Culture

Steve Jobs was semi-obsessed with fur, says Pixar exec

The Apple founder was so pleased by a test of Sullivan's fur for "Monsters, Inc.," the team celebrated with beer, says Pixar CTO Steve May at SXSW.

Pixar's fourth feature, 2001's "Monsters, Inc.," was its first to tackle the software animation of fur.

Pixar Animation Studios

Apple founder Steve Jobs was a notorious perfectionist. That extended even to animated shagginess, apparently.

Jobs, an early investor in Pixar Animation Studios, "was very interested in fur," said Steve May, the chief technology officer of Pixar, recounting the character development of "Monsters, Inc." character Sullivan. May was speaking Tuesday during a panel at the SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas.

Fur was a new challenge for the company after its previous features -- "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life" -- relied on main characters with smooth surfaces. After multiple "terrible" fur software tests, May said, including one that looked like a drab sweater, the fur-software team finally hit its first success when it planted furriness on a simple ball shape to test how it moved.

"We showed it to Steve Jobs, and he was so pleased with that test, we went out for beers," he said. (Fun fact: Sullivan has 2.3 million hairs. "I know because I counted them," May said.)

The panel -- which also included people working at Disney Animation Studios, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Industrial Light & Magic's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" team -- discussed how technology and engineering overlap with the creative process. Obsession was a bit of a theme: Several of the panelist remarked on the lengths they go to to research minutiae about what they are trying to create.

Vick Schutz, a computer graphics supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic, said his team working on "Rogue One" wanted to, as closely as possible, recreate the star destroyers and Death Star of the original Star Wars films for the prequel story.

For the original models in Star Wars, artists hacked train- and other model-making kits at the time to add details and doodads to the aircrafts. For "Rogue One," Schutz said, his team found every single model kit that was used on the originals almost 40 years ago. They bought them all and scanned them digitally to recreate computer-generated versions.

"The thing is: They're not quite the same," he said. "Once we started working on it, we wanted to build what you remembered, not what was actually on the screen."

"Our goal was to recreate the look but, more importantly, the feel that you had when you watched those original 'Star Wars' movies," he said.

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