Pixar’s former chief financial officer turns in an insider’s account of one of the world’s most influential digital media companies.
Steve Jobs had made and lost a fortune by the time Levy showed up, having founded and then been ejected from Apple and gone to NeXT. In 1994, his new Pixar digital film company had chewed its way through $50 million of Jobs’ money “with little to show for it.” In part thanks to Levy’s legal skills and analytical powers, Jobs turned that around to become one of the wealthiest people in the world, controlling billions of dollars. The author’s account of his dozen years with Jobs follows an unsurprising, almost by-the-numbers trajectory: new guy comes to embattled company, helps company face and then overcome challenges, and finds himself wealthy and powerful but unfulfilled—with the twist that, instead of becoming a celebrity chef or an around-the-world adventurer, Levy winds up a student and then teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. In between the cut-to-standard scaffolding, though, Levy’s account offers some pleasant moments and insights, including anecdotes on how Toy Story came into being pixel by pixel, a process that helped lure Levy into the company to begin with. (“How do I know I’m not simply falling for the allure of a high-tech company making a film?” he asked a mentor, to which the response, in so many words, was, “Don’t be a schmuck and go for it.”) No mere technocrat, Levy is also good on the details of digital filmmaking, as when he writes of the considerable difficulties involved in rendering skin so that it doesn’t look like painted rubber: “These are nuances we never think about,” he observes, “but they are glaringly obvious when they are missing.” That’s just so, and there’s not much missing here—although there isn’t much in the way of news about Jobs himself, the star of the show.
A footnote to Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, but not a minor one.