Even as Pixar’s hardware and software product lines foundered, Jobs kept protecting
the animation group. It had become for him a little island of magical artistry that
gave him deep emotional pleasure, and he was willing to nurture it and bet on it.
decree deep spending cuts across the board. When it was over, Lasseter and his
animation group were almost too afraid to ask Jobs about authorizing some extra
money for another short. Finally, they broached the topic and Jobs sat silent, looking
skeptical. It would require close to $300,000 more out of his pocket. After a few
minutes, he asked if there were any storyboards. Catmull took him down to the
animation offices, and once Lasseter started his show—displaying his boards, doing
the voices, showing his passion for his product—Jobs started to warm up.
The story was about Lasseter’s love, classic toys. It was told from the perspective
of a toy one-man band named Tinny, who meets a baby that charms and terrorizes
him. Escaping under the couch, Tinny finds other frightened toys, but when the
baby hits his head and cries, Tinny goes back out to cheer him up.
Jobs said he would provide the money. “I believed in what John was doing,” he later
said. “It was art. He cared, and I cared. I always said yes.” His only comment at the
end of Lasseter’s presentation was, “All I ask of you, John, is to make it great.”
Tin Toy went on to win the 1988 Academy Award for animated short films, the first
computer-generated film to do so. To celebrate, Jobs took Lasseter and his team to
Greens, a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. Lasseter grabbed the
Oscar, which was in the center of the table,
held it aloft, and
toasted Jobs by saying, “All
you asked is that we
make a great movie.”
At one point the members of the Pixar animation team were trying to convince Intel
to let them make some of its commercials, and Jobs became impatient. During a
meeting, in the midst of berating an Intel marketing director, he picked up the phone
and called CEO Andy Grove directly. Grove, still playing mentor, tried to teach Jobs
a lesson: He supported his Intel manager. “I stuck by my employee,” he recalled.
“Steve doesn’t like to be treated like a supplier.”
Grove also played mentor when Jobs proposed that Pixar give Intel suggestions on
how to improve the capacity of its processors to render 3-D graphics. When the
engineers at Intel accepted the offer, Jobs sent an email back saying Pixar would
need to be paid for its advice. Intel’s chief engineer replied, “We have not entered
into any financial arrangement in exchange for good ideas for our microprocessors
in the past and have no intention for the future.” Jobs forwarded the answer to
Grove, saying that he found the engineer’s response to be “extremely arrogant,
given Intel’s dismal showing in understanding computer graphics.” Grove sent Jobs
a blistering reply, saying that sharing ideas is “what friendly companies and friends
do for each other.” Grove added that he had often freely shared ideas with Jobs in
the past and that Jobs should not be so mercenary. Jobs relented. “I have many
faults, but one of them is not ingratitude,” he responded. “Therefore, I have changed
my position 180 degrees—we will freely help. Thanks for the clearer perspective.”
Pixar was able to create some powerful software products aimed at average consumers,
or at least those average consumers who shared Jobs’s passion for designing things.
Jobs still hoped that the ability to make super-realistic 3-D images at home would become
part of the desktop publishing craze. Pixar’s Showplace, for example, allowed users to
change the shadings on the 3-D objects they created so that they could display them
from various angles with appropriate shadows. Jobs thought it was incredibly compelling,
but most consumers were content to live without it. It was a case where his passions misled
him: The software had so many amazing features that it lacked the simplicity Jobs usually
demanded. Pixar couldn’t compete with Adobe, which was making
software that was less
far less complicated
Jobs was very possessive about control of the whiteboard during a meeting,
so the burly Smith pushed past him and started writing on it. “You can’t do that!” Jobs shouted.
“What?” responded Smith, “I can’t write on your whiteboard? Bullshit.” At that point Jobs stormed out.
Smith eventually resigned to form a new company to make software for digital drawing
and image editing. Jobs refused him permission to use some code he had created while
at Pixar, which further inflamed their enmity. “Alvy eventually got what he needed,” said
Catmull, “but he was very stressed for a year and developed a lung infection.” In the end
it worked out well enough; Microsoft eventually bought Smith’s company, giving him the
distinction of being a founder of one company that was sold to Jobs and another that was sold to Gates.
Ornery in the best of times, Jobs became particularly so when it became clear that all three
Pixar endeavors—hardware, software, and animated content—were losing money. “I’d get
these plans, and in the end I kept having to put in more money,” he recalled. He would rail,
but then write the check. Having been ousted at Apple and flailing at NeXT, he couldn’t afford a third strike.
