What is Pixar?

Jessica Ellis

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 main characters in Finding Nemo are clownfish.
The main characters in Finding Nemo are clownfish.

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.

Pixar is based on Northern California.
Pixar is based on Northern California.

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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.

Pixar is known for producing animated family-friendly films.
Pixar is known for producing animated family-friendly films.

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.

Many of Pixar's films are animated and involve voice-over work provided by famous celebrities.
Many of Pixar's films are animated and involve voice-over work provided by famous celebrities.

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Discussion Comments


My favorite pixar film has to be The Incredibles. It is the the Incredibles because I just love that show and how interesting it is.


@Grivusangel -- I liked the early Pixar stuff, like the ones you mentioned, but really, I am *tired* of every animated film looking just like the last one. Even when Disney was making what are considered the less popular films, they were still better than most of what's being released now. I'm really sick of the snarky scripts, the snappy comebacks, etc. I loved "The Frog Princess" precisely because it was in the traditional animated style.

I think the Pixar folks, by and large, have just resorted to rote formula for their work. If it has gee-whiz special effects, that's enough for them. And a really big musical score doesn't hurt either. They just don't have the charm or beauty of the older films.


My favorite Pixar films are "The Incredibles" and "Cars." I liked "Cars" a lot more than I thought I would. It was genuinely clever, and didn't have smart aleck kids who knew more than the dumb adults. The "Toy Story" movies were good too, and I liked "Finding Nemo." It was sweet.

"The Incredibles," though, just worked on every level, from the plot to the script to the voice talent. Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are hysterical as their characters sit, huddled in the car, listening to the police scanner. I think it's one of the best animated films ever produced.

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