Steve Jobs Bought Pixar To Compete With Apple… What?

In A Nutshell

Steve Jobs has become a national treasure and a reflection of love meets consumer products.  For many, Apple is Steve’s greatest accomplishment (rightfully so), but many see his purchase of Pixar in 1985 as a lead footnote in his greatness.  What most people don’t know is that Pixar started as a computer graphics company, with an actual physical computer for sale.  A far cry from the wide range of heart-warming films they are known for now.  Steve saw their technology as a way to start competing against Apple at the time.

The Whole Bushel

In 1985, Steve Jobs was ousted from the company he helped create (Apple). His vision for the company did not line up with the board of directors, nor the CEO.  Steve took the ousting very hard, and wanted to jump right back into creating tech products.  Steve was introduced to Ed Catmull that same year, and Ed was a pioneer of computer graphics that lead the way for modern CGI in TV and film. The two didn’t really hit it off initially.  Ed was a creative genius and Steve was an ego-maniacal business man who was already incredibly wealthy at the age of 30.

In Catmull, Steve saw what could be the next generation of high-end computing.  Computers that were admittedly expensive, but did things no other computers were doing at the time.  Around this time, Catmull and a handful of engineers had already completed a high-end computer to perform the work they needed, and they dubbed it ‘Pixar’.

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Unlike the wealth of digital assets we have now, the idea that computers could create stunning digital images was unheard of in 1985.  So Steve stepped in and bought what was at the time, the computer graphics division of LucasFilm for $5 million.  Which was a tremendous amount o fmoney for a small group of people with some forward thinking technology.  Steve pushed hard to make the Pixar computer marketable and at a scale where it could compete against the premium Apple products.

The problem was that the Pixar computer was very expensive, at almost $10,000. So the viability of it to a mass market was slim.  In the meantime, Steve starts a more low end company called NeXT, and Pixar starts to focus on client work.  The ‘Pixar’ computer starts to stay in-house and the company moves to resemble the animation company we all know and love.

Obviously Steve Jobs would go on to much bigger and better things, but stayed as a board member of Pixar until it was eventually sold to Disney in 2006.

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