To stem the losses, he ordered a round of deep layoffs, which he executed with his typical empathy
deficiency. As Pam Kerwin put it, he had “neither the emotional nor financial runway to be decent
to people he was letting go.” Jobs insisted that the firings be done immediately, with no severance
pay. Kerwin took Jobs on a walk around the parking lot and begged that the employees be given
at least two weeks notice. “Okay,” he shot back, “but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago.”
Catmull was in Moscow, and Kerwin put in frantic calls to him. When he returned, he was
able to institute a
plan and calm things
down just a bit.
Luxo Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award, and Jobs flew down to Los
Angeles to be there for the ceremony. It didn’t win, but Jobs became committed
to making new animated shorts each year, even though there was not much
of a business rationale for doing so. As times got tough at Pixar, he would sit through
brutal budget-cutting meetings showing no mercy. Then Lasseter would ask
that the money they had just saved be used for his next film, and Jobs would agree.
Not all of Jobs’s relationships at Pixar were as good. His worst clash came with Catmull’s
cofounder, Alvy Ray Smith. From a Baptist background in rural north Texas, Smith became
a free-spirited hippie computer imaging engineer with a big build, big laugh, and big
personality—and occasionally an ego to match. “Alvy just glows, with a high color, friendly
laugh, and a whole bunch of groupies at conferences,” said Pam Kerwin. “A personality like
Alvy’s was likely to ruffle Steve. They are both visionaries and high energy and high ego.
Alvy is not as willing to make peace and overlook things as Ed was.”shlf419
Smith saw Jobs as someone whose charisma and ego led him to abuse power. “He was like
a televangelist,” Smith said. “He wanted to control people, but I would not be a slave to him,
which is why we clashed. Ed was much more able to go with the flow.” Jobs would sometimes
assert his dominance at a meeting by saying something outrageous or untrue. Smith took
great joy in calling him on it, and he would do so with a large laugh and a smirk.
This did not endear him to Jobs.shlf419
One day at a board meeting, Jobs started berating Smith and other top Pixar executives for
the delay in getting the circuit boards completed for the new version of the Pixar Image
Computer. At the time, NeXT was also very late in completing its own computer boards,
and Smith pointed that out: “Hey, you’re even later with your NeXT boards, so quit jumping
on us.” Jobs went ballistic, or in Smith’s phrase, “totally nonlinear.” When Smith was feeling
attacked or confrontational, he tended to lapse into his southwestern accent. Jobs started
parodying it in his sarcastic style. “It was a bully tactic, and I exploded with
everything I had,” Smith recalled. “Before I knew it, we were?shlf419
in each other’s faces—
about three inches
at each other.”
Jobs and Catmull decided that, in order to show off their hardware and software,
Lasseter should produce another short animated film in 1986 for SIGGRAPH, the
annual computer graphics conference. At the time, Lasseter was using the Luxo
lamp on his desk as a model for graphic rendering, and he decided to turn Luxo
into a lifelike character. A friend’s young child inspired him to add Luxo Jr., and he
showed a few test frames to another animator, who urged him to make sure he
told a story. Lasseter said he was making only a short, but the animator reminded
him that a story can be told even in a few seconds. Lasseter took the lesson to
heart. Luxo Jr. ended up being just over two minutes; it told the tale of a parent
lamp and a child lamp pushing a ball back and forth until
the ball bursts, to the child’s dismay.
Jobs was so excited that he took time off from the pressures at NeXT to fly down
with Lasseter to SIGGRAPH, which was being held in Dallas that August. “It was so
hot and muggy that when we’d walk outside the air hit us like a tennis racket,”
Lasseter recalled. There were ten thousand people at the trade show, and Jobs loved it.
Artistic creativity energized him, especially when it was connected to technology.
There was a long line to get into the auditorium where the films were being screened, so
Jobs, not one to wait his turn, fast-talked their way in first. Luxo Jr. got a prolonged standing
ovation and was named the best film. “Oh, wow!” Jobs exclaimed at the end. “I really get this,
I get what it’s all about.” As he later explained, “Our film was the only one that had art to it, not just
good technology. Pixar
was about making that
combination, just as the
Macintosh had been.”
AnimationThe digital animation business at Pixar—the group that made
little animated films—was originally just a sideline, its main purpose being to
show off the hardware and software of the company. It was run by John
Lasseter, a man whose childlike face and demeanor masked an artistic
perfectionism that rivaled that of Jobs. Born in Hollywood, Lasseter grew up
loving Saturday morning cartoon shows. In ninth grade, he wrote a report
on the history of Disney Studios, and he decided then how he wished to spend his life.
