Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Pixar Animation Studios is a computer animation studio, which was founded by George Lucas in 1979 as the Graphics Group (short for The Computer Graphics Group of the Lucasfilm Computer Division as its full, somewhat unwieldy, denomination was), occasionally also referred to as the (Computer) Graphics Project or Lucasfilm Graphics Group. At the time of its founding it comprised one third of the entire Computer Division of Lucasfilm Ltd. In 1981, the Graphics Group created the "Project Genesis" demonstration sequence, invariably referred to as the "Genesis Demo" by the production staff (American Cinematographer, October 1982, pp. 1038), seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and re-used in the subsequent two Star Trek films. It has the distinction of being the very first fully textured CGI effect featured in the motion picture industry, seen by the general public.

Genesis effect

Sequence of the groundbreaking "Genesis Demo" digital effect

Some of the founding core staff, like Ed Catmull, were handpicked by Lucas himself, and all of them had backgrounds in the computer sciences. Lucas, according to the company's homepage, had set up the organization in order to develop a digital (nonlinear) film editing system, a digital sound editing system, a digital film printer, and further exploration of computer graphics. It was especially the latter aspect that drew in the computer scientists, but as one of the founding staffers, Alvy Ray Smith, discovered, "We thought he had hired us to do computer graphics because that's what we were really good at, but it was actually to build three machines.(...) George didn't know what he had." It wasn't until producer Robert Sallin came inquiring what could be done with a scripted scene, they referred to as the "Genesis Demo", that Smith knew this was the opportunity, he and his team had been waiting for. Sallin, as it turned out, had a far more modest effect in mind, that involved an aquarium with a rock turning into something living. Smith continued, "I said, "You guys know what you can and can't do with computer graphics?" And they said, "No." I said, "Well, I do, so let me go home overnight and think about this, and I'll come back with a proposal for something we can actually execute." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 5, p. 50) What Smith, who had worked for a short spell at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he had worked (with, among others, Rick Sternbach) on the real world Voyager flyby movies for NASA, came up with, together with Loren Carpenter, was the flyby scene. It was quickly approved, and the team could get started on the sequence that was eventually featured, setting the company on its way to the fame and glory it has since then acquired.

San Francisco bar 1, Star Trek III

The World War I computer game created by Jeffres

A later addition to the Group, Jerry Jeffres, by then "one of our resident think-tank people", according his ILM Animation Supervisor Charles Mullen, provided the follow-up movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock with one small, nearly unnoticed CGI effect, that of the holographic World War I combat computer game seen being played by two 23rd century denizens in the San Francisco bar. Almost as a side project, Jeffres created the sequence on a small Hewart-Packard personal computer and developed a custom program for the wire-frame animation. (Cinefex, issue 18, p. 60) While Mullen has, neither Jeffres nor the Group has received credit for the contribution.

Time warp effects experienced by crew of HMS Bounty

The "dream sequence" segment of the slingshot effect, created for The Voyage Home

Ultimately known as ILM Computer Graphics, the group provided subsequently the signature "slingshot/time travel" effects sequence in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well, and were credited as such – contrary to The Wrath of Khan where it were the individual staffers who received official credits, being lumped under mother company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). It was the group's last major project as part of ILM, the visual effects subsidiary of Lucasfilm, before becoming Pixar. (Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, p. 113) The sequence, especially the what Supervisor George Joblove has coined the "dream sequence", (Computer Aided Design T363) was technically as groundbreaking as the "Genesis Demo" effect had been previously, but while much of the executive staff was still the same, neither they nor any of their team actually creating the effect received individual credits this time around. Though only about thirty seconds long, the sophistication of the sequence was such that it stretched contemporary computer processing power to its then outermost capacity, as it took weeks to render. (Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, p. 113)

As Pixar, and years later during its years working with Disney, the company also provided software support for the production of Star Trek: Insurrection in 1998, for which it received an official credit.

Becoming PixarEdit

The Graphics Group became an independent company in 1986 with its purchase by founder and then former CEO of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs. On this occasion the company was restructured and rechristened as "Pixar Animation Studios".

ILM itself incidentally, proceeded to form a new in-house digital effects department from the remnants of the Computer Division – initially, and for a short time only, perpetuating the name "ILM Computer Graphics" for the newly formed department and incorporating those Group staffers who had opted to remain with ILM, which included most of the The Voyage Home team. (Computer Aided Design T363) This time around, the department was restructered purely for the express purpose of producing these effects for ILM's movie projects by utilizing digital techniques and technology developed by third parties, of which Pixar was now one, instead of trying to be an inventor of these technologies themselves – in essence reversing the original intent founder Lucas had for the group initially.

After aligning with Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar became a prolific producer of highly successful computer-animated feature films, with such films as the Toy Story series, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles (featuring music by Michael Giacchino), Ratatouille (also composed by Giacchino), and the acclaimed WALL-E (on which Ben Burtt served as sound designer, co-earning two Academy Award nominations) amongst them and earning the company and its staffers a plethora of Academy Awards. Like its former mother/sister company, Pixar has in the process attained a solid reputation as one of the foremost, if not the foremost, animation studios in existence. In 2006, Disney formalized the nearly two decades long close working relationship it had with Pixar, and acquired full ownership over Pixar – implicitly conceding that Pixar had by then completely eclipsed Disney, once a formidable animation studio itself – , but continues to treat it as a separate company.

The name "Pixar" was derived from the name given to a piece of equipment to speed up computing time, the Graphics Group was developing at the time of The Wrath of Khan. (American Cinematographer, October 1982, p. 1050) The name was a by Smith invented Spanish verb, supposedly meaning, "to make pictures". [1]

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm (including subsidiary ILM) from its founder in 2012, "mother and child" were reunited under one roof for the first time since their separation back in 1986.

Genesis demonstration teamEdit

Part of the Graphics Group Genesis Demo team

Part of the Genesis Demo team; (L-R) Carpenter, Reeves, Catmull, Smith and Cook

The following staffers were responsible for the final visualization of the "Genesis Demo",

San Fransico Bar computer game teamEdit

Slingshot effect aka "Dream Sequence" teamEdit

The following staffers were responsible for the final visualization of the "Slingshot effect,"†

Some of these staffers were featured in the below-mentioned 1987 documentary.

† – staff as ascertained in the 1987 Cinefex article listed below

Further readingEdit


External links Edit

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