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The Pixar Touch by David A. Price
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The Pixar Touch by David A. Price
Paperback $17.95
May 05, 2009 | ISBN 9780307278296

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    May 05, 2009 | ISBN 9780307278296

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“Thumbs-up. . . . Full of fascinating characters, all struggling-in classic Pixar film style-to overcome seemingly impossible odds.”

“You don’t have to belong to the computer-animation generation to enjoy The Pixar Touch. . . . An entertaining look at digital derring-do.”
The Dallas Morning News

“Price, a tough, unsentimental reporter, ferrets out lots of backstage drama from fresh sources, weaving a commendably unvarnished history.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Unprecedented detail about the notoriously press-shy company’s workings, a story that abounds with lessons for business people and creative artists alike.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Inspiring…. Price is a smart reporter and a solid writer. He deftly makes computer arcana palatable, even interesting.”
The New York Times Book Review

“It’s quite a story, and David Price has finally got it right, it’s details and the players. This is the definitive history of Pixar.”
—Alvy Ray Smith, co-founder of Pixar

“[A] brisk history of an entertainment juggernaut that is also the history of computer animation…a heck of a yarn, full of vivid characters, reversals of fortune and stubborn determination: Pixar should make a movie out of it.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A tale of our times, and David Price tells it with page-turning drama, total veracity, and wonderful wit.”
—Mark Cotta Vaz, author, of The Art of Finding Nemo, The Art of The Incredibles and Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong

Author Q&A

A conversation with


author of

THE PIXAR TOUCH: The Making of a Company

Q: What is your favorite Pixar film and why?

A: I think my favorite will always be Toy Story. Everything about it works so well—the characters, the relationships, the peril, the humor. The graphics are primitive compared to the later films, but you don’t notice that as a viewer because the script just sparkles.

Even more than that, I admire the amazing spirit of adventure that went into the making of Toy Story. Up to then, computer animation had been used in 30-second commercials and four-minute shorts—never anything remotely as complex as a feature film. John and his team were doing something nobody had done before. No one knew how audiences would respond. It was a tremendous leap of faith in a new medium and in their own abilities.

Q: Given that your first book LOVE AND HATE IN JAMESTOWN was about early America, what made you choose the history of Pixar as your next subject?

A: After spending five years or so with my head in the early 1600’s, I was ready to spend a while in my own century. I was drawn very quickly to the idea of writing Pixar’s history because I’ve been a fan since the short films like Luxo Jr. and Red’s Dream in the 1980’s. I also felt I had some of the tools, at least, with which to approach the subject since I’d written a lot about business and I’d studied computer science.

I’m probably the only person in the world who thinks Jamestown and Pixar are at all similar, but to me, the stories are both about journeys into unexplored territory. They’re also both about start-up companies. When you have either of those elements, you can count on drama.

Q: The book spans over 30 years—from the beginnings of computer animation in the ‘70s as a “lunatic fringe” through Pixar’s early years as an unprofitable computer company making commercials for Lifesavers, to finally the Hollywood success story it is today. How long did it take you to do the research for this and how extensive was it?

A: I spent four years on the research, though not necessarily full-time. I tend to be a hyperactive researcher; with nonfiction, a writer can’t make interesting choices unless he knows multiple times as much as he can actually use. I approached current and former employees and other people who’d been involved, of whom around several dozen agreed to help me. I read early histories of computer graphics as well as hundreds of other books and articles that touched on Pixar in one way or another. I read court files. I obtained various Disney-Pixar and Microsoft-Pixar contracts from the SEC that had never been released in their entirety before. I took reference photos in the studio.

Alvy Ray Smith, one of the co-founders, granted me some cooperation at first—not grudgingly, but not enthusiastically either. After reading the Jamestown book, he got what I was doing and really opened up. He invited me to spend a weekend with him in Seattle and let me have the run of his old Lucasfilm and Pixar files, which was totally fun.

Also, I tried to give myself as much grounding as I could in the technology—not that it would be in the foreground of the story, but I didn’t want to be constrained to treat it as off-limits, either. So I read a lot of the technical papers published by Pixar people in various journals.

Q: During the course of the book, and throughout the history of the company, the Pixar team so often is seen as an underdog who might not succeed. What was it that kept it going: the genius of the right animators, the visionaries who funded it like Alexander Schure, George Lucas and Steve Jobs?

A: There are two words. The first one is faith. There was a belief during the early wilderness years that the group would amount to something important. That’s what kept George Lucas, and later Steve Jobs, writing the checks to keep it going. That’s what kept Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, the founders and technical geniuses, on board at a time when they could have moved into academic jobs. That’s what kept John Lasseter at Pixar after he won his Oscar for Tin Toy and Disney was dangling offers to bring him back.

The second word is status. Within the community of people working on computer graphics, Pixar became recognized very early as the coolest place to work. It was perceived as having the best people and the best projects, and therefore the most prestige. For a lot of strong people who are deciding where to work, this is as important as money, if not more so. So the organization had its pick of the top recruits, as it still does today and for the same reasons.

Q: The book details the technological advances invented along the way to make the amazingly life-like and believably realistic quality of animated movies possible, (while also discussing the “uncanny valley” or not wanting to make the characters too realistic in, say, The Incredibles.) Has your experience as a viewer changed after all you’ve learned?

A: Yes, I’m much more aware of the artistry and the technical accomplishments in a good computer-animated film. I sometimes find myself in awe realizing the amount of labor and ingenuity that must have gone into a shot. To the casual viewer, this is all invisible, as the filmmakers intended it to be.

Q: What were you most surprised to learn while you were writing this book?

A: There were so many. For me, one that stands out is the story of Pixar’s intended first feature film. Before Toy Story, Pixar was in discussions with a Japanese publisher that wanted to produce a film, to be called Monkey, based on Japanese and Chinese mythology. There were story meetings and concept art. The publisher was ready to invest tens of millions of dollars in it. The time was the mid-1980’s, however, and Catmull and Smith came to feel that a computer-animated feature film wasn’t economically feasible yet.

Another surprise was learning how much Steve Jobs’s vision of computers influenced the company before it became a film studio. I had already known that Pixar started as a computer hardware and software company, but I didn’t know how much it was bound up in Steve’s ideal of bringing computer technology to the masses. His idea was that ordinary Joes and Janes would buy Pixar software and use it to create 3-D graphics at their desks. For years, the tiny animation group under John Lasseter was just a sideline to promote Pixar’s products.

Q: Does the story of this company remind you of any other?

A: Walt Disney’s studio, originally known as Disney Brothers, had much the same sense of artistic and technical ambitiousness from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. Walt, of course, was the first to bring synchronized sound and full color to animation and he made the first American animated feature film. So it’s fitting that the two companies are now combined.

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