Pixar began life as the part of the computer division of Lucasfilm, along with Lucasfilm Games (which would later become LucasArts). John Lasseter, formerly an animator at Disney, was hired to direct short animated films to showcase the new technology. His sole film for the Lucasfilm computer division was The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.

George Lucas sold the computer division of Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. In the early days, Pixar made it's money by selling the Pixar Imaging Computer, a computer graphics workstation. John Lasseter continued to make animated movies for Pixar with the Pixar Imaging Computer. As time went on the technology improved to better suit the animation, and John Lasseter's storytelling ability also improved. Four more animated cartoons were produced at this time: Luxo Jr., Red’s Dream, Tin Toy, and Knick Knack.

The Pixar Imaging Computer was not selling, and Pixar was losing Steve Jobs a reported one million United States dollars a year. Meanwhile, John Lasseter's animations were popular both at computer graphics conventions like SIGGRAPH, and within the general motion picture industry itself. Pixar's first short film, Luxo Jr., was nominated for an academy award for Best Animated Short Film, and Pixar finally won that award in 1989 with Tin Toy. As a result, Pixar's business focus was changed, and animation was no longer a side project at Pixar, it became it's main business.

Pixar created commercials featuring computer animation for products such as Life Savers, and worked behind the scenes making their first full length computer animated feature film, Toy Story. After Toy Story was released, the Pixar shorts continued, but the short films became a chance for the inexperienced talent at Pixar to get a chance in the director's chair.

Geri's Game and For the Birds were directed by first time directors. Then, with the DVD release of Monster's Inc. a short film based on the movie was created called Mike's New Car. This began a tradition of two short films per movie, a new short film with the theatrical release, and a short film based on the feature length film with the DVD release. This practice continues at Pixar to this day (with Finding Nemo so far being the only exception).

The four new short films released were Boundin', One Man Band, Lifted, and Presto. The shorts based on the movies were Jack-Jack Attack (based on the Incredibles), Mater and the Ghostlight (based on Cars), Your Friend the Rat (based on Ratatouille), and BURN·E (based on WALL·E). My Friend the Rat was made almost exclusively in 2D animation, with scenes interspersed with 3D characters and backgrounds to show that Remi the rat from Ratatouille was telling the story. This is the first 2D animation production by Pixar, except for some short opening and closing scenes in their feature length films (such as the opening of Monster's Inc.).

To gear up for the release of Cars 2, Pixar produced five new short cartoons starring Mater the tow truck from Cars. In these shorts, which Pixar named Cars Toons: Mater's Tall Tales, Mater would tell a wild story to the race car Lightning McQueen, and the shorts would often end ambiguously with both Lightning and the viewer wondering if the tall tale might actually have happened after all. Four shorts, Rescue Squad Mater, El Materdor, and Mater the Greater, showed up on Toon Disney. The last short, Tokyo Mater, premiered in theaters, and was Pixar's first production projected in a digital 3D stereoscopic presentation.

With the release of Up came two new Pixar shorts. The first focused on a relationship between a baby carrying stork and a storm cloud that made the baby animals he had to deliver and was released with Up in theaters. The second was released with Up on DVD and told the story of how the talking dog Dug came to be in the desert when he was found by Carl Fredrickson and Russell in the film. There was also an internet only short cartoon which was a colored animatic that centered around the two retirement home employees who came to pick up Carl when he floated away from them in his house full of balloons.

2009 also brought a new Cars Toons short: Unidentified Flying Mater, which saw Mater become friends with a UFO.

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