In 1986, Steve Jobs acquired the Lucasfilm Graphics Group — a ragtag collection of computer scientists and artists — for the tiny sum of $5 million. (The original asking price was $15 million.) Rebranded as Pixar, the company?s purpose was ”to design, manufacture, and market high-performance computers and software specifically tailored for state-of-the-art computer graphics.” At first, Pixar struggled as a computer hardware and software company. Even into the early 1990s, Pixar was losing money for Jobs, who considered selling it to such corporations as Hallmark, Oracle, and even Microsoft.
But Jobs ultimately held on to Pixar and guided its transformation into an animation studio — a decision that paid colossal dividends when Pixar was hired by Disney to produce the first feature-length computer-animated film. The result was 1995’s Toy Story, and Pixar’s subsequent success — the studio has grossed $7.2 billion worldwide and earned 40 Oscar nominations — is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Its unbroken string of hits became so valuable to Disney that the media conglomerate bought Pixar in 2006 for a staggering $7.4 billion.
2. CAPS (Computer Animation Production System)
A co-effort between Pixar and Disney, CAPS was a collection of software programs and scanning systems that computerized the traditional ink-and-paint animation process. CAPS opened the door for elaborate camera movements and multiplane shots that were impractical to achieve by hand, and easily allowed CG animation to be inserted into a traditionally animated film — think of the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King.
Disney tested CAPS on the final scene of The Little Mermaid (1989), and then used the system to animate all of 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under — the first 100-percent digital feature (pictured). CAPS was subsequently used for such animated classics as Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992).
Pixar’s proprietary rendering software has been used by other studios to help create CG special effects for movies like Jurassic Park (pictured), Titanic, The Matrix, the Star Wars prequels, The Lord of the Rings, and on and on and on. In 2001, Ed Catmull, Loren Carpenter, and Rob Cook won an Academy Award for developing RenderMan.
4. Final Cut Pro & iMovie
Apple’s video-editing programs have thrived as affordable alternatives to Avid systems, allowing cash-strapped filmmakers the ability to create professional-looking movies. Perhaps the most notable use of iMovie was the 2003 documentary Tarnation, which director Jonathan Caouette initially produced for just $218. And Final Cut Pro has been adopted by such Hollywood auteurs as the Coen brothers and David Fincher. Apple scored a big victory earlier this year when The Social Network won the Oscar for best film editing — the first time the award went to a movie edited with Final Cut Pro.
5. QuickTime movie trailers
Back in the late ’90s, movie trailers were streamed online, but at an incredibly low quality. Enter QuickTime, Apple’s flagship media player. QuickTime was released in 1991, while Jobs was exiled from Apple. But it wasn’t until 1999, under Jobs? watch, that QuickTime realized its true purpose: A way to watch high-quality movie trailers.
The 1999 movie that made Apple.com the premier destination for trailers was Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. Its insanely popular teaser — and subsequent trailers — served as a slick demonstration of QuickTime’s superiority over then-rivals like RealVideo. Ever since, Apple.com has been Hollywood’s go-to place to launch trailers, giving studios the ability to reach more potential moviegoers than they ever could have before the Internet.
6. The iPod
In 2005, Apple released the fifth-generation iPod — the first model to play videos. It wasn’t the first mobile device to run video files, and the screen may have measured only two-and-a-half inches, but the iPod helped legitimize a new way for on-the-go people to consume movies and TV shows. Jobs also unveiled an alternative method of buying visual media, which brings us to…
7. iTunes Store
Along with its ”iPod Video” device, Apple also announced in 2005 that the iTunes Store would offer music videos. Plus, in a landmark deal with Disney, television shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives could be bought the day after they aired. By 2008, shows could be purchased in high-definition, and users could start renting feature-length films.
The iTunes Store now has a catalog featuring thousands of movies and TV programs. Other online services, particularly Netflix, have surpassed Apple when it comes to video content. But the iTunes Store, starting with music and continuing on to movies and TV, got people accustomed to the idea of buying their entertainment online and being able to instantly enjoy it. And it provided Hollywood a fresh revenue stream — one that was especially needed in light of a diminishing home-video market.
8. The iPhone
The iPhone’s impact on the film industry is still evolving, but so far it has been influential in two main ways. First, some filmmakers are embracing it as a camera. For instance, Oldboy director Park Chan-wook (right) shot his 30-minute short Night Fishing (left) entirely on the iPhone 4. Second, smartphones like the iPhone are increasingly being used by moviegoers to purchase tickets. In July, Fandango announced that a record 20 percent of its summer ticket sales were generated by its mobile site and apps.
9. The iPad
At this year’s Comic-Con, Francis Ford Coppola used the iPad to remix his upcoming film Twixt in front of a live audience. And the tablet allowed Pixar honcho John Lasseter to work on Cars 2 while commuting to the studio. Check out this ”day in the life” video to see Lasseter directing via his iPad (fast-forward to 6:04).