“Art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.”
But what about business? In his new book, To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History, Lawrence Levy sheds a light on the business side of Pixar and how the studio emerged as a renowned name while he served as its Chief Financial Officer. With rich clarity and detail, Levy recounts Pixar’s humble beginnings and astronomical success, his relationship with Steve Jobs, and the practical lessons other leaders can implement to make their own companies flourish.
Pixar was never an overnight success. In fact, when Levy was recruited by Steve Jobs in 1994, success was a mere word, not a tangible outcome. For 16 years the company floundered, after Jobs’ original plans for the Pixar Computer failed. Levy was understandably reluctant to join this small company with both a complicated past and a murky future. Originally located in Point Richmond, California, even its office was dreary and unimpressive. There was nothing to suggest that this was a studio worth investing in.
And then Levy watched the first clip of Toy Story and the rest was history.
Well, not quite. Toy Story‘s impact on Levy was profound. He realized that Pixar was going to change animation. “Pixar was embarked on a lonely, courageous quest through terrain into which neither it nor anyone else had ever ventured.” While he was moved by the passion of John Lasseter and had confidence in Lasseter’s vision, as well as Ed Catmull’s, he also expressed reservations about joining them. Pixar represented too great of a business risk. There was awe inspiring vision, but nothing to ground it. When Levy did eventually sign on, he remained wary, but he also remained awed over Toy Story‘s emotional power.
The highest priority for Steve Jobs was taking the company public. This was nearly impossible since the studio’s lack of success wouldn’t attract investors. Finding investors was a grueling process. But when Pixar did secure backers, it was on the strength of its vision for computer animation. Taking such a risk proved enormously rewarding: Toy Story was the biggest film of 1995 upon its release, grossing $192 million. Pixar’s market value totaled $1.5 billion. The studio was no longer a failed Steve Jobs endeavor, but a new and striking force within the animation industry.
Even as Pixar’s success rate continued its ascent, neither Levy nor the creative team grew too comfortable. He wisely notes that success changes an individual. The goal was always to take risks with the films, and they were allowed to do just that, without executive meddling. Such was Levy and Jobs’ commitment to preserving Pixar’s creative spirit along with its financial security.
Even if the world of finances, business and stocks is alien to the reader, To Pixar and Beyond is a thoroughly engaging and fascinating read. This is attributed to Lawrence Levy’s personable and warm tone. A deep sense of humility characterizes his reflections. This book is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to learn more about Pixar’s history and the overlooked people responsible for its breakthrough success. Levy also makes a case for how necessary practicality is to a company like Pixar. Just as technology can be wedded to art, so too can business.
We are also giving away a copy of the book to three lucky readers! To enter, simply comment on this post and tell us who your favorite Toy Story character is. We will announce the winners on November 22nd, which is also the film’s 21st anniversary!
To learn more about the book and author, please visit lawrencelevy.com.
UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed.