One IMAX Employee’s Encounter with Steve Jobs and Pixar
The Pixar Story was on TV last week and it reminded us of a personal anecdote from IMAX’s Senior VP Film Production-Filmed Entertainment Division Hugh Murray. See Hugh’s story below:
I never got the chance to meet Steve in person, but I do have my own IMAX related anecdote to share.
Back in the mid 90’s when Toy Story was wowing audiences as the first full length all CG feature, IMAX, under Rich and Brad’s new leadership, was successfully transitioning away from our traditional institutional business into high profile commercial 3D venues. What we didn’t have was a matching flow of high profile 3D content, a message that filtered urgently back down the chain. I managed to get a chance to pitch to Rich and Brad (who didn’t know me at the time) the idea that Toy Story was a film that had been created entirely using 3D geometry on computers and rendered out with a single “camera” in 2D. But those 3D characters, sets, props and the animation data all still existed and could be replayed for a second computer “camera” at any time to make a left/right 3D movie. I thought I sold the idea well, but didn’t hear any follow-up for about a week.
The phone rang one evening as I was packing papers into my briefcase getting ready to leave the office. I hesitated for a moment before picking it up. “This is Steve Jobs”, said the voice on the other end. “Your CEO told me you were the person to talk to about this idea of having Toy Story in 3D”. So with no warning or prep and heart-rate in full acceleration mode, I made a stand-up pitch of the idea to one of my heroes (I’ve never used any personal computer other than Apple). I don’t remember a word of what I said, but it must have made some kind of sense since he agreed to allow us to test some sample shots. He did make the point that no matter how cool this was going to look, it had to be financially worthwhile also. “We’re not a philanthropic organization” were his actual words. No kidding.
We did do the test, and it looked really cool, although Steve didn’t come to the screening and let John Lasseter make the call. Sadly, they decided that the resolution they could get from CG renders at that time didn’t hold up to the size of the IMAX image. Within IMAX the testing continued and led to our own film Cyberworld that demonstrated just how good computer animation rendered into 3D could look, which in turn led to the IMAX 3D version of "The Polar Express" whose box office success could be argued to have kicked off the current 3D revival.
From there the relationship with Pixar began and we stayed in touch over the years. I never imagined that that one stand-up pitch would eventually lead to Pixar’s Toy Story 3 coming to life in IMAX theatres. The moral of the story is: ALWAYS pick up that last call.