The short film 'Luxo Jr' was released on this day in 1986, blazing a trail for Woody, Nemo, and Wall-E to follow
Thirty years ago today, the fledgeling Pixar Studios released a digital short, Luxo Jr. The two-minute long animation, a simple story about a desk lamp and a ball, shone a light on the biggest development in animation since Snow White. Luxo Jr would go on to become the first computer-animated short film to receive an Oscar nomination, shaking the entire industry to the core, and putting Pixar on the road to becoming one of the most critically adored and financially lucrative film studios operating today.
The hopping lamp has gone on to become a central feature of Pixar’s logo, playing out before each and every one of its movies, which have made the company – and Disney – nearly $4.5bn at the box office. In honour of Luxo Jr’s 30th anniversary, here are 30 facts you might not know about Pixar Studios...
1. Formed in 1979, Pixar was originally a computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, providing digital effects for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Young Sherlock Holmes.
2. After struggling to make a profit and on the brink of winding down, Steve Jobs bought Pixar for $5m on February 3rd, 1986, helping it secure distribution for Luxo Jr. The buyout wasn’t all that helpful, with the company losing “a lot of Steve’s money” for another 10 years.
3. A turning point for Pixar was signing a three-feature contract with Disney in 1991. But the deal only afforded Pixar 10 to 15% of the profits from the movies, with the first release being 1995’s smash hit Toy Story.
4. Pixar approached actor Tom Hanks, fresh from his back-to-back Oscar wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, to voice Woody the cowboy in Toy Story. But the movie performance that turned the studio onto Hanks’ work was actually 1989’s Turner & Hooch, for a scene in which Hanks berates his canine colleague.
5. Toy Story became the first full-length feature film made entirely with digital animation, with the film nominated for three Oscars, winning a Special Achievement Award on the night.
6. Despite the box office clout of Toy Story, which earned more than Titanic on its opening weekend and was the third highest grossing film of 1995, its sequel was originally going to be a straight-to-video release. Toy Story 2 went on to become the first sequel to earn more than the original film.
7. But it almost never was, as a Pixar staffer accidentally deleted the unfinished film when running the wrong function on the computer drive where all of Toy Story 2’s files were saved. The film was only salvaged when an employee revealed she kept a spare copy of the film to work on in her home.
8. While not considered a classic in the Pixar canon, 1998’s A Bug’s Life marked a huge advancement in Pixar’s digital skills, requiring 10 times the computing power of Toy Story. Every frame of the 95-minute film took 17 hours to render.
9. Having turned down the role of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, American actor Billy Crystal spoke many times about his regrets over not getting involved in the production, which is why Pixar would go on to offer him one of the leads in Monsters, Inc.
10. When director Andrew Stanton pitched Finding Nemo, he did it with an hour-long meeting with Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter, which involved numerous character profiles, voice work, and storyboard visuals. Lasseter’s response was reportedly, “You had me at fish.”
11. Although the overriding message of Finding Nemo was one of conservationism, sales of clownfish jumped by 25% after the release of the film, according to National Geographic.
12. Although Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres were both widely praised for their vocal performances on Nemo, neither was the original performer to record for the roles of Marlin and Dory respectively. Character actor William H Macy was cast and recorded the role of the neurotic clown fish, but was let go when Stanton determined he wasn’t right for the part. Will & Grace star Megan Mullally was set to play amnesiac fish Dory, but when she refused to use the same high-pitched voice used in the sitcom, she was also let go.
13. The character of Edna Mode in The Incredibles, the superhero costume designer voiced by a scene-stealing Brad Bird (the film’s director), was based on the eight-time Oscar-winning fashion designer Edith Head. Head designed some of the most iconic costumes ever seen on screen, dressing stars Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jane Fonda.
14. Samuel L Jackson’s superhero in The Incredibles, the ice-controlling Frozone, speed skates throughout the movie, with American Olympic gold-medallist Shani Davis lending his physical likeness to the performance. The animators captured his movements digitally and recreated them on screen.
15. Ahead of production on the culinary classic Ratatouille, Brad Bird applied to become an intern in the kitchen of chef Thomas Keller’s three Michelin-starred restaurant French Laundry in Yountville, California. All of the films animators were required to keep rats for a year so they could familiarise themselves with how they moved.
16. But despite being met with universal praise, with chef Anthony Bourdain calling Ratatouille “the best food movie ever made,” the film’s producers found marketing tie-ins difficult to nail down, because food companies didn’t want to be associated with rats.
17. Despite being considered the runt of Pixar’s litter, Cars has been the most profitable film the studio has ever created. It toy and tie-in merchandising alone has generated $10bn for the company.
18. With the majority of the film devoid of dialogue, Wall-E was one of the most difficult films for Pixar to produce. Requiring more than 125,000 storyboards to guide the animators in their work, that number was 50,000 more than the average.
19. The villain in Up, beyond whatever illness takes Ellie’s life in the opening scene, is named Charlie Muntz, a dig at the Universal Pictures executive of the same name who, in 1928, stole the production rights to Walt Disney’s cartoon character Oswald the lucky Rabbit.
20. When it premiered at the Cannes in 2009, Up became the first computer-animated film to open the world’s most prestigious film festival. The film would also go on to become the first computer animation to contest the ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars – and the first animation to do so since 1991.
21. After a creative falling out with Pixar, Disney proceeded to develop its own second sequel to Toy Story without the involvement of the studio. Owning the rights to the Toy Story characters, Disney’s Toy Story 3 would have been about the toy gang attempting to rescue Buzz Lightyear from a Taiwanese toy factory.
22. Merida, the Scottish princess who is the protagonist of Brave, was originally supposed to be voiced by Reese Witherspoon.
23. The Pixar film that never was is Newt, which was slated for a 2012 release. The film, which told the story of the last two endangered creatures of a species of lizard who hate each other, was canned when the storyline was deemed to be too similar to Blue Sky Studios’ Rio.
24. Cheers star John Ratzenberger has been a voice actor in every Pixar movie, while the Pizza Planet Truck has appeared in every film except The Incredibles.
25. When writing Inside Out, the film was set to include 27 different emotions, whittling them down during rewrites. Some that didn’t make the final script include Surprise and Trust.
26. Inside Out shows how computer animation has developed at Pixar, with the film requiring only 45 animators to be finished, roughly half of all other Pixar movies before then.
27. Released late in 2015 and almost immediately forgotten, The Good Dinosaur suffered one of the most fraught productions in the history of Pixar. After being delayed, Pixar was forced to let go 60 employees.
28. While delayed because of The Good Dinosaur and pushed back from its 2015 release, Finding Dory has still found fans, with Dory the most-liked Pixar character on Facebook. With more than 25m likes, she leaves Nemo trailing in second place with 22m.
29. After watching the documentary Blackfish, which details the story of a killer whale being kept in the SeaWorld aquatic park, the writers of Finding Dory decided to change the film’s setting from a similar park to a marine science institute instead.
30. And finally, don’t forget about the wildly speculative fan theory that ties all of the movies together into one universe...