Pixar's Highs and Lows of the Past 25 Years
Power players Darla K. Anderson, Brad Bird of the studio's "brain trust" share some inside stories.
Darla K. Anderson
Toy Story 3, Cars, Monsters, Inc., A Bug's Life
The only woman to be part of Pixar's brain trust, Anderson joined the company in its commercials division in 1993. On surviving the ordeal of Toy Story 2, which went back to the drawing board just nine months before its release, she recalls: "[Lasseter, Catmull and Jobs] gathered the company together when it was done and congratulated us in a magnanimous way -- and then gave everybody this huge bonus. I cried. And so did everyone else."
Ratatouille, The Incredibles
Bird (pictured below), who joined Pixar in 2000, remembers his worst moment: the death of animator Joe Ranft. "He was in a car, not at the wheel, and the car went off an embankment and he got trapped in the water. That was rough on everyone because Joe was so much in the center of Pixar. What he brought was at the very essence of what makes Pixar great: an old, Walt-era Disney focus on the characters
Co-founder and president
The computer scientist recruited Lasseter while running Lucasfilm's computer graphics unit, and now serves as Pixar's president. A high point: when Lasseter pitched the reworked Toy Story 2 to the whole company. "The pitch probably lasted 45 minutes, with some drawings. It was electrifying. Everybody who was there, around 300 of us, remembers that day. At the end, there was this great applause, because we knew we had escaped the jaws of death."
Docter was anxious when Up was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival. "Someone said, 'If I were you, I'd be a little nervous because the opening-night audience can be hostile to Hollywood movies,' " he recalls. "I saw all these people in their fancy gowns and 3D glasses and it was nerve-racking. And after the credits died down there was silence -- then we got a standing ovation. That was amazing."
After buying Pixar for $5 million in 1986, Jobs maintained an office there for many years, along with the title CEO, before joining Disney's board when it bought the company in 2006. His roots in Silicon Valley influenced it, and so did his creations, like the iPad. Lasseter describes how Pixar created a special app for him to watch material while he's driven to work. As for Jobs, "he's still there in spirit," Lasseter says, "and every time I use my iPad, I bless him."
Co-founder and chief creative officer
Lasseter has come full circle to a leadership role at the studio that once fired him, Disney. His worst moment, he says, was when Pixar and Disney seemed poised to go their separate ways in 2006. "We were trying to renegotiate a new deal and the decision was made not to do it. That was really hard, because we knew Disney was then going to make sequels to all our films. It was like our children were being given to somebody else."
WALL-E, Finding Nemo
A 21-year Pixar veteran, Stanton became known as the go-to guy for story before helming WALL-E and Nemo. He revels in being the first to see the Love Lounge, a secret annex one artist had added to his office: "I was the first person he let see his handiwork. He was so afraid he was going to get fired -- and I couldn't stop laughing. I immediately called John and he couldn't stop laughing. I don't think there's a stronger statement of who we are: Pixar not only supported that devious little mission but instigated more."
Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3
Unlike most of Pixar's brain trust members, animation was not Unkrich's first love. "The Shining was the film that got me into making movies," he says. After training on Avid editing systems at USC, he came to Pixar in 1994, where his editing skills became invaluable. "They wanted to edit using digital editing tools, which were in their infancy -- and I happened to know them from film school. I was in the right place at the right time, during one of the most major shifts in the industry in decades."