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What is Pixar?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2014
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Pixar is a computer animation movie studio based in Northern California. Although initially the company was geared toward computer-generated imagery (CGI) hardware, it eventually began producing completely CGI short films and feature length movies. With the release of Toy Story in 1995, the company revolutionized the faltering animation industry.

The company was originally owned by Lucasfilm, and was created to develop advanced animation technology for use in live-action movies. In 1986, the company was purchase by Steve Jobs, the head of Apple, Inc. The company developed the Pixar Imaging Computer, which met with a limited market although it attracted the interest of Walt Disney Studios, particularly through its short film demonstrations made by an employee named John Lasseter. In 1991, despite bad sales of their computer, Walt Disney made a three-picture production deal with the studio, the first of which would be Toy Story.

John Lasseter, a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, directed and co-wrote Toy Story, the story of a fight for their owner’s affection between an old-fashioned cowboy doll and a new spaceman doll. The movie featured what would become the studio's most often-repeated motif: self-improvement. It also featured an incredible amount of technological innovation, and would go on to win awards for animation, writing, producing, music composition, direction, technical achievement, and a special American Academy Award for special achievement. The film became a box-office hit, opening to near-universal critical acclaim and grossing over $354 million US Dollars (USD) worldwide.

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With each successive movie, the studio continued to refine and advance CGI technique. In Finding Nemo, the story of a separated clown fish father and son, animators spent years perfecting technology to make the underwater world believable. In the 2006 film Cars, considerable technical prowess was needed to make the reflections and surfaces of the metal main characters look realistic. The 2007 release, Ratatouille amazed many critics with the individual detail now possible in CGI-rendered hair and fur.

Along with cutting-edge technology, the studio is known for extremely popular original story lines. Unlike traditional Disney films, none of the Pixar movies have been based on legends or fairy tales. The writing team is generally made up of senior members of the studio, and has received several awards and award nominations for their films.

Pixar has spawned a variety of franchise characters that now are integral parts of the Disney theme parks. The Anaheim parks, Disneyland and California adventure, feature several Pixar attractions, including Monster’s Inc: Mike and Sully to the Rescue and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. In 2007, plans were announced to build an entire land at California Adventure themed after the movie Cars, as well as a Toy Story-themed attraction called Toy Story Midway Mania.

In 2006, The Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion USD. As part of the deal, Steve Jobs became a member of the Disney board of directors, while Executive Vice-President John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney films and Principle Creative Advisor to the Imagineering department, which designs and oversees the Disney theme parks. The studios remain essentially separate entities, however, with deals guaranteeing Pixar’s retention of its name and headquarters in Emeryville, California.

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