January 24, 2006 2:19 PM PST
Steve Jobs' rise to movie mogul
(continued from previous page)
Those financial difficulties began to ease once Pixar was released from a noncompete arrangement with former parent Lucasfilm and could focus on making full-length movies, Perens said. The company had already won recognition for its short films, winning the 1988 Oscar for best animated short. But in 1991, Pixar signed its first three-feature-film deal with Disney, a relationship that Jobs said at the time had been a "dream" since 1986.
The first fruit of that deal was 1995's "Toy Story," which grossed more than $350 million worldwide and opened movie audiences' eyes to a new kind of 3D animation. On the strength of that debut, Pixar went public in late 1995, making Jobs a billionaire.
The ensuing decade has seen few missteps from the company and its team of talented animators and producers, leading to movies including "Monsters Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." By keeping the company in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jobs--along with George Lucas--helped create a Northern California filmmaking culture that defines itself by an innovative blend of new technology and traditional storytelling.
Balancing Apple and Pixar
Still, Jobs' heart remained with the company he and Steve Wozniak originally created in a Silicon Valley garage. At the close of 1996, he returned to Apple as a consultant, then as a "interim CEO," and finally as full-fledged chief executive.
Pixar flourished under the creative tending of "Toy Story" director John Lasseter, releasing "A Bugs Life," "Toy Story 2" and "Monsters Inc." The company developed a reputation as an artistic Shangri-La, where animators, programmers and storytellers worked in an collegial, nurturing environment, and where directors took the suggestions of their team members seriously.
"All studios try to nurture talent, but Pixar does it on a level that is magical," said Bobby Beck, a seven-year Pixar veteran who left in 2004 to start online animation school Animationmentor.com. "The whole thought is that inspired employees create inspired work. That's been their focus."
Dissecting the Disney deal
CNET News.com's Ina Fried, Harry Fuller and Charles Cooper talk about the implications of the Disney-Pixar deal.
Listen now... (10MB mp3)
Jobs was meanwhile focused on turning around Apple, cutting off unprofitable businesses and streamlining products into a few well-designed, sexy offerings.
Observers quickly noted a family resemblance between the two companies. Each faced huge, traditional rivals. Each focused on a small number of products, and paid painstaking attention to the smallest details of design, winning awards and cultish admiration from fans.
In Apple's case, this created the successive iMac designs, each of which overturned the traditional image of the personal computer, as well as the now-explosively successful iPod. For Pixar, each movie made breakthrough technical strides in computer animation, making character motion and expression, light and shading, and other, almost subliminal details look increasingly natural.
Perens, whose Pixar office was directly across from Jobs' own, said there was a period of a year or two where he "just disappeared to work on Apple." But even afterward, Jobs followed a more hands-off approach than at the computer company and iPod maker, where he's often deeply involved with the details of design decisions.
For instance, he typically doesn't come to the screenings of films as they wind their way through production, former employees said. However, he is always at premieres and wrap parties, and he makes it clear to employees that he cares deeply about what they do, Beck said.
"After I was hired, Jobs came into the room where a bunch of us were training and told us, 'I want to make sure that you are happy here for the rest of your creative life,'" Beck said. "That was really inspiring, and I believe that they definitely followed through. It wasn't just smoke, it was the real deal."
1 commentJoin the conversation! Add your comment