John Lasetter was borrowed from Disney and he was being trained on how to build models. As his source material he started to look at a luxo lamp he had on his desk because “it was geometric and would show the shadow algorithm well”. At this time computer animation was done with equations and ‘art school math’ as Lasetter puts it.
As he attempts to actually animate his lamp Lasetter grows increasingly more frustrated with the math:
“I’m sitting there with a hand calculator at these expensive computers trying to figure it out using my art school math if a ball is this size how far would it move and I was like ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ so I went to Eben [Ostby] ‘please can you do something with the computer to help me with this? And that was the beginning of our procedural animation so I just animated the path of the ball and this amazing program Eben developed made it so the ball rotated accurately”
Sounds like we should all be grateful to Eben Ostby for some art we’ve gotten since 1986!
Here he is
Lasseter also got some key inspiration that we can see in his later leadership while making Luxo Jr from a man named Raoul Servais. At first Lasseter just wanted to make a “plotless character study” of his lamp. Servais told him “No matter how short it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Don’t forget the story. You can tell a story in ten seconds”.
So that’s what he does. As you will see in Luxo Jr we get a clear story. Most of these early shorts are like silent movies with no dialogue but a clear beginning, middle and end.
It’s a charming little short and did great things for Pixar. Lasseter said in the audio commentary the hardest part was getting the cord right “It was the cord. I will never forget. The cord was so hard. The rolling of the ball was such a pain. [Eben’s program] didn’t help with the cord. The ripples in the cord were done by hand and it was painful!”
Never forget the cord! 🙂
What Lasseter is able to do in Luxo Jr is create emotion extremely quickly and establish a relationship between the two lamps, something that when I write it sounds insane and yet there it is. Some say it is a mother and baby lamp. Lasseter has said it is a father son lamp but either way it is amazing any such connection can be made with a lamp!
This little short, Luxo Jr, “sent shock waves through the entire industry- to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit” (Edwin Catmult, Computer Animation: A Whole New World)
Luxo Jr also became the first computer animated short to be nominated for an Oscar in 1986.
So it’s another of these shorts that is simple on the surface but anything but when you consider its influence in the world of animation. In many ways it may be the most important animated short since Steamboat Willie.
You got to give it an A+. It has emotion where it shouldn’t. It tells a sweet simple story. It was groundbreaking and it is completely charming. It also became the face of Pixar from then on.