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What if Pixar Never Existed?

VO: Emily Brayton
Can you imagine a world without Pixar? Most obviously, we wouldn’t have beloved figures like Woody and Buzz, Nemo, the Parr family, and WALL-E. Films that are considered among the greatest feats of storytelling in the 20th and 21st century, such as 1995’s “Toy Story,” and 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” wouldn’t have been created. Bummer, right? We’re not even started yet!
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What if Pixar Never Existed?


In an age where animation needs its own category at the Academy Awards, cartoons are definitely not just for kids. Animation is a veritable industry, with titans like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks creating box office giants that often beat out live-action films. In fact, some of the most iconic characters of the last century have been animated. However, what if the industry were lacking one particular voice: Pixar? If Pixar didn’t exist, the transition from hand-drawn 2D animation to computer-generated 3D animation may not have happened as fast -- if at all. Before their feature-length films, Pixar worked on shorts; as die-hard fans well know, to this day, their mascot is the lamp from their 1986 short, “Luxo Jr.”. Starting with “The Adventures of André & Wally B.” in 1984, Pixar demonstrated they could translate animation principles seen previously in hand-drawn works, such as squashing and stretching characters, to the 3D format. However, given that the technology wasn’t advanced yet, and was also quite expensive, making a whole movie in 3D was quite ambitious -- if not impossible at that point.







We’re looking at what our lives would look like if Pixar had never gotten started, and some obvious -- and not so obvious -- consequences that may have resulted from that absence.



Most obviously, we wouldn’t have beloved figures like Woody and Buzz, Nemo, the Parr family, and WALL-E. Films that are considered among the greatest feats of storytelling in the 20th and 21st century, such as 1995’s “Toy Story,” and 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” wouldn’t have been created. Bummer, right? We’re not even started yet.



If Pixar didn’t exist, the transition from hand-drawn 2D animation to computer-generated 3D animation may not have happened as fast -- if at all. Before their feature-length films, Pixar worked on shorts; as die-hard fans well know, to this day, their mascot is the lamp from their 1986 short, “Luxo Jr.”. Starting with “The Adventures of André & Wally B.” in 1984, Pixar demonstrated they could translate animation principles seen previously in hand-drawn works, such as squashing and stretching characters, to the 3D format. However, given that the technology wasn’t advanced yet, and was also quite expensive, making a whole movie in 3D was quite ambitious -- if not impossible at that point.



Aside from being hard at work producing content, Pixar was also proving their genius working on software. The company collaborated with Disney on CAPS, or Computer Animation Production System, in the late 1980s; a technology that was put to great use at the end of “the Little Mermaid,” for example, as a rainbow streaks across the sky. This technology made it possible for a computer to substitute the painstaking process of hand-painting cels, of which animated feature films might need over 100,000.



Pixar also developed RenderMan, a rendering software that lights and calculates all the materials to look realistic -- a program still used today. From a technical standpoint, Pixar was changing the game in the animation world.



It’s fair to assume that had Pixar not been around, someone else would have figured out a process to make hand-drawn animation easier… eventually. Though studios like Studio Ghibli kept with the older methods after “Toy Story”’s release as the first computer-animated feature film, the impulse was there in both film and TV to cut time, resources, and costs -- y’know, like there always is.



But let’s play devil’s advocate for a hot minute: Pixar wasn’t the first to experiment with 3D; the shift to that practice was already in motion from the mid-20th century by people like John Whitney. In fact, another company could have -- and maybe would have -- been the pioneer: Blue Sky Studios was around by the late ‘80s, ramping up to release “Ice Age” in 2002. DreamWorks had both “Antz” and “The Prince of Egypt” in 1998, proving it could nail both computer-animated features and musicals -- betcha THAT scared Disney.



However, had Pixar not been around, the desire to innovate and better the process of 3D animation may not have been as urgent, which means the strides seen in films like “Coco” and “Incredibles 2” in terms of lighting and texturing that positively blow our minds with how realistic they look… would probably still be aspirations.



So, if Pixar weren’t a thing, animated movies in general would definitely not look the way they do. Some people don’t like that artists who made their living in hand-drawn work had to adapt to something new, and get replaced. But if Pixar weren’t around, there’s a good chance they might have been out of a job anyway.



