Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Apple and Eve

In Pixar Films' upcoming animation epic, "Wall-E," the title character is a cute but clunky robot whose centuries of solitude on an abandoned Earth is broken by the arrival of a svelte, futuristic robot named Eve - who is so white, gleaming, and well, pod-like, that she looks like she was born in Apple's design room. It turns out that she was - sort of: Eve marks the first design collaboration within Steve Jobs' culture-shaping Apple-Pixar-Disney axis. (Jobs sold Pixar to Disney and is Disney's largest shareholder as well as the CEO of Apple.)

"I wanted Eve to be high-end technology - no expense spared - and I wanted it to be seamless and for the technology to be sort of hidden and subcutaneous," Andrew Stanton, Wall-E's director, told Fortune. "The more I started describing it, the more I realized I was pretty much describing the Apple playbook for design." It is, of course, not the first time a product has inspired a film character - think of the murderous HAL 9000 robot in "2001: A Space Odyssey," based loosely on big IBM mainframes of the day.

But it may be the first time a character was based on a true corporate sibling. A call from Stanton to Jobs in 2005 resulted in Johnny Ive, Apple's behind-the-scenes design guru, driving across the San Francisco Bay to Pixar's converted warehouse headquarters to spend a day consulting on the Eve prototype. Stanton said that it was a "lovefest" with Ive, but that the notoriously tight-lipped design wizard offered few specific modifications. "Apple is so proprietary and so secretive that he couldn't even really allude to where the future of technology was going," says Stanton. "The most he could do is nod his head to the things we said we wanted to do." (Through a spokesman, Ive declined to comment.)

Among her other attributes, Eve has expressive blue eyes that look inspired by an old Lite Brite game, a head and arms that seem unattached to her body, hovering and flying abilities and an onboard weapons defense system. Asked whether the robot is meant to be a preview of Apple's product line circa 2,700 - when the film is set - Stanton says: "I kind of leave it to interpretation." Still, don't be surprised to see Eve bots working the counters this summer at an Apple Store near you.