Pixar is an enormous name in the entertainment industry, and they consistently produce smash hits beloved by both children and adults. As their films are constantly getting press, and products tied into the films are constantly emerging, it may seem like they release several films a year – however, in actuality, Pixar’s schedule is far slower. How slow? Well, over the past twenty years, they’ve only released 15 feature films, yet they were virtually all smash hits – Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up… I mean, basically everything they create is gold. They manage to stay on top despite opting to not churn out films every few months in order to stay in the public’s memory. They know that producing amazing films is the key to their success, and they stick with that formula.
Obviously, a huge part of the company’s success comes from the immensely talented group of individuals working in Emeryville, California, at Pixar headquarters. They’ve snagged the studio 26 Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, three Grammys, and countless other accolades. However, apart from the films they produce, the general public doesn’t really know too much about the studio. When was the company started? Who comes up with the plots for all the films? What’s it like to work at Pixar? There are countless questions that many have about the infamous studio, so here are 10 things you may not have known about Pixar.
10. They didn’t start as a film making company
I know, I know – based on how successful Pixar has been with its feature films, it seems utterly unthinkable that their focus was initially on something else – but it was. At first, the company now known as movie giant Pixar sold hardware, and then they sold software. In fact, they really began making a few computer-animated short films in order to showcase some of their products, like a high-end imaging computer. They eventually used their tech savviness to create a few short animated films and advertisements for clients in the 1990s. Eventually, they signed a three-movie deal with Disney. The first product to emerge from that partnership? Toy Story. The rest, as they say, is history.
9. The lamp has a name
When you think of Pixar, everyone has certain characters that come to mind, whether it be the lovable blue monster Sully from Monsters, Inc., the family from The Incredibles, the cowboy Woody and his astronaut pal Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, etc. However, there’s one character at the beginning of every film that everyone will recognize – the iconic lamp mascot. But did you know that the lamp mascot actually has a name? The lamp is named Luxo Jr., and receives his name from a 1986 short film that Pixar produced with the same title. Luxo Jr. the film was iconic in the industry, as it was the first CGI film nominated for an Academy Award, and Pixar has honoured that achievement in their mascot’s name.
8. Many of their biggest hits came from a single lunch meeting
Pixar’s films are all vastly different, focusing on everything from life underwater to life on another planet. Given their differences, and the fact that they’re often released years apart, you might assume that Pixar employees responsible for coming up with story concepts take things one film at a time, right? Well, not exactly. Back in 1994, while the company was working on their first feature, Toy Story, some of Pixar’s key creatives had a lunch meeting in a humble diner called Hidden City Café. Over the course of their meeting, the group brainstormed ideas that would eventually become A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL-E. That’s right – they came up with four of the studio’s biggest hits over one round of burgers and shakes. Now that’s talent!
7. Nearly every film has a common hidden number
Nearly every single Pixar film incorporates the number ‘A113’ at some point in the movie, whether it be on a license plate, a door, or a camera. So why is Pixar so intent to include this number? What’s the significance? Well, it’s actually a very charming story. A113 refers to a classroom number at the California Institute of the Arts, where many animation students (including many Pixar team members) worked on perfecting their skills. Including it in the films is a fun tribute to many of the animation staff’s past, and history, and proves that despite reaching superstardom, the team at Pixar still remembers their roots.
6. Pixar headquarters has a secret speakeasy
Speakeasies are a thing of the past that all disappeared when Prohibition ended, right? Well, for the most part – unless you’re a creative at Pixar who dreams big and enjoys fun hidden rooms. Pixar studios is not only home to countless talented employees – it’s home to the Lucky 7 Lounge, a speakeasy hidden behind a bookcase that employees can duck into. The small nook was discovered by an animator named Andrew Gordon when he was investigating his new office, and after uncovering the space, he decided to decorate it and transform it into a fun secret room. The Lucky 7 Lounge has played host to countless talented employees, including CEO Steve Jobs.
5. Their revenue per film is astounding
Everyone has heard of box office flops, films that cost a huge amount of money to make and end up pulling in far less than anyone expected at the box office. You might think that Pixar would be susceptible to this, since all that careful animation takes expensive computers and huge amounts of time. However, Pixar hasn’t yet had any flops – in fact, every single one of their movies has brought in box office revenues of anywhere from three to ten times the amount that it cost to make the film. They’ve brought in nearly 10 billion at the box office… for 15 movies. That’s nearly $500 million per film, on average. Other movie studios are likely dying to figure out Pixar’s secrets for constant success.
4. Animators don’t work in standard cubicles
Can you imagine the creative minds at Pixar toiling away in grey cubicles, complete with beige desktops and uninspiring fluorescent overhead lights? No? Well, neither could Pixar – that’s why they allow their employees a little more freedom, and according to Pixar president Ed Catmull, Pixar team members definitely take advantage of that. According to Catmull, Pixar employees “spend their days inside pink dollhouses whose ceilings are hung with miniature chandeliers, tiki huts made of real bamboo, and castles whose meticulously painted, 15-foot-high Styrofoam turrets appear to be carved from stone.” Now that’s the kind of environment we imagine the creative minds at Pixar might thrive in!
3. The name came out of one conversation
Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past twenty years has heard of Pixar before, but have you ever heard the origin story behind the name? Well, according to Pixar president Ed Catmull, it came out of a conversation between co-founders Alvy Ray Smith and Loren Carpenter. Smith wanted the company to be named Pixer, because it sounded like a fake Spanish verb for “to make pictures.” Cool idea, right? Well, Carpenter had another idea, and wanted to honor the company’s forward-looking vision with the futuristic sounding Radar. They ended up combining the two ideas – Pixer + Radar, to create Pix-ar. Teamwork at its finest.
2. George Lucas and Steve Jobs were heavily involved
Back in the day, George Lucas took note of the interesting work going on at Pixar, and recruited some talented employees to become Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics Division. It was likely fun work, but the true turning point came when Steve Jobs bought the Computer Graphics Division from Lucas in 1986, and transformed it into an independent company. 1986 was right around the time that Pixar started producing short animated films and advertisements, and within ten years, they had brought their first feature film to the public. Sure, Steve Jobs did a lot of great work with Apple, but many often underestimate the impact he had on Pixar as well.
1. Movies at Pixar take forever to make
It may seem like Pixar manages to take a little over a year to make each movie, as that’s about the frequency at which they hit theatres – 15 films over the course of about 20 years, roughly. However, that’s not quite what happens inside the studio. According to Pixar president Ed Catmull, films don’t go perfectly from start to finish: the first mock-ups, the trials that animators craft, “are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” It takes a lot of tinkering and refining in order to create the visually stunning product that audiences see. One of their more recent films, Monsters University, took more than four years to make!