teaching the principle of opposites. (See three more Pixar-created Sesame Street shorts on page 3.)
Along the way, Pixar amassed a huge portfolio of television commercial work, many instantly recognizable to all the ’90s kids reading this today. Just like the previous efforts, the commercials lean heavily on giving life to inanimate objects, a talent and joy carried over into the creation of Toy Story. (See six more Pixar commercials on page 4.)
Then in 1995, as an alternative to their traditional animated work, Disney sent Toy Story out into theaters. The rest is history. Pixar’s 12th feature, Cars 2, arrives nationwide this Friday.