Pixar has made so many blockbuster hits, each just about being almost better than the last in terms of anticipation translated to box office receipts, that it's tempting to speculate whether an upcoming movie will be the one infamously credited to bringing the juggernaut to a temporary halt. Going by what The Pixar Story presented, so long as the team stays hungry, focused and passionate with transforming their ideas into films stemming from the heart, then it's probably a formula that would be difficult to break, and computer animation fans will be in for a treat, for a long time to come.
The Pixar Story is a documentary charting the meteoric rise of the company we all have probably in one way or another, come to love, with its groundbreaking effects and animation taking the world by storm with each new release. It's tough for any studio to build upon and better the success of its previous release with the new one, but somehow Pixar always managed to come through unscathed. But as the documentary reveals, it's never plain sailing, and thank goodness most of the cockups, especially weak stories, get junked and reworked, rather than the company crossing its fingers that a mediocre work could cut it. Technological advances also meant that animators get constantly challenged to break new ground, and the film systematically presents these challenges so that we the audience could take a step back, and appreciate the efforts.
Most history buffs will already know that Pixar has its first origins from Lucasfilm (and you can sense George Lucas reeling from letting this opportunity run away), where a division with a mixed expertise of computer scientists and animators spun off to do what they love, and that's to explore the possibilities of combining their skills to make animation. And with angel investor Steve Jobs providing seed funding and despite the studio being in the red in the first few years, one short clip lead to a short film, and with Disney on board in an initial uneven partnership, Toy Story was born, and as they say, the rest is history.
The first parts of the documentary devoted quite a lot of time to John Lasseter, who's credited with making things work with his direction of the first crop of movies coming out of Pixar. It traces his professional start as an animator with Walt Disney, the run ins and the unfortunate firing, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise on hindsight. We see how he, and the rest of his co-workers, had to undertake pressure to perform, each pouring in copious amounts of personal sacrifice to turn their dream into reality. And with each success, the director taking over the reins for the next movie, will no doubt feel the pressure of its predecessor's success, especially Pete Doctor coming off Lesseter's impressive track record, and others like Brad Bird coming from outside the company culture.
We take a sneak peek into the facilities at their swanky company grounds, admiring the grounds in which Pixar creations are conceived, but what is of extreme value here is the tons of archived footage, most of which are unseen because they never see the light of day, be it rough storyboard sketches or skeletal computer animation, most of which contain early stages of the characters with whom we've been acquainted with. The Pixar Story spent significant amount of time on Toy Story (since it's the first movie), and you can witness how the early Woody character and storyline was rejected because they didn't seem right. And it seems that Pixar doesn't compromise on quality - that plans do get trashed if they don't measure up, even with a fixed deadline looming. Talk about grit, determination and perfectionism all rolled into one.
With plenty of interviews with the creators, big name CEOs past and present, and the stars sharing their experience with providing the voices for their digital counterparts, director Leslie Iwersk also provided a brief look into the political wrangling behind the scenes, just for completeness sake, making The Pixar Story well suited for anyone curious to know how it call started, and how the energy is sustained until this very day. There'll be a second screening this Thursday at 9pm, so don't miss this.