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Pixar At Twenty
With its unprecedented string of hit films, a $7.4 billion sale to Disney, and another blockbuster out this month, Emeryville's gentle juggernaut comes of age.
By Jonathan Kiefer
Anyone with eyeballs knows that Pixar changed the face of entertainment, but let’s also recognize that it happened right here in our backyard. As aficionados of the East Bay would have it, no other place on Earth could have been so hospitable to Pixar, which started as a software-company offshoot of the George Lucas entertainment empire and briskly morphed into the world’s most famous producer of computer-animated films, every single one of which has been a hit.
As Pixar celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2006 and releases its newest feature, Cars, on June 9, the Emeryville animation giant seems on the verge of something like adulthood. And adulthood means responsibility—in this case, finding a way to stay safely on top with a responsible balance between mainstream success and cutting-edge entertainment.
This January, in what the San Francisco Chronicle called “a significant milestone in the Bay Area’s emergence as a key player in the new media world,” the Walt Disney Company bought Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion. Pixar CEO Steve Jobs—who is also, in case anyone has forgotten, the head of Apple Computer—became the largest shareholder on Disney’s board of directors. Pixar Executive Vice President John Lasseter, director of Toy Story and Cars, became the overseer of Disney’s Imagineering division, which designs, builds, and runs the company’s theme parks. Pixar’s adulthood apparently also means bigger paychecks, bigger workloads, and bigger visions of what family entertainment can be.
When I read this article last night, I got to a paragraph that shocked the hell out of me and made me realize what a small friggin world this is.
I went to high school with this guy. He was part of the metal head group (which I didn't associate too much with being that I was with the Mod/ New Wave and Drama groups). We played Badminton together, occasionally hung out around the school during lunch, and were always drilling each other on Disney trivia. I'm glad to see he got such a great position.Production manager Jonas Rivera
Jonas Rivera’s first job out of college was a dream come true.
The Castro Valley native came to Pixar straight from San Francisco State University. “I saw Luxo Jr. in a class and liked it so much I cold-called Pixar. They hired me for an internship to work on Toy Story,” says Rivera.
“Just after I started, they showed me the army man sequence, and it blew me away. It was like seeing Star Wars for the first time as a kid. But I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what I was working on.”
Rivera has been good at keeping Pixar’s secrets ever since and has worked for the studio for 11 years. As production manager on Cars, he had to keep teams of animators, screenwriters, and computer geeks on schedule throughout the film’s creation. “Pixar is this really cool collision of art and technology, which is not necessarily a natural fit. It’s my job to nurture those worlds together.”
Cars took hundreds of filmmakers more than four years to craft. Reflecting on the experience, Rivera beams with pride.
“It’s the best feeling to see it all come together. [During the production period] I got married, and we had a baby girl,” says Rivera. “When we showed it for the first time, I sat there watching the finished film and couldn’t believe it was real. It was almost dreamlike to see it.”