When Steve Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986, he had no intention of doing animation – he wanted it to make high end computers. Imagine what a different world we’d be in if Pixar was a hardware manufacturer instead of a movie powerhouse…
Jobs focused Pixar almost exclusively on developing and selling the Pixar Image Computer (PIC), which debuted a mere three months after Jobs bought the company. (The product was in development beforehand, but Jobs shut down virtually every Pixar project but this one when he took over.)
The PIC was very clearly a Job-esque product, right down to its clean, gunmetal grey cubical design that is eerily reminiscent of the original NeXT PCs Jobs also developed. The PIC originally cost $170,000 when it debuted in 1987. Later versions of the PIC retailed for a mere $30,000, though that price could jump tenfold if you included the world’s first RAID system, which offered a then-radical 3GiB storage capacity. The intended markets for the device weren’t movie studios, but aerospace and medical organizations that relied on highly detailed 3D modelling.
To little surprise, the PIC was a total commercial flop, selling less than 500 units during its entire production life. Fortunately, the aforementioned John Lasseter developed a few promotional computer animations to demonstrate the power of the product. Principal among these was the famous Luxo Jr. short, which gave Pixar its mascot and wowed animation festival observers who saw it. This led to Pixar creating computer-animated commercials, which in turn led to a three-picture deal with Disney to produce some straight-to-video computer-animated movies.
The first of those films was a little classic called Toy Story, which proved too good not to put into theaters. The rest, as they say is, history. (Or, for bemused Apple critics who note that Pixar’s marketing arm outperformed its manufacturing division, history repeating itself.)