Brisk history of an entertainment juggernaut that is also the history of computer animation.
While it’s now standard in children’s entertainment, writes Price (Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation, 2005), computer animation was in its earliest incarnations the province of technically minded geniuses beavering away in universities and labs. There they constructed impossibly complex algorithms that solved problems of realistic movement, texture, lighting and a host of other reality-mimicking conditions out of sheer scientific zeal; practical applications ran along the lines of enhanced medical imaging. A small handful of individuals, including former Disney animator John Lasseter, saw the new technology as the next step in animated storytelling. George Lucas played a critical (if characteristically aloof) role in early support of Pixar’s efforts, and offbeat, difficult and preternaturally charismatic visionary Steve Jobs funded the company at a financial loss for years, furiously determined to prove that his phenomenal early success at Apple was no fluke. Lasseter, a dreamy California kid obsessed with juvenile Americana, emerges as this story’s hero: a tireless, passionate advocate of the possibilities of computer animation who applied the classic Disney lessons of emotional involvement, expressive characterization and solid storytelling to the new medium and produced such modern classics as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Cars. Pixar’s relationship with corporate parent Disney provides much of the book’s drama. Jobs and Disney head Michael Eisner locked horns in an epically ugly battle over the terms of their companies’ collaboration, and ex-Eisner lieutenant Jeffrey Katzenberg waged a frontal assault on Pixar’s market under the auspices of DreamWorks SKG. But the heart of the story is the animators, gentle revolutionaries and oddball alchemists who never faltered in their quest to wed hard science to creative vision and bring animation into a new era of artistic accomplishment.
A heck of a yarn, full of vivid characters, reversals of fortune and stubborn determination: Pixar should make a movie out of it.