Pixar's 'Incredible' Culture

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Case Details:

Case Code : HROB082
Case Length : 20 Pages
Period : 2004-2006
Pub. Date : 2006
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Pixar Animation Studios
Industry : Media and Entertainment
Countries : USA

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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Introduction Contd...

The talented Pixar team has delivered outstanding animation coupled with compelling stories and enduring characters that have captivated audiences of all ages worldwide and redefined the genre by setting a new standard of excellence. The addition of Pixar significantly enhances Disney animation, which is a critical creative engine for driving growth across our businesses...

Background Note

Pixar was originally founded in 1979 by Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith (Smith) as the Graphics Group, of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm Ltd.6 (Lucasfilm) launched in in the same year. Despite having contributed to successful films such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Young Sherlock Holmes, the group continued to remain unprofitable. Lucas was not willing to continue with the cash flow losses and stated that he wanted to focus on creating entertainment products rather than tools. But the immediate trigger for his interest in selling off this division stemmed from the personal financial difficulties Lucas was facing due to his 1983 divorce. A sudden drop in revenues from the Star Wars licenses, following a lukewarm response the release of Return of the Jedi, also contributed to this situation.

In 1986, Pixar was purchased by Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer Inc.7 (Apple), for US$ 10 million. Jobs retained Catmull as the president and CEO, and Smith as the executive vice president and director of Pixar. Jobs served as the Chairman of the board.

Pixar began as a high-end hardware company with a core product Pixar Image Computer (PIC). The PIC was a system which was primarily sold to government agencies and the medical community. Later, Disney became a major buyer of PICs, using the machine and the custom software to replace the laborious 'Ink and Paint' part of its 2D animation process by this more efficient automated method. Though Pixar's efforts to show off the capability of its device with short demonstration animations, such as Lasseter's Luxo Jr. 8 at the SIGGRAPH,9 were well appreciated, the device met with limited commercial success. The poor sales of PICs forced Pixar to focus on the animation business and Lasseter's animation department began producing computer-animated commercials for outside companies...

Excerpts >>

6] Lucasfilm Ltd., based in Marin County, California, USA is a film production company founded by writer/producer/director George Lucas in 1971. It is best known for producing the Star Wars film series, which comprised of six feature films. Some of the other box office hits produced/ directed by George Lucas include the Indiana Jones franchise and American Graffiti. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org)

7] Apple Computer, Inc., headquartered in Cupertino, California, part of Silicon Valley, is a well-known manufacturer of innovative, attractively-designed computer hardware and software such as, iMac and iPod. Apple played a major part in the personal computer revolution of the 1970s. It was co-founded by Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Mike Markkula. In 1985, following an internal power struggle at Apple, Jobs was removed from the company and was on the lookout for new investment opportunities at that time.

8] Luxo Jr. was the first computer-animated short film produced by Pixar in 1986. It featured two desk lamps, the larger one named 'Luxo' and the smaller one named 'Luxo Jr'. Luxo Jr. received an academy award nomination for Best Animated Short Film in 1986. Later on, Luxo Jr. became the mascot of Pixar and appears in its production logo.

9] SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group in Graphics) is the name of the annual conference on computer graphics convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH, a New York-based Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.


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