If you’ve seen a Pixar movie without skipping the opening credits, you’re almost certainly familiar with Luxo Jr. He’s the cute little desk lamp who hops into the frame when the Pixar Animation Studios logo comes up, jumping up and down on the “I” and flattening it. He is the Pixar mascot, and his importance to the company goes all the way back to 1986, with the studio’s first animated short in their modern form.
“Luxo Jr.” was the creation of John Lasseter, who studied character animation at Cal Arts and worked for Disney and Lucasfilm before the computer animation department was spun off into its own independent company, Pixar. He worked day and night, even sleeping in his office, to complete the two-minute short film in time for the SIGGRAPH conference, where it was greeted with rapturous applause. The film was a breakthrough for the computer animation industry, but Lasseter was concerned with two key aspects that would shine through when it came to making full features. He explained in an interview with Animato! magazine (via HarryMcCracken.com):
“The thing I wanted to do in Luxo Jr. was make the characters and story the most important thing, not the fact that it was done with computer graphics. As you see in the film show at SIGGRAPH, a lot of times it’s computer graphics for computer graphics nerds. People get excited about it purely because it was generated with a computer.”
“Luxo Jr.” is still a delight. While the animation still looks good for its age, the most remarkable thing is how much character Lasseter gives the lamps. Despite the lack of easily anthropomorphic features, they still display curiosity, surprise, eagerness, affection, excitement, sadness, reproach, shame, and exasperation. Not bad for a film about two household appliances.