In 1995, a little-known animation house owned by Steve Jobs--but originally founded and eventually sold to Jobs by George Lucas--called Pixar, put out an animated film called "Toy Story." The movie, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, focused on the lives and adventures of a group of toys living with a young boy named Andy.
The movie was an unexpected hit, earning more than $350 million worldwide. And over time, it has held up as a solid piece of storytelling. But what really made "Toy Story" noteworthy as a historical artifact is that it was the first-ever fully computer-generated animated feature film.
Pixar's second feature, 1998's "A Bug's Life," was also fully computer-generated, and also a major hit for the studio. Worldwide, it earned $363 million.
The film, which was said to be a loosely based parody of Aesop fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper," came out shortly after the DreamWorks CG feature "Antz." At the time, many people were curious about how two computer-generated films about ants and other bugs came out so close together.
Based on the success of the original "Toy Story," Disney--which back then had a distribution deal with Pixar--asked Pixar to return to the well with a straight-to-video sequel, "Toy Story 2." But Disney was highly impressed with the in-progress work they saw on the film and instead asked Pixar to complete the film for theatrical release. It hit theaters in 1999 and earned $485 million worldwide.
Originally commissioned outside the terms of a five-picture distribution deal between Pixar and Disney, "Toy Story 2" became a centerpiece in a long-running dispute between the two companies, since Pixar felt the film should count as one of the five projects and Disney felt otherwise. Eventually, the bad blood between the companies would result in Pixar's 2004 decision not to team up on distribution with Disney after the five-picture deal ended. However, when Disney CEO Michael Eisner left the company, the door opened for new relations between the companies, and in fact, Disney ended up buying Pixar outright, making Steve Jobs the largest Disney shareholder.
Later this year, Disney and Pixar will release both "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" as a Digital 3D double feature, and "Toy Story 3," now in production, is scheduled for a 2010 release.
Pixar's fourth all-CG feature, 2001's "Monsters, Inc.," earned $525 million worldwide, and centered on two main characters played by Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Goodman's character, Sulley, is known as the star performer at Monsters, Inc., the power company for the city of Monstropolis. The company produces power by sending monsters through portals into the closets of sleeping children and harnessing the energy from the kids' screams. Sulley is seen as the most successful scarer.
"Monsters, Inc." was notable at the time for the innovations Pixar developed in using computer graphics to animate Sulley's realistic looking fur, the first time such a process had been done on film. It earned $525 million worldwide.
Despite the significant success of its previous films, Pixar may finally have become a household name with its fifth film, the father-son tale "Finding Nemo." The film, released in 2003, became a global blockbuster, earning more than $866 million, far surpassing the studio's previous films.
"Finding Nemo" also was notable for the technical innovations Pixar implemented in the film, especially the studio's techniques for using computer graphics to animate underwater sequences. To do so, the animators had to learn how to use the CGI tools to animate the refraction of light underwater, as well as murk and other elements of life under the sea.
Pixar followed its huge "Finding Nemo" success with another blockbuster, "The Incredibles," the story of a family of superheroes living in a world where the government has ordered that superheroes live normal lives. The film earned $635 million worldwide, less than "Finding Nemo," but still a huge financial windfall for the company.
According to Wikipedia, the project was originally a traditional animation film at Warner Bros., but was eventually shut down. Director Brad Bird took the project with him to Pixar, where it was developed, as are all Pixar films, as a CGI movie.
"Cars" was Pixar's seventh feature film, released in 2006, and earning $462 million. It was the last film Pixar produced before it was bought by Disney.
"Cars," which was based on the live-action film, "Doc Hollywood," featured a cast of, well, cars. The main character, Lightning McQueen, is a brash rookie race car who ends up stuck in a small Southwestern town.
The film achieved a notable technological innovation, implementing computerized procedural animation to display 300,000 individual car "fans," a process neither Pixar nor any other studio had done before.
"Cars 2" is now in pre-production and should hit theaters in 2011.
The story of a French rat, Remy, who yearns for a life as a Parisian gourmet chef, "Ratatouille" was Pixar's eighth feature.
The film earned $624 million and plaudits for its attention to culinary details. According to Wikipedia, Pixar also put a great deal of emphasis on the realism of some of the water scenes in the film. "There are...many water-based sequences in the film, one of which is set in the sewers and is more complex than the blue whale scene in 'Finding Nemo,'" according to the site. "One scene has (a character) wet after jumping into the Seine to fetch Remy. A Pixar employee...wearing a chef uniform and apron jumped into Pixar's swimming pool to see which parts of the suit stuck to his body and which became translucent from water absorption."
"Ratatouille" was nominated for Oscars for best animated feature, best sound editing, and best sound mixing.
Pixar's ninth film, "Wall-E," is a science-fiction story of a robot left behind in a garbage-strewn Earth devoid of organic life. It ends up as a love story between the title character and another robot, EVE, who comes to Earth searching for signs of life.
"Wall-E" was Pixar's first film set (partly) in space, as well as its first attempt at mixing CGI animation with live-action segments. The film has two main sets: one on the trash-covered Earth, and the other on a people-packed space colony. While the movie seems to promote a pro-environmental message, the filmmakers denied any such agenda.
The film won the Oscar for best animated feature, and earned $532 million at the box office worldwide.
Pixar's tenth feature, "Up," will open in theaters Friday. It is the story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, who, sick of life stuck in a mundane urban environment, ties thousands of helium balloons to his house and floats away for a life of adventure.
Carl's house is carried through the air by the thousands of individually computer-animated balloons. Each balloon is interdependent on the others, meaning that if one bumps into another, the second moves, and so on. The physical simulator Pixar used for the modeling of the balloons was designed to build in random but realistic behavior by the balloons, and in one sequence, some of the balloons break free of the cluster. That was not intended by the filmmakers, but they kept the sequence in the movie because they liked it.