Pixar's Demo Reel From the '80s Is a Trip to the Digital Dark Ages

GIF: Pixar

Pixar may be known for its eye-popping animation and airtight storytelling these days, but in 1988 it was a struggling high-end computer manufacturer with a demo video aimed at boring government bureaucrats.

The Pixar Image Computer was cutting edge tech in the late ‘80s and it cost $135,000 a pop. Users also had to buy a $35,000 workstation from Sun Microsystems or Silicon Graphics to use the thing. At those prices, it would seem like Steve Jobs got a good deal when he paid George Lucas $5m for the company. Alas, the computer was still too pricey, even for the government. Only around 300 were ever sold.

The ‘80s don’t feel like they were that long ago but take a look at this behemoth in its half-tone print ad glory:

 Image: Pixar Wikia
Image: Pixar Wikia

Odds are, your phone could smoke that big ass machine these days. But at the time it was impressive enough to blow away some of the greatest innovators of our time.

The graphics in the old demo video embedded below don’t exactly wow but they have a low-fi charm. What’s absolutely indefensible for a product from Pixar is how bad the video is overall. Generic voiceover, twinkly music, cringeworthy compositing, and a strange bearded man place this squarely in the Compuserve CD-ROM genre of advertisement. Thank god, John Lasseter came along and showed everyone at the company how to tell an engaging story.

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`


for fuck sakes...

is it really that fucking hard to google for five minutes to make sure you know a little bit about the subjects you’re writing about?

Lasseter was a Pixar employee from the beginning - because he was part of the computer graphics group at ILM.

oh and the bearded guy is Ed Catmull...just about everything you’ve ever seen rendered uses surfaces that were co-developed by Catmull.