Ever wonder why scooters have such a foothold in Pixar's culture?
"Well, it started with racing and then it just became a way to get around," says production designer Bob Pauley, who's been scooting around Pixar since he joined the company in 1993.
In the early 1990s, the tedious pace of Pixar's budding technology gave employees time on their hands while waiting for shots to render. (Fun fact: Rendering an individual frame of film on Toy Story would take anywhere from 45 minutes up to 20 hours to complete. The final film had 110,064 frames of computer animation.)
After already putting in long days, "there were many of us trying to blow off steam," recalls senior executive Tom Porter, who then supervised shading and visual effects on Toy Story.
With that downtime — combined with the long, empty hallways of the original office and a priority on fun — it wasn't long before "some sort of race community got started," Pauley said.
"We had mapped out a course through the corridors of the building. For awhile I had the fastest time," Porter said.
Naturally, a friendly competition grew. Challenges were made, times were recorded, and scores were kept.
One evening, while awaiting renders, Toy Story director John Lasseter scooted a record time on the course. He quickly called Porter, who lived nearby, with his new record-breaking time.
"I'm up for any challenge like that," Porter says. "This sort of thing was right up my alley."
Porter swiftly left his house and went straight to Pixar. A few practice laps and maybe some knee scrapes later he reclaimed his title as record-holder.
Shortly after, a trend took off of using scooters as a means of office-to-office travel. Dozens were zipping around the halls, recalls software developer Eliot Smyrl.
"It was a big deal," said Smyrl, who joined Pixar in 1989. "People got into personalizing their scooters. It got very creative."
Pauley habitually looked for scooters at local flea markets, refurbished them and brought them into the office. He remembers many of the "first-generation" scooters, including Lasseter's and Smyrl's, as well as some of his own. A couple favorites include one he calls "Old Blue," blue with white wheels that had a shipping box attached as a basket, and "The Chrome Pumpkin," a 14-inch GT stunt scooter whose basket was a plastic Halloween pumpkin bucket.
When we moved in 2001 from our first facility in Point Richmond, Calif., to our current campus in nearby Emeryville, "scooters were all the rage," Smyrl recalls.
They were so popular, he said, that someone negotiated a group rate to purchase about 300 scooters, and all of which were brought to Pixar in one delivery.
"You might say we started off racing to blow off steam," says Pauley, "but then it became a way to get around. And, you know, you've got to make it fun."