When he graduated from high school, Lasseter enrolled in the animation program
at the California Institute of the Arts, founded by Walt Disney. In his summers and
spare time, he researched the Disney archives and worked as a guide on the Jungle
Cruise ride at Disneyland. The latter experience taught him the value of timing and
pacing in telling a story, an important but difficult concept to master when creating,
frame by frame, animated footage. He won the Student Academy Award for the short
he made in his junior year, Lady and the Lamp, which showed his debt to Disney films
and foreshadowed his signature talent for infusing inanimate objects such as lamps
with human personalities. After graduation he took the job for which he was
destined: as an animator at Disney Studios.
Except it didn’t work out. “Some of us younger guys wanted to bring Star Wars–level
quality to the art of animation, but we were held in check,” Lasseter recalled. “I got
disillusioned, then I got caught in a feud between two bosses, and the head animation
guy fired me.” So in 1984 Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith were able to recruit him to
work where Star Wars–level quality was being defined, Lucasfilm. It was not certain that
George Lucas, already worried about the cost of his computer division, would really
approve of hiring a full-time animator, so Lasseter was given the title “interface designer.”
After Jobs came onto the scene, he and Lasseter began to share their passion for graphic
design. “I was the only guy at Pixar who was an artist, so I bonded with Steve over his design
sense,” Lasseter said. He was a gregarious, playful, and huggable man who wore flowery
Hawaiian shirts, kept his office cluttered with vintage toys, and loved cheeseburgers. Jobs
was a prickly, whip-thin vegetarian who favored austere and uncluttered surroundings.
But they were actually well-suited for each other. Lasseter was an artist, so Jobs treated
him deferentially, and Lasseter viewed Jobs, correctly, as a patron who could appreciate artistry
and knew how it
could be interwoven
The chief financial officer at Lucasfilm found Jobs arrogant and prickly, so when it
came time to hold a meeting of all the players, he told Catmull, “We have to establish
the right pecking order.” The plan was to gather everyone in a room with Jobs, and
then the CFO would come in a few minutes late to establish that he was the person
running the meeting. “But a funny thing happened,” Catmull recalled. “Steve started
the meeting on time without the CFO, and by the time the CFO walked in
Steve was already in control of the meeting.”
Jobs met only once with George Lucas, who warned him that the people in the division
cared more about making animated movies than they did about making computers.
“You know, these guys are hell-bent on animation,” Lucas told him. Lucas later recalled,
“I did warn him that was basically Ed and John’s agenda. I think in his heart he bought
the company because that was his agenda too.”
The final agreement was reached in January 1986. It provided that, for his $10 million
investment, Jobs would own 70% of the company, with the rest of the stock distributed
to Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, and the thirty-eight other founding employees, down to
the receptionist. The division’s most important piece of hardware was called the Pixar
Image Computer, and from it the new company took its name.
For a while Jobs let Catmull and Smith run Pixar without much interference. Every month
or so they would gather for a board meeting, usually at NeXT headquarters, where Jobs
would focus on the finances and strategy. Nevertheless, by dint of his personality and
controlling instincts, Jobs was soon playing a stronger role. He spewed out a stream of
ideas—some reasonable, others wacky—about what Pixar’s hardware and software could
become. And on his occasional visits to the Pixar offices, he was an inspiring presence.
“I grew up a Southern Baptist, and we had revival meetings with mesmerizing but corrupt
preachers,” recounted Alvy Ray Smith. “Steve’s got it: the power of the tongue and the
web of words that catches people up. We were aware of this when we had board meetings,
so we developed signals—nose scratching or ear tugs—for when someone
had been caught up in
Steve’s distortion field
and he needed to be
tugged back to reality.”
On the software side, Pixar had a rendering program, known as Reyes
(Renders everything you ever saw), for making 3-D graphics and images.
After Jobs became chairman, the company created a new language and
interface, named RenderMan, that it hoped would become a standard
for 3-D graphics rendering, just as Adobe’s PostScript was for laser printing.
As he had with the hardware, Jobs decided that they should try to find a
mass market, rather than just a specialized one, for the software they made.
He was never content to aim only at the corporate or high-end specialized
markets. “He would have these great visions of how RenderMan could be
for everyman,” recalled Pam Kerwin, Pixar’s marketing director. “He kept
coming up with ideas about how ordinary people would use it to make amazing
3-D graphics and photorealistic images.” The Pixar team would try to dissuade
him by saying that RenderMan was not as easy to use as, say, Excel or Adobe
Illustrator. Then Jobs would go to a whiteboard and show them how to make
it simpler and more user-friendly. “We would be nodding our heads and getting
excited and say, ‘Yes, yes, this will be great!’” Kerwin recalled. “And then he would
leave and we would consider it for a moment and then say, ‘What the heck was
he thinking!’ He was so weirdly charismatic that you almost had to get deprogrammed
after you talked to him.” As it turned out, average consumers were not craving
expensive software that would let them render realistic images. RenderMan didn’t take off.
