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Remembering Steve Jobs and his Disney·Pixar Legacy

(L-R) Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs, Bob Iger & John Lasseter in January 2006 at Pixar Studios - Photo Paul Sakuma/AP

A year ago on October 5, 2011, Apple's famed co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, died of pancreatic cancer.

Though most associate Jobs with the Macintosh, iPhones and Apple Inc., his genius and foresight also helped advance computer animation. After being ousted from Apple Computers in 1985, Jobs purchased the Graphics Group in 1986. Known for creating computer generated special effects, the Graphics Group was formerly the Lucasfilm computer graphics division. Jobs initially invested a total of $10 million dollars. The sale price of $5 million to George Lucas and the other $5 million was re-invested as capital. Along with Dr. Ed Catmull and Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, Jobs co-founded the newly named PIXAR on February 3, 1986.

Jobs served as Pixar's Chief Executive Officer. By investing another $40 million into development of Pixar's hardware, software and animation sectors, Jobs gained almost total control of the company. By 1990, Pixar's failing hardware division was sold. Jobs became Pixar's Chairman of the Board in 1991, shifting Pixar's focus to animation software and the animation studio headed by former Disney animator John Lasseter. At the time, Pixar's studio was only modestly successful, creating computer animated shorts, commercials and special effects.

Despite losing tens of millions of dollars, Jobs stuck with Pixar Studios through lean times. Prosperity finally came with a $26 million-three feature distribution deal with the Walt Disney Company and the subsequent success of its first full-length computer animated feature, Toy Story (1995).

Beginning with 1995's Toy Story, Pixar Studios churned out a string of buttery box office hits, all while wowing critics and winning awards. However, Pixar's constant success led to disagreements with the Walt Disney Company over property control, rights and distribution. Negotiations in 2004 between Pixar & Disney were difficult, as Jobs and Disney CEO & Chairman Michael Eisner were reported to be combative.

On January 24, 2006, the Walt Disney Company announced its acquisition of Pixar. Unwilling to sever the Disney·Pixar relationship, the Disney Board had replaced Eisner with Bob Iger. As the new Disney Company CEO, Iger quickly drew up a merger worth an estimated $7.4 billion in Disney Company shares. Steve Jobs immediately became the largest single Walt Disney Company stockholder, controlling more than 7% of shares worth around $4.6 billion. Quite a nifty payday for Jobs, following his initial investment of only $10 million.

In addition to sitting on a fatter wallet, Jobs was granted a seat on the Disney Company's Board of Directors. He also sat on a committee created to guide Pixar Studios and Walt Disney Animation as separate entities. The merger created several shifts in Disney Company leadership as Pixar's John Lasseter was named Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. In addition, Lasseter was named the Principal Creative Adviser for Walt Disney Imagineering. Pixar President, Dr. Ed Catmull, added a second title, becoming President of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs & John Lasseter - Photo © Pixar

When Steve Jobs died last year, his influence over Disney & Pixar far outweighed the number of shares he owned. The magician who unveiled the iPod and iPad, Jobs added a bit of his own magic to the Walt Disney Company. The Disney·Pixar merger helped us find Nemo and Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland. It also paved the way for Cars Land and Toy Story Midway Mania at the Disney California Adventure Park.

By investing in Pixar's infancy, Jobs helped create a new artform, the computer animated feature. Through this new medium, Pixar's animators created dozens of this generation's most endearing and iconic characters. Incredible storytelling created financial success for Pixar, leading to a Toy Story trilogy, not-so scary monsters and a house lifted UP by hundreds of helium balloons. Thanks to Steve Jobs and his belief in Pixar, we've learned adventure is still out there and that we've got friends like Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

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