Steve Jobs uses a sample image from Pixar’s Toy Story 2 to demonstrate the new features of Mac OSX version 10.1 during the keynote address at the Macworld Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City on July 18, 2001. photo by Gabe Palacio/ImageDirect
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From Our Archives: A Conversation With Steve Jobs About Movies and Technology

Three years after the events depicted at the end of Danny Boyle’s biopic Steve Jobs, Jobs was in San Francisco talking to us about an entirely different venture: Pixar, the animation studio created, in 1986, by two scientists from the New York Institute of Technology – Drs. Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith – with a $10 million investment from the founder of Apple Computers. Having been forced, the year before, out of the company he had founded with his friend Steve Wozniak, Jobs was actively seeking new ventures and challenges. Together with 38 other engineers, programmers and artists, Catmull and Smith had distinguished themselves at LucasFilm’s Computer Division, being responsible for milestones such as the first completely virtual character to grace the screen: the Glass Knight from Barry Levinson’s 1985 movie Young Sherlock Holmes. From that breakthrough moment Pixar had been born, with Jobs’s financial support: $5 million towards acquiring the rights of the technology Catmull and Smith had developed at LucasFilm, $5 million cash as Pixar’s initial capital.

By 2001, all of 15 years old, the once-fledgling company was well on its way, having outgrown its initial purpose as a high-end hardware provider and, thanks to some fancy animated demos created by new employee John Lasseter, had established itself as a cutting-edge animation studio with the massive success of Toy Story in 1995, quickly followed by A Bug’s Life in 1998 and Toy Story 2 in 1999.

Now it was the Fall of 2001 and Monsters, Inc. was ready to hit the screens. Jobs was back at Apple, shepherding the company through its rebirth and, at the same time, taking the lead at Pixar as its CEO. And as such he made sure to meet us in San Francisco and pitch Pixar and Monsters, Inc. with all the charm and power he was famous for. “To hang around John (Lasseter) and Pete (Docter, co-director of Monsters, Inc.) and the other filmmakers at Pixar is one of the things I am most proud of”, he told us. “It’s a lot of work. I see these guys working so hard but the result is if we’re successful, these films are going to go into the culture. Pixar is the most high-tech studio in the world but one of John’s famous quotes is that no amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story, right?”

For a seasoned visionary, Jobs was candid in admitting he did not foresee the sucess of Pixar when he had founded it 15 years prior: “Ed (Catmull) had a vision to make the world’s first computer animated feature film (…) and I bought the vision and we thought it would take us a few years.” Now, he said, the studio was at the top of its game: “Pixar has invented the medium of computer animation and we intend to use it for all our films, because we believe it’s rich and for us it just works really well.”

Jobs was, of course, absolutely enthusiastic about the reborn Apple – the iMac was a success, and the first generation of Ipods had just been announced, positioning the company as the leader in portable tech. Jobs had a very clear vision about it: “Macintosh is going to become the center or digital hub of your digital lifestyle”, he told us. “Camcorders are great but you just have a bunch of video on a videotape that you never watch again. We can help you bring it into a Macintosh and actually make a simple move with it. The same thing is true of digital music, digital photography… (…) Apple is the most creative technical company in the business.”

Another 15 years later – almost – Pixar is part of Disney, having been acquired for $7.4 billion and almost immediately propelling the studio back to its leadership status in the animation field with seven Golden Globes and an unbroken series of box office hits. Lasseter, now Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation and DisneyToon Studios, remembers Jobs fondly: “He was a wonderful guy. Steve was really a collaborator. I mean he was a visionary. And he was very strong to do the right thing. That way he and I got along great. Cause I’m very strong to do the right thing too. But he was the most brilliant person I’ve ever known in my life.”

Ana Maria Bahiana