Shorts That Don't Suck: Early Pixar

Ransom Riggs

If there's one company that knows how to make shorts that don't suck, it's Pixar. They also know how to make feature films that don't suck, as evidenced by their newest release WALL"¢E, which, forget the animation category, should be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar next year as far as I'm concerned. Stretching all the way back to 1995's Toy Story, the former Lucasfilm division has a proud history of great features, and an equally proud, if somewhat lesser known, history of great shorts going all the way back to 1984, many of which have helped Pixar earn its thirteen Academy Awards. Here they all are, arranged chronologically for your flossing and viewing pleasure.

Andre and Wally B - 1984

This was made at Lucasfilm, but animated by John Lasseter, who would become the head of Pixar. To look at the animation, it's incredible to think this was made in 1984 -- consider the monochrome bloops and bleeps your PC, if you were lucky enough to have one, made back then. The technology was quite restrictive, but Lasseter pushed the envelope by asking the Lucasfilm tech team for tear-drop shapes that could be animated (over and above the simple geometric shapes he was otherwise limited to). The results are impressive, if brief.

Luxo Jr. - 1986

This was Pixar's first short after becoming a company independent from Lucasfilm, and it received an Oscar nom for Best Animated Short -- not bad for their first try! Luxo the lamp has since become the company's unofficial mascot, and was inspired by one of John Lasseter's student films at CalArts, "Lady and the Lamp." According to Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, "'Luxo Jr.' sent shock waves through the entire industry "“ to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early '80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our 'Luxo Jr.,' ... reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community."

Red's Dream - 1987

Following the phenomenal success of "Luxo Jr.," "Red's Dream" was a bit of a downer, both because it's a really sad film, and because it didn't rack up the accolades that "Luxo" had. We still think it's still insanely impressive, however.

Tin Toy - 1988

"Tin Toy" represented several significant firsts for the still-fledgling animation company: their first attempt at a semi-realistic human character in a 3D computer-animated film (the baby), and their first film to not only be nominated for, but win, the Oscar for Best Animated Short. The Library of Congress' National Film Registry chose to preserve the film in 2003.

Knick-Knack - 1989

Pushing the animation envelope yet again, "Knick-Knack" premiered at the annual SIGGRAPH computer animation convention -- in 3-D. It was re-built and re-rendered for release with 2003's Finding Nemo, for which the female characters underwent some serious breast reduction, presumably to make the film more family-friendly. It didn't win an Oscar, but for what it's worth, Terry Gilliam has called it "one of the best animated short films of all time." So that's cool.

Lifted - 2006

To see just how far Pixar has come, check out their Oscar-nominated short "Lifted," which was released with Ratatouille. Directed by acclaimed sound mixer Gary Rydstrom, the similarity between the alien protagonist's baffling control console and the mixing boards used by Hollywood sound guys is no coincidence.

Previous installments of "Shorts That Don't Suck"
Volume I
Volume II
Volume III: Arty Edition
Volume IV: Music Videos