What did Steve Jobs do for Pixar?

When most people hear the name Steve Jobs, they think of the technology company that revolutionized the world: Apple. While yes, Steve Jobs did revolutionize current communication, graphic design, and more with Apple products, there is another company that he had a huge impact on: Pixar.

Pixar has revolutionized the animation industry in the last thirty years. When Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, he started working on the NeXT computer. He also bought the graphics division of filmmaker George Lucas' company, Pixar, for $10 million.

George Lucas is the creator of the “Star Wars” franchise. At the time, Pixar was an animation company, but it mostly just sold higher-end, advanced computers and technology for animation. Pixar’s main market at that moment was medical labs and government entities that needed better computers.

As it turns out, the market for these computers was not strong, and Pixar was struggling as a company. When Steve Jobs joined the team, the tides started turning. The Pixar staff had big dreams in 1986 of creating entire films that were completely animated. However, this technology was not available or even invented yet.

While Pixar waited for the technological advancements it needed, Steve Jobs focused on creating the high-resolution image computers that would create the animated movies we love today. These computers, called Pixar Image Computers, were sold at $135,000 apiece. Hospitals and government intelligence agencies were the main customers that bought these top-of-the-line computers.

As Pixar’s technology advanced more and more, Steve Jobs and the artists at Pixar designed something new and interesting. To show what these high-resolution computers could do, Pixar’s team created the well-known animation of the lamp and Pixar logo that begins every animated film we see today.

When Pixar’s artists showed this animation to a group of graphic designers at a convention, the crowd went wild. This was the beginning of what all of these artists and designers wanted to do: animation.

Steve Jobs took a big chance when he bought into Pixar. Before the 1990s, Pixar was not doing very well as a company. When he left Apple for Pixar, his investment was not a sure thing by any means.

When Pixar’s artists captured the attention of other designers at the convention, the ball started rolling. That animation clip was the beginning of what captured the heart and soul of what Pixar would become. Steve Jobs bought into the dreams of his coworkers at Pixar. Financially, spiritually, and emotionally, he was all in.

In those beginning years, Pixar struggled. For the entirety of the first ten years, all the way until 1995, Steve Jobs lost money on this investment. Losing more than a million dollars each year did not make it easy to stay. Each year, Steve Jobs considered selling the company. Each year, he decided to stay and stick with the dream.

In 1991, Disney came knocking at Steve Jobs' door. Disney wanted to work with Pixar to create an animation system. The computer animation production system, or CAPS, significantly improved the animation these computers could do. As Disney and Pixar both began to create short films and movies, the production just got better and better.

As Steve Jobs worked with Disney, one of his lead animators, John Lasseter, was creating an in-house animation system that would improve their innovative content. Pixar began making short films, and they even won Academy Awards for some of those short films.

As the short films and animation started to grow and gain popularity, Steve Jobs made the decision to sell the hardware division of Pixar and focus solely on animation and short films. The short films and animation were the only things that the company truly enjoyed anymore.

Even though they were losing money even then, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and the Pixar team knew that something more was on the horizon. What would come in the next few years for Pixar would revolutionize animation.

In 1991, Disney approached Steve Jobs about providing finances for a full-length feature film, completely animated. They would fund the film and help distribute it. Steve Jobs jumped into this conversation with both feet. He was all in. They made a three-movie contract for what would become the iconic Pixar animated film franchise: Toy Story.

Disney and Pixar teamed up in 1995 to create Toy Story, an animated children’s movie starring Tim Allen and Tom Hanks. With big-name stars in the movie and incredible animation, Toy Story soared to the top of the charts and broke the box office records.

Toy Story made $362 million all across the world and became the highest-grossing film of 1995. This was a big deal, considering it was an animated film. Steve Jobs was listed in the credits as a producer for Toy Story.

Steve Jobs' team at Pixar also won a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award in the category of digital scanning. It was a huge success. Although it was a success for Pixar, Disney still made the most money off of the movie.

When Steve Jobs realized that the bulk of the money from the very successful Toy Story movie went to Disney, he decided that there were changes that needed to be made. Shortly after Toy Story was released in theaters, Steve Jobs decided to make Pixar a public company. He set up an IPO (initial public offering) and raised $140 million dollars for Pixar.

After realizing its value, Disney bought Pixar and kept Steve Jobs on as the CEO. Steve Jobs was now not only the owner of Pixar but also a shareholder in Disney itself. He held the most number of shares of Disney’s company. As a shareholder, Steve Jobs was instrumental in getting Pixar’s foot in the door with Disney.

Disney agreed to a five-movie deal that allowed Pixar and Disney to work together and use each other’s resources to create some great animated films. In 1997, it was finalized by Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner, and Pixar and Disney equally shared all resources, profits, and costs. Pixar was now equal to Disney. This was a big win for Steve Jobs and the entire Pixar family.

1997 was also the year that Steve Jobs sold his other company, NeXT Computer, back to Apple and returned to his original company as founder and CEO once more. Although he was still very involved in Pixar, he viewed it as his second job and not his main priority. From this point onward, Steve Jobs was often mentioned in Pixar’s film credits in the “Special Thanks” section.

Because Steve Jobs owned multiple companies, he was not always present, and he could sometimes be a harsh critic. After the deal with Disney, Steve Jobs seemed to calm down a little bit, and his criticisms were accepted much more readily.

Steve Jobs was known for screening an animated film and immediately pointing out small problems and errors that no one else had pointed out previously. The designers and artists appreciated his intuition, and his pointers and criticisms always led to a full and complete storyline.

When the five-movie contract was up, Steve Jobs searched for ways to continue working with Disney. The time he spent at Apple was increasing, and he was feeling the urge to move on. After checking with his most trusted Pixar team members and artists, he decided to take the leap.

When Bob Iger took over Disney in 2005, Steve Jobs sold Pixar to him, officially making Pixar a part of the Disney franchise. Many incredible animated movies came out of the partnership between these two companies, and none of them would have happened without Steve Jobs.

In both Pixar and Apple, Steve Jobs pushed for the next best thing. He wanted the next best idea, the next best technology, and more. He pushed his employees and team members to their limits and asked for the best out of everyone.

He also asked for the best of himself. In the end, the work and contracts he orchestrated for two great companies made him a very successful and wealthy man, and he is now a household name.

Upon his death, Steve Job’s coworkers at Pixar reflected on his life kindly. They knew that their success at Pixar was because Steve Jobs believed in them, in their technology, in their dreams, and in their stories.

The stories that needed to be told by Pixar were animated and told on screens across the world. Pixar and Disney’s partnership continues to bring us iconic animated films all around the world, thanks to the courage and hard work of Steve Jobs.


About the Author
James has over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. As a founder, he led startup teams as well as million-dollar companies. He has recently turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass his knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments regarding the content of this post, please send us a message via the contact page.
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