Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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In April 1995, Steve Jobs, then head of NeXT Computer, was interviewed by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation, producers of the Computerworld Honors Awards Program, as part of an Oral History project. The wide-ranging interview was conducted by Daniel Morrow, executive director of the awards program.

From his early years -- when he says except for a few key adults 'I would absolutely have ended up in jail' -- to how he felt about Apple in the mid-'90s -- 'The Macintosh will die in another few years [under John Sculley]' -- to his predictions about how the Internet would change the world, this is a rare look at Jobs after his first string of innovations but before he returned to Apple.

Steve, I'd like to begin with some biographical information. Tell us about yourself. Steve Jobs (SJ): I was born in San Francisco, California, USA, planet Earth, February 24, 1955. I can go into a lot of details about my youth, but I don't know that anybody would really care about that too much.

Well they might in three hundred years because all this print is going to disintegrate. Tell me a little bit about your parents, your family; what are the earliest things you remember? In 1955, Eisenhower was still President. I don't remember him but I do remember growing up in the late 50's and early 60's. It was a very interesting time in the United States. America was sort of at its pinnacle of post World War II prosperity and everything had been fairly straight and narrow from haircuts to culture in every way, and it was just starting to broaden into the 60's where things were going to start expanding out in new directions. Everything was still very successful. Very young. America seemed young and naive in many ways to me, from my memories at that time.

So you would have been about five or six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated? I remember John Kennedy being assassinated. I remember the exact moment that I heard he had been shot.

Where were you at the time? I was walking across the grass at my schoolyard going home at about three in the afternoon when somebody yelled that the President had been shot and killed. I must have been about seven or eight years old, I guess, and I knew exactly what it meant. I also remember very much the Cuban Missile Crisis. I probably didn't sleep for three or four nights because I was afraid that if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up. I guess I was seven years old at the time and I understood exactly what was going on. I think everybody did. It was really a terror that I will never forget, and it probably never really left. I think that everyone felt it at that time.

Pixar

85% of the world doesn't have access to a telephone yet. The potential is there and you're pretty optimistic. Tell me about Pixar. This story is very interesting. I got hooked up with some folks. Again a friend of mine told me I should go visit these crazy guys up in San Rafael, California who were working at Lucasfilm. Now George Lucas, who produced the Star Wars film trilogy, was a smart guy, and at one point when he had a lot of money coming in from these films he realized that he ought to start a technology group. He had a few problems he wanted to solve.

I'll give you an example of one. When you make a copy of analog audio recording, like tape cassette to another tape cassette, you pick up noise artifacts, in this case hiss. If you make a second-generation copy it gets worse exponentially. The same is true of optical analog copies. You take a piece of film, make an optical copy, you pick up noise artifacts, in this case optical noise which comes across as blurriness in some cases, comes across as other noise artifacts in other cases.

Now George, to make Star Wars, actually had to composite together up to thirteen pieces of film for each frame. The matt paintings for the backgrounds might be a few pieces of film, the models might be a few pieces of film, the live action might be a few pieces of film, some special effects might be a few pieces of film. And every time he'd make a copy to composite two together and then add a third, then add a fourth, he was adding noise artifacts with each generation. If you go buy a laser disk of any of the Star Wars Films, if you stop it on some of the frames, they are really grungy. Incredibly noisy, very bad quality.

George being the perfectionist he was, said "I'd like to do it perfectly," do it digitally; and nobody had ever done that before. He hired some very smart people and they figured out how to do it for him, digitally with no noise artifacts. They developed software and actually built some specialized hardware at the time. George had at some point decided that this is costing him several million dollars a year and decided that he didn't want to fund it anymore, so I bought this group from George Lucas and I incorporated it as Pixar and we set about revolutionizing high-end computer graphics.

If you look at the ten most important revolutions in high-end graphics, in the last ten years, eight of them have come out of Pixar. All of the software that was used to make Terminator, for example -- to actually construct the images that you saw on the screen -- or Jurassic Park with all the dinosaurs, was Pixar Software. Industrial Light and Magic uses it as the base for all of their stuff.

But Pixar had another vision. Pixar's vision was to tell stories. To make real films. Our vision was to make the world's first animated feature film -- completely computer synthetic, sets, characters, everything. After ten years, we have done exactly that. We have developed tools, all proprietary, to do this, to manage the production of this thing as well as the drawing of this thing, computer synthetic drawing. We are finishing up making the world's first computer animated feature film. Pixar has written it, directed it, producing it. The Walt Disney Corporation is distributing it and it's coming out this year as Walt Disney's Christmas Picture. It's coming out November 11, I believe, and it's called "Toy Story." You will hear a lot about it because I think its going to be the most successful film of this year.

Fantastic. It's phenomenal. Tom Hanks is the main character's voice. Tim Allen is the second main character. Randy Newman's doing the music for it. It's just phenomenal.

There's a lot of hoopla about Hollywood and Silicon Valley converging. They call it "Sillywood" I think. Pixar is really going to be the first digital studio in the whole world. It really combines art and technology together. Again in a very wonderful way. Pixar's got by far and away the best computer graphics talent in the entire world and it now has the best animation and artistic talent in the whole world to do these kinds of film. We have the second largest group of animators in the world outside of Disney and we think the most talented in the world working side by side with these computer scientists, the best graphics people in the world. There's really no one else in the world who could do this stuff. It's really phenomenal. We're probably close to ten years ahead of anybody else. Next: New possibilities

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