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Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Pixar

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As one of the most successful animation studios in film history, Pixar has certainly come a long way in the years since it launched its very first full-length feature film (1995’s Toy Story). Read on for a few interesting facts you may not have known about the company:

1. George Lucas Sold His Share of Pixar for $5 Million

George Lucas
© 20th Century Fox

Back in the late ‘70s, Pixar was created as part of George Lucas’ Lucasfilm empire – with the company originally designed to assist Lucasfilm’s special effects house, Industrial Light & Magic, with their computer-related tasks. Though Pixar showed plenty of promise in its early days – it created revolutionary computer-generated special effects for movies like 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes – Lucas was forced to sell the company in 1986 due partly to the massive failure of Howard the Duck earlier in the year. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs stepped in and purchased the fledgling company for just $5 million, which is incredible when you consider that Disney paid $7.4 billion for the studio in 2006.

2. John Ratzenberger Has Lent His Voice to Every Single Pixar Release

John Ratzenberger (and his Incredibles character)
© Disney Pixar

When filmmaker John Lasseter was looking for just the right person to voice the character of Hamm, the know-it-all piggy bank in 1995’s Toy Story, John Ratzenberger inevitably jumped out as the most qualified candidate for the role. Ratzenberger, best known for his portrayal of Cliff Clavin on the hit sitcom Cheers, transformed a minor character into an audience favorite, with the actor’s scene-stealing work also catching the attention of Pixar’s creative brain trust (which includes Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, and Pete Docter). Ratzenberger has subsequently appeared in everyone one of Pixar’s releases, voicing everything from a helpful school of Moonfish in Finding Nemo to an arch-villain named The Underminer in The Incredibles.

3. John Lasseter Saved Pixar From Bankruptcy

John Lasseter
© Disney Pixar

Before Pixar moved full-time into the moviemaking business, the company devoted a great deal of their resources to developing a high-end graphics computer called the Pixar Image Computer (which was designed primarily for use by governmental agencies and the medical community). Although it was considered revolutionary and ahead of its time, the system was a poor seller and ultimately threatened to send Pixar into bankruptcy. Fortunately, John Lasseter and his animation department had been cranking out a series of computer-animated commercials for name brands like Tropicana and Listerine – which eventually paved the way for Pixar’s deal to create their first full-length feature for Walt Disney (1995’s Toy Story).

4. Pixar Is Not an Acronym

The Pixar logo (circa 1986)
© Pixar Animation Studios

Though it’s achieved massive success and become a household name the world over, Pixar is still thought to be an acronym for something computer or animation related by most moviegoers. And although there have been plenty of guesses and assumptions surrounding the name’s origins, the mystery was solved by Karen Paik and Leslie Iwerks in their Pixar biography To Infinity and Beyond! According to the authors, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith "suggested 'Pixer,' an invented Spanish verb that means 'to make pictures.’” Fellow Pixar co-founder Loren Carpenter noted that “radar ends in 'ar' and it's got a kind of high-tech feel to it,” which eventually led to the combination of ‘Pix’ and ‘ar.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.

5. Pixar Dominates the List of Top Grossing Animation Films

Finding Nemo
© Disney Pixar

Right from the beginning, Pixar has been an unstoppable force at the North American box office – with their very first title, 1995’s Toy Story, earning more money than any other movie released that year (including such smash hits as Batman Forever, Apollo 13, and Disney’s Pocahontas). In fact, with the exception of 2007’s Ratatouille, every single one of Pixar’s subsequent titles has landed on their respective year’s top ten list of profitable films. Pixar’s success is most keenly reflected within the ranking of the animation genre’s ten most profitable endeavors, as the studio boasts a whopping six titles on that list (including 2003’s Finding Nemo and 2009’s Up).

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