Editor's note: Steve Jobs left a big mark on pop culture before he died Wednesday, and his innovations transformed everything from how we listen to music to what we see in movie theaters. His acquisition and support for Pixar Animation Studios helped generate a wealth of classic films, starting with 1995's Toy Story. In recognition of that achievement, we're republishing this piece from June 2010.
Readers familiar with my writing for The New Republic may recall that I have a considerable soft spot for the Pixar oeuvre. So I was curious to read the recent Wired cover piece, published in advance of this week's release of Toy Story 3, asking how it is that while (pace William Goldman) "Nobody in Hollywood knows anything ... Pixar seems to know everything."
The article nails one of Pixar's signal strengths: Rather than relying on a revolving set of freelance talents, it has assembled a longtime staff of creative regulars (people such as John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Brad Bird, and others) who trust one another well enough to endure an environment of constant, if collegial, self-critique. The piece also has some remarkable details about Pixar's technical process, such as the following:
Each character is defined by up to 1,000 avars--points of possible movement--that the animators can manipulate like strings on a puppet. Each morning, the team gathers to review the second or two of film from the day before. The frames are ripped apart as the team searches for ways to make the sequences more expressive...
The average frame (a movie has 24 frames per second) takes about seven hours to render, although some can take nearly 39 hours of computing time. The Pixar building houses two massive render farms, each of which contains hundreds of servers running 24 hours a day.
But perhaps the most illuminating tidbit is a quote from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich: "We don't ever finish a film. I could keep on making it better. We're just forced to release it."