There was, however, one company that was eager to automate the rendering
of animators’ drawings into color images for film. When Roy Disney led a board
revolution at the company that his uncle Walt had founded, the new CEO, Michael
Eisner, asked what role he wanted. Disney said that he would like to revive the
company’s venerable but fading animation department. One of his first initiatives
was to look at ways to computerize the process, and Pixar won the contract. It
created a package of customized hardware and software known as CAPS, Computer
Animation Production System. It was first used in 1988 for the final scene of The Little
Mermaid, in which King Triton waves good-bye to Ariel. Disney bought
dozens of Pixar Image
Computers as CAPS became
an integral part
of its production.
Jobs had always appreciated the virtue of integrating hardware and software,
which is what Pixar did with its Image Computer and rendering software. It also
produced creative content, such as animated films and graphics. All three elements
benefited from Jobs’s combination of artistic creativity and technological geekiness.
“Silicon Valley folks don’t really respect Hollywood creative types, and the Hollywood
folks think that tech folks are people you hire and never have to meet,”
Jobs wanted to sell Pixar’s computers to a mass market, so he had the Pixar folks open
up sales offices—for which he approved the design—in major cities, on the theory that
creative people would soon come up with all sorts of ways to use the machine. “My view is
that people are creative animals and will figure out clever new ways to use tools that the
inventor never imagined,” he later said. “I thought that would happen with the Pixar
computer, just as it did with the Mac.” But the machine never took hold with regular
consumers. It cost too much, and there were not many software programs for it.
Jobs later said. “Pixar was one place where both cultures were respected.”
Initially the revenue was supposed to come from the hardware side. The Pixar Image
Computer sold for $125,000. The primary customers were animators and graphic
designers, but the machine also soon found specialized markets in the medical industry
(CAT scan data could be rendered in three-dimensional graphics) and intelligence fields
(for rendering information from reconnaissance flights and satellites). Because of the
sales to the National Security Agency, Jobs had to get a security clearance, which
must have been fun for the FBI agent assigned to vet him. At one point, a Pixar
executive recalled, Jobs was called by the investigator to go over the drug use
questions, which he answered unabashedly. “The last time I used that . . . ,” he would
say, or on occasion he would answer that no, he had actually never tried that particular drug.
Jobs pushed Pixar to build a lower-cost version of the computer that would sell for around
$30,000. He insisted that Hartmut Esslinger design it, despite protests by Catmull and
Smith about his fees. It ended up looking like the original Pixar Image Computer, which was
a cube with a round
dimple in the middle,
but it had Esslinger’s
signature thin grooves.
At that point he called Jobs to make sure he understood. The board had given
final approval of his reorganization plan, which would proceed that week.
Gassée would take over control of Jobs’s beloved Macintosh as well as other
products, and there was no other division for Jobs to run. Sculley was still somewhat
conciliatory. He told Jobs that he could stay on with the title of board chairman
and be a product visionary with no operational duties. But by this point,
even the idea of starting a skunkworks such as AppleLabs was no longer on the table.
It finally sank in. Jobs realized there was no appeal, no way to warp the reality. He
broke down in tears and started making phone calls—to Bill Campbell, Jay Elliot,
Mike Murray, and others. Murray’s wife, Joyce, was on an overseas call when Jobs
phoned, and the operator broke in saying it was an emergency. It better be important,
she told the operator. “It is,” she heard Jobs say. When her husband got on the
phone, Jobs was crying. “It’s over,” he said. Then he hung up.
Murray was worried that Jobs was so despondent he might do something rash, so he
called back. There was no answer, so he drove to Woodside. No one came to the door
when he knocked, so he went around back and climbed up some exterior steps and
looked in the bedroom. Jobs was lying there on a mattress in his unfurnished room.
He let Murray in and they talked until almost dawn.
Wednesday, May 29: Jobs finally got hold of a tape of Patton, which he watched
Wednesday evening, but Murray prevented him from getting stoked up for another
battle. Instead he urged Jobs to come in on Friday for Sculley’s announcement
of the reorganization plan. There was no option left other than to play
the good soldier rather than the renegade commander.
Like a Rolling Stone
Jobs slipped quietly into the back row of the auditorium to listen to Sculley explain
to the troops the new order of battle. There were a lot of sideways glances, but few
people acknowledged him and none came over to provide public displays of affection.
He stared without blinking at Sculley, who would remember “Steve’s look of contempt”
years later. “It’s unyielding,” Sculley
recalled, “like an X-ray
boring inside your bones,
down to where you’re
soft and destructibly m