While many people today seem to view Pixar as being separate from Disney, the companies have seemingly always been tied together, regardless of what Pixar’s promotional machine might have one think. The Walt Disney Company itself has tried to keep Pixar separate in the public’s minds despite having completely acquired Pixar ten years ago.
In the beginning, Pixar was a company that just sold animation software. George Lucas had developed some 3-D software for his own films and decided that he could probably sell that technology to others. The software unit was not really doing all that well, so he hired John Lasseter, who had previously worked at Disney, to make animated shorts to use as examples of what the software could do. Lasseter had trained alongside several of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men” animators and had soaked up the Disney way of doing things. He chose to leave the company after it refused to consider using newer technologies to make films. His leadership would borrow heavily from his time at Disney and he began producing shorts that would be entertaining and also sell the software.
When George Lucas began the process of divorcing his wife, he really needed quick cash. Additionally, Pixar proved to be a money pit at the time. When his friend Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple, Lucas was able to convince Jobs to purchase Pixar and use it as a second act; a chance to do something apart from Apple. After taking over the company, Steve realized that the software sales business model would never go anywhere because the biggest animation studio- Disney- had its own technology. He sat down with John Lasseter and told him that Pixar would no longer just sell the software- it would make its own films.
Lasseter knew that this would be a huge undertaking. He also knew that the best way to assure success out of the gate would be to partner with Disney. A deal was drawn up and Disney made its resources available to Pixar. While Pixar had full control of the project, it would use Disney’s connections to get a suitable script, voice talent and distribution. This effectively removed Disney as a competitor. The first planned feature was announced to be Toy Story and Disney put its entire marketing machine behind the film. Pixar was rarely mentioned in most marketing materials and as far as the public knew, this was a Disney film. As shown below, Pixar was barely or not at all featured on the movie posters.