Posted on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull recently published a book called Creativity Inc., bout how creativity and business can work hand in hand. The book is filled with stories from Catmull’s journey at Pixar, some details of which have never been told publicly before. One of the stories is about how a business deal came within seven days from changing history as we know it. Not only would Toy Story never have been made, it is very likely the computer animation revolution would have happened entirely differently or maybe not even at all.
As you probably know, Ed Catmull was recruited by George Lucas to run Lucasfilm’s Computer Division. Pixar started out as a computer hardware and software technology company. The early genesis of the company was The Graphics Group, one third of Lucasfilm’s Computer Division. John Lasseter was hired to help make computer animated short films to demonstrate and sell the Pixar Image Computer to government and medical companies.
It became the dream of Pixar founders to create the first computer animated feature film, but sales of the computers were not enough to sustain the company. So LucasFilm was looking to sell the company, but no one was interested in buying. Here is an excerpt from the book:
Autoblog has some more background on what happened:
In reading Creativity, Inc., it’s not entirely clear what scuttled the deal, but in the book’s afterword, Catmull makes it sound like Pixar executives were upset when the deal fell through. “We’d made a promising match with General Motors, only to be left at the altar,” he says. In a recent lecture as part of the DFJ Entrepreneurial Series at Stanford, Catmull expounded a bit, saying the deal fell apart when “with General Motors – the EDS part – the Ross Perot holdovers and the car people got into a war with each other.” EDS, of course, being Electronic Data Systems, the technology and services company that the one-time presidential candidate sold to GM in 1984.
They were one week away from a deal which would have changed history as we know it. If the deal had gone through, Toy Story would have never been produced, and as Catmull says, it would have likely “put an end to our dream of making the first [CGI] animated feature film.” We would not have The Incredibles, or WALL-E, Up, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, or even the Cars films. The computer animation landscape would probably look a whole lot different than it does now. Who knows, Disney could still be making hand-drawn animated features.
Also: Who is to say what would have happened to Steve Jobs and his future developments at Apple if things had gone that way. It’s possible that Jobs would have still returned to Apple to lead the company he founded to the amazing innovations that have shaped out modern world. But it’s also possible that his decade at the helm of Pixar helped shape his attitude and inform his choices. Toy Story was released a year before Apple welcomed Jobs back. It’s impossible to see what might have happened if this deal had gone through, but it’s amazing to think about.
Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is now available on Amazon.