The name of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs brings to mind words like innovation. He helped create revolutionary and disruptive products like iPod, iPhone, MacBook and iPad that changed their respective landscapes, but his contribution to computer animation is less known.
Before Jobs, Pixar, the company behind franchises like Toy Story and The Incredibles, was a division under Lucasfilm, the production house founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas. Jobs bought Pixar in 1986 and stayed as its CEO until 2006. He did not probably think of Pixar as an animated movie developer when he bought it (Pixar used to create animation software back then), but he paid heed to John Lasseter, when he pitched his idea of a fully computer-generated animated feature, the first in history. The film that became Toy Story.
At 1995’s SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques), an annual conference on computer graphics, Jobs told the audience in a presentation, “In 1995, the centenary year of the invention of the motion picture itself, we have another major milestone—something I think will go down as a landmark in motion picture history. And that is the first completely computer-generated feature-length motion picture—completely computer synthetic—on the hundredth anniversary of the motion picture itself. That, of course, is Toy Story. Toy Story’ represents the computer graphics community contributing not just special effects to a motion picture, but the entire motion picture itself. It’s a breakthrough on the scale of Technicolor, Snow White and Star Wars. It is way beyond what we’ve seen in computer graphics special effects.”
Every word Jobs said rings true now as we are all ready for the fourth film in the franchise. Jobs had a seemingly preternatural ability to recognise emerging trends and the potential of new technologies. He was utterly right to trust Lasseter and the first Toy Story movie, as he had predicted, brought about a revolution in filmmaking.
Pixar became a gold standard in computer animated movies and thanks to its immensely talented team, it has remained so ever since. It is thus probably correct to say that the studio would not have become what it is these days without Jobs’ support (financial and otherwise) in the days when it was making a risky transition towards filmmaking. After Jobs’ death, Lasseter said in a Facebook tribute that Jobs “saw the potential of what Pixar could be before the rest of us.”
Jobs continued in the SIGGRAPH presentation, “Toy Story is 79 minutes in length and every frame is totally synthetic—major, minor characters, backgrounds, sets, etcetera—an order of magnitude leap. And again, most importantly, we see computer graphics not just playing a supporting role to live action, but actually providing the entire vision for the motion picture.”
Toy Story 4 is another win for the studio. It holds the perfect 100 per cent rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus reads, “Heartwarming, funny, and beautifully animated, Toy Story 4 manages the unlikely feat of extending — and perhaps concluding — a practically perfect animated saga.”