Disney experienced their so-called Renaissance in the early ‘90s with films such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” It was also during that time that Disney signed a whopping $26 million deal with Pixar for 3 feature films, with “Toy Story” as the first. Pixar went public shortly after “Toy Story”’s release in November of 1995, and saw rapid success, immediately shifting people’s perceptions about what animation meant -- particularly in the 3D form.



Making a deal with Pixar ultimately proved to be a smart move on Disney’s part, as they hit a period of decline in the 2000s. From 2002, when Best Animated Feature was first awarded at the Oscars, until 2009, every single Pixar film was nominated, with all but “Monsters, Inc.” and “Cars” taking home the statue. 5 of Disney’s films were nominated as well, with no wins. With movies like “Lilo & Stitch,” “Brother Bear,” and “Home on the Range,” it seemed like Disney was trying many different concepts, but some fell flat with audiences.



The Mouse House was losing its voice trying to compete with animation companies like Aardman and DreamWorks, who went for a different type of humor. On the other hand, Pixar’s films succeeded by keeping storytelling as their top priority, more often than not presenting their characters as flawed and having them overcome a problem, rather than a big bad villain. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their characters practically bounced off the screen and into the hearts and minds of all who watched. Sounds like a pretty good formula to copy instead, right?



In 2006, after Pixar had already been around for 20 years, Disney’s new CEO Bob Iger worked to purchase Pixar. According to John Lasseter, Iger realized the need for the acquisition at the opening-day parade for Hong Kong Disneyland as every new character that passed him belonged to Pixar. After their difficulties getting off the ground as a company, with funding from one Steve Jobs -- yeah, this was BEFORE he was “THE Steve Jobs” -- struggling to turn a profit off of an expensive and risky enterprise, and coming into negotiation difficulties on multiple occasions with Disney, it seemed like someone could finally see how much of an asset Pixar was.



If Pixar didn’t exist, the landscape of animation would be completely different. Disney’s animation division may not have been able to stay afloat had characters like Remy, Mike, and Sulley not joined their ranks.



But what if Pixar’s disappearance from history affected the future of not only the animation industry? With the success of Pixar in the business and entertainment worlds, Steve Jobs’ confidence and reputation skyrocketed. He wasn’t doing so great before that; Jobs resigned from Apple in the mid-’80s, then founded NeXT and financed the company that would become Pixar, which cost him a LOT for awhile. Jobs was instrumental in getting Pixar off the ground, along with Lawrence Levy, who he brought on as CFO. And then, well, “Toy Story” happened, and suddenly the sky was the limit.



After Pixar succeeded, Jobs returned to Apple, which purchased NeXT in 1997, two years after “Toy Story” and a year before “A Bug’s Life.” Apple, like Pixar, went from a financial burden to an up-and-comer in a short time, due in no small part to the release of the iMac in August 1998. With Jobs as CEO, Apple changed the game in terms of exciting the general public about tech releases, and took significant risks by investing time and money in electronics other than computers -- especially the iPhone. It may well have been Pixar that prompted Jobs to “think different.”



But if Pixar had never existed, what might Steve Jobs have done during that decade-long departure from Apple? He may have retained more of his money by not funding Pixar’s ventures before it went public on the stock market. He may also not have come to understand the particulars of the entertainment industry, better grasping marketing strategies. What’s more, he would probably not have gotten the ego boost he needed from seeing one of his undertakings succeed in the way that Pixar did. Would Apple have felt the need to bring Jobs back eventually, and had they done so regardless of Pixar’s creation; would he have pushed for greater innovation, thus making Apple the industry behemoth it is today? Oh yeah, we’re just gonna say it: that phone in your pocket might not be an iPhone in this alternate future if it weren’t for Pixar.



So what would a Pixar-less world be like? Well, Disney might not make animated movies anymore, cartoons wouldn’t look as lifelike as they do, and we probably wouldn’t have a phone that’s also a computer that’s also a help desk that’s also a music player that’s also a… well, you get the idea. A world without Pixar is a world where we haven’t pushed the boundaries in industry upon industry, but with it, is a world where we go to infinity and beyond.
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