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06.25.08

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Phaedra

The Pixar Touch

The Making of a Company

By Richard von Busack


David A. Price traces the roots of a new art. It stirred at computer labs at the University of Utah, where Ed Catmull learned his craft. It sprouted inside garages-turned-classrooms at the New York Institute of Technology. It grew healthier at the Lucasfilm Computer Division, at the time, a computer-free upper-floor office in a Victorian in San Anselmo. Finally the word got out to Valencia's Cal Arts in the late 1970s; the Southern California school was then mostly a fast track to a moribund Walt Disney Studios. The technicians and artists who gathered in Northern California were bankrolled by tycoons; first, the fructarian recluse Steve Jobs; later, the innovative movie exec Jeffrey Katzenberg. In 1981, a small group dining at the Country Garden Restaurant in Novato coined the word Pixar as a brand name for a new type of imaging computer. Ten years later, Disney announced the deal to distribute Pixar's first full-length computer-animated cartoon, Toy Story . The box office phenomenon of 1995, Toy Story began the string of triumphs. These were dreamed up in an office park in Richmond, next to an oil refinery. Later, they were undertaken a few miles south, in a brick-lined campus in Emeryville. Only 21 years since the first Pixar short film Luxo Jr ., Pixar is now releasing its most mature film to date, WALL-E. Price follows the course of Pixar's groundbreaking work, and he certainly knows about cartoons. Good to hear him commenting on the importance of the 1985 Quebec-made short Tony de Peltrie : mostly forgotten now, it was one of the first indications that computer graphics could create humanoids. The author charts the torments of writing and rewriting scripts, of making characters sympathetic without making them saps, and of using music without letting music steamroll the imagery. In short biographies, we get an idea of the different personalities at Pixar: the nostalgic John Lasseter and the mercurial humorist Brad Bird, not to mention Andrew (Finding Nemo) Stanton, with his peerless ability to reach out to children. Sometimes, Pixar seems like the last studio left that can please an all-ages audience without insulting their intelligence. (By David A. Price; Knopf; 308 pages; $27.95 cloth)


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