A new Hollywood motion picture opens this week. It would appear the filmmakers intend to provide some insight into a very complex and charismatic individual. That person is the co-founder of Apple Computer and the fascinating individual who helped lead a technological revolution with the Mac, the iphone, ipod and Ipad. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs remains a remarkable individual and it’s tough to overlook his impact on the technological tools we use today. This is my favorite sketch of “El Stevo.” I think I made this sketch back in 1997, my first year at Pixar Animation Studios. It was a different studio in those days. The little animation group occupied a series of grungy offices in an industrial park located in Point Richmond California. Hardly an award winning animation powerhouse, the odd little studio still remained a question. You see, Pixar had one movie under its belt and the animation industry waited curiously to see if this impressive film debut was simply a fluke. Could the little group sustain the creative energy that made them the talk of the cartoon business? Only time would tell.
Famously known as a micro-manager, Steve Jobs was amazingly “hands off” while he occupied office space at Pixar Animation Studios. And, while on the subject of office space one couldn’t help but be amazed at the tiny office the owner of the company occupied. Remember, this is an industry where bloated egos and fat-head executives scream their importance by the size of their office. Jobs wanted none of that. Although he did maintain a room down the hall from me where he would consider the various building materials that would one day make up the new production facility soon to be constructed in Emeryville. At breaktime it was cool to overhear conversations Steve was having with his Pixar engineers. It was everything from Apples’ wonky attempt at developing a new operating system for the Mac to the upcoming projects at the tiny Northern California studio. Clearly, it was an exciting time to work at Pixar because the studio still had the vibe of a start-up. Our employees numbered less than 300. A far cry from our larger animation cousin located in Burbank. At the time, Walt Disney Feature Animation ruled the industry and essentially had no real competition. In the years that would follow, all that would change.
I’ll never forget the day all the employees of Pixar Animation Studios received an email from the boss himself. “There have been a number of rumors going around that I might be leaving Pixar,” the message began. “There appears to be some speculation that I might be returning to Apple. Well, it’s not true, and I’m not going anywhere,” Steve continued. “So I guess you’re stuck with me.” I still wish I had saved that email I recieved many years ago. As you all know, Steve Jobs did return to Apple in the late nineties and he showed the world what a remarkable visionary and businessman he could be. In the years that followed, Apple would become one of the most powerful tech companies in the world and Pixar Animation Studios would pretty much rule the cartoon world.
I’m sure Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle will entertain us with the new Steve Jobs movie oppening this week. You’re sure to hear a series of smart-ass, cutting remarks and more than a few screen rants. However, the Steve Jobs I remember is the soft spoken, intense young man I occasionally spoke with in the hallway of Disney and Pixar. Hardly perfect by any means, Steve Jobs remains one of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever met.