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Although many computer wonks still think Apple is too tempting for Jobs to resist, the truth is that he's been much better at building new companies than running existing ones. Pixar, his latest love, is taking off. Eleven years ago, he clicked his mouse on the Hollywood icon and bought Pixar from Star Wars director George Lucas. He has dumped upwards of $55 million of his own money into the venture and fairly burbles with that famed charisma over his new mission: marrying Silicon Valley technology to Hollywood's creative genius. His studio became the first--besides Disney--to hit it big with an animated movie, Toy Story, which cleared a respectable $37 million for the fledgling studio. Jobs owns 60% of Pixar, which is valued at anywhere from $700 million to $800 million.
Just entering the door at Pixar's headquarters in the San Francisco suburb of Richmond tells you all you need to know about the difference in cultures between Pixar and Apple. Pixar is what Apple used to be: cool. Everybody's office here is the same size, even Jobs'. He's in shorts; so is everybody else.
During our visit, Toy Story's Academy Award-winning director, John Lasseter, is excited about a "bug cam" the size of a matchbook. It was designed on a lark by Pixar engineers to photograph real bugs for A Bug's Life, the first in Pixar's five-picture deal with Disney. The hallways are crawling with pictures of exotic bugs and plants that will eventually populate the movie. "It's way cool working here," says Lasseter. "The atmosphere is fun. We respect creative people and make them feel satisfied."
Musing on the differences between the computer biz and the animation biz, Jobs notes, "Look, you work on a technical product, and if you're really lucky, it ships. If you're really, really lucky, it's a hit and lasts a year. If you're in the pantheon of products it lasts a decade, then it rapidly becomes a sediment layer on which the next layer of technology is built. I don't think you'll be able to boot up any computer today in 20 years."
On the other hand, animated films have an infinite life cycle. "Snow White has sold 28 million copies, and it's a 60-year-old production," Jobs points out. "People don't read Herodotus or Homer to their kids anymore, but everybody watches movies. These are our myths today. Disney puts those myths into our culture, and hopefully Pixar will too. At Pixar we're just getting started, and it's very magical. It's like the computer industry was in the early days."
Jobs is working hard to make Pixar a brand name as powerful as Disney's. Michael Eisner, head of Disney, says he doesn't even think of the two companies as separate anymore. "We are joined at the hip, at the computer and at the soul," he told TIME. "Pixar's success is not a fluke. One thing I always think is essential is enthusiasm, and Steve Jobs is massively enthusiastic. Jobs' bravado is his charm. He's a serious businessman, but he's out there with his charisma. It's fun to be with him."