From Buzz Lightyear to Bing Bong, Pixar Animation Studios has given us many memorable characters over the years. Given their popularity, its not surprising that many of them have appeared throughout Walt Disney World in various forms including rides, shows, and character meet and greets. Given that this week marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Pixar, it seems appropriate to look back at the studio’s first star character and his brief time in the spotlight at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Pixar Place.
Originally created as part of Lucasfilm in the 1970s, the organization that would become known as Pixar was spun off into an independent company under the ownership of Steve Jobs in February 1986. Although nominally a developer of computer hardware, the Pixar team’s long-term goal was to create computer-animated films. In order to advance both of the new company’s missions, the decision was made to produce a short film that could be used to show off their hardware’s capabilities as well as give their animation team the ability to advance their art. A few months later, the John Lasseter directed “Luxo Jr.” debuted at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference to much acclaim.
The groundbreaking short film depicted a baby desk lamp excitedly playing with a ball alongside his watchful parent. Among the earliest examples of computer-generated Disney-style character animation, this breakthrough resulted in an Academy Award nomination in the Animated Short Film category (a first for a CGI film). More recently, its was selected to become part of the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2014 due to its importance to the medium of animation. Even those who may have never seen the film should recognize it plucky star from his appearance jumping on the letter “I” in the Pixar title card that appears before each of their films.
In 2009, Disney’s Imagineers brought this iconic character to life in Audio-Animatronics form at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The lamp would hop out onto a balcony on Pixar Place to the right of “Woody’s Picture Shootin’ Corral” and proceed to dance to a series of song clips. Unfortunately, this extra bit of entertainment was only a short-lived addition to the park, disappearing for good the next year likely due to technical difficulties. Although Luxo Jr’s time at Walt Disney World was all too short, the baby lamp’s influence on the development of both Pixar and computer animation in general over these past 30 years has been immense.