The History Behind The Pixar Lamp
How a simple lamp became a global icon.
Pixar is so iconic that it’s hard to believe that there are people out there who have not seen a single Pixar movie. Pixar has made 17 movies and 16 of them are almost universally praised (I'm looking at you Cars 2.) While Pixar is famous for making great movies, they're almost equally as famous for hiding objects and characters throughout their movies.
Here’s Nemo in a scene from Monsters Inc.
The Pizza Planet Truck from Toy Story has been in many Pixar films.
The truck has been featured everywhere from Wall-E...
...to Monsters Inc.
But the most famous objects that span the Pixar universe are the Luxo Ball and Luxo Lamp Jr. The Luxo Ball was introduced in Toy Story in Andy’s toy chest. Since it’s debut, the Luxo Ball has been seen in 15 different Pixar movies and shorts.
These are just four of many scenes that feature the ball
The only object more prominent than the Luxo Ball is the Luxo Lamp Jr. Luxo Lamp Jr. is the lamp that makes an appearance with the Pixar logo. The lamp hops over and jumps up and down on the “I” in Pixar until the letter deflates.
This occurs before every Pixar movie (besides the first Toy Story where it came after) and it’s one of the most recognized brands in film. This begs the question, where did this lamp come from and why is it so iconic to the Pixar brand?
As you may have guess the Luxo Ball and Luxo Lamp Jr. are connected. The first time the lamp was featured was in the Pixar short titled Luxo Jr. The plot is simple; two lamps, Luxo Sr. and Luxo Jr., are playing with a small inflatable rubber ball. When Luxo Jr. tries to balance on the ball, it pops and then Luxo Jr. finds a bigger ball to play with.
Watch the short film below.
It’s a pretty standard short film that on the surface doesn’t appear to be that special. So how did a film based on director John Lasseter’s desk lamp come to be the symbol of Pixar?
There is clearly great significance to the short film that launched the two most iconic objects in the Pixar universe. Luxo Jr. was the first short film ever produced by Pixar Animation Studies. It originally debuted in 1986 at the SIGGRAPH conference (short for Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques.) The reason the short is so important to the Pixar brand is because of how ground breaking it was at the time of its’ release. It was regarded a breakthrough in the field of CGI (computer-generated imagery.) What was so astonishing at the time was the ability of objects to shed light and shadows on themselves using shadow maps. Not only were the shadows important but also the power cords trail believably behind the moving lamps in an almost lifelike manner. The way the lamps came alive is what separated Luxo Jr. from other shorts at the time. It used not only photorealism to make the short look realistic; it used emotional realism to tell a story. When watching Luxo Jr. you often forget that it’s about two lamps and not two people. The way Pixar was able to make inanimate objects come to life in Luxo Jr. paved the way to give other inanimate objects life in Toy Story and Cars.
Luxo Jr. was not only ground breaking for Pixar but for the entire industry. It was won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and it was the first computer-animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award. It has also been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry due to its “cultural, historical and aesthetical significance.” Luxo Jr. introduced the world to not only the Luxo Ball and lamp, but to a way of animation that paved the way for Pixar to become the company it is today.