I LOVE Disney. Since its inception in 1923, the Walt Disney Company has prided itself on being the forefront of entertainment. However, as much as I love Disney, I will admit that there have been moments when it made mistakes that would set the company back as an innovator. My favorite mistake centers around Pixar and its founder John Lasseter.
I call it the $7.4 billion no.
John Lasseter used to be a Disney animator, living his dream job. In fact, some of his early career projects include “The Fox and the Hound” (1981), “The Black Cauldron” (1985), and “The Brave Little Toaster” (1987). Lasseter first introduced the idea of using computer animation in Disney movies while he was still an animator for the company. Unfortunately, Disney Animation shut the idea down. Using computer software for the arts was still a very new concept, brought on the crest of the computer wave that was hitting the world through Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Lasseter persisted, but his persistence and the deep dive of revenue for Disney Animation force Lasseter out of Disney animation and over to Lucas films. The company had revolutionized the use of computer special effects. Not long after though, George Lucas’s divorce and several box office bombs pushed Lucas to sell the division to no other than Steve Jobs.
Pixar worked mainly with Image Computers when Jobs first reimagined it. The computers did not sell well. John Lasseter, making short demos with the computers, saw this as a chance. He took his demo character, the now famous Luxo Jr., to a large computer conference. The Pixar Animation Company was born with great success.
While the computer sales continued to decline, the animation department continued to thrive. Eventually, it caught the eye of Disney Animation. In 1991, the two companies made a $23 million deal to produce three computer-animated features with Pixar. The first was a little movie known as “Toy Story.”
Disney and Pixar would continue to grow their relationship, many times butting heads over creative control. In 2006, though a deal was struck. Disney became the majority shareholder of Pixar for $7.4 billion, catapulting Steve Jobs to the largest shareholder on Disney’s board of directors (7%) and promoting John Lasseter to CCO of Pixar and Disney Animation.
To this day, Pixar has not had a movie that didn’t premiere number 1 their opening weekend. Lasseter revolutionized animation, much like Walt Disney did in the 20’s with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” It is his persistence and innovation that ensured Lasseter’s success. He continued to persevere despite the constant failure and disappoint in his early career. This makes him a master “influencer.”
And, to think, Disney could have saved billions if they had just said “yes” when Lasseter was still a young animator.