F YOU WATCH enough of the movies made by Pixar Animation Studios, you're bound to notice that the company's filmmakers love to create unconventional characters - some might even call them misfits. In Monsters, Inc., Sulley, the large, yet cuddly, mass of blue fur and his colleague in fright, Mike, who looks like a walking green eyeball, are actually afraid of the children they're supposed to spook. In the Toy Story movies, Woody, the Tom Hanks-voiced cowboy character, has some serious abandonment issues, and Pixar's latest film, The Incredibles, features a family of frustrated superheroes.
Perhaps their place of origin helps explain how these quirky, sometimes neurotic, but always entertaining characters came to be. Indeed, a walk around Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville, California - just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco - is just about the absolute antithesis of a visit to, say, virtually any corporate office park in the country. The outside of the main building, which with its curved metal roof resembles an airplane hangar, is surrounded by a large expanse of green space, including a soccer field, volleyball nets, and an Olympic-size pool. Inside the front door - where visitors are greeted by life-size versions of the Incredibles and Syndrome - is a massive, airy atrium with an espresso bar and cafeteria along one wall and a bank of employee mailboxes and foosball tables along the other. Where the animators sit, bland cubicles have been jettisoned, replaced by elaborately decorated minicottages, including one, housing a native of Scotland, in the shape of a castle. Workers zip around the office on foot-propelled scooters and there's not a tie in sight.