“Hello, (again)” proclaimed a giant blue inflatable computer wobbling in the warm California breeze that swept across the grounds of the Apple Corporation. The company had just rolled out its first iMac. Whether stimulated by the promise of a brighter future or the free beer, staffers seemed to have gotten their mojo back.
We’d come to see Kanwal Sharma, who ran AppleMasters, to discuss a further donation of equipment. He hadn’t given us any prior warning that our visit would coincide with such a major product launch. “Come,” said Sharma, “I’ll introduce you to my boss.”
|With Kanwal Sharma at Apple, Cupertino, CA|
Standing next to the big inflatable iMac, coolly drinking beer from a plastic cup, was Apple’s newly reinstated CEO, Steve Jobs. After we were introduced, I pitched him the gorillas. He was inattentive and punctuated each of my points with a dismissive, “cool,” like how other people say, “fuck off.” I saw straight away that my passion had no traction with him.
Jon Rubinstein, on the other hand, was quite interested in what we had to say, and asked about trekking gorillas in the wild. Getting the senior vice president of hardware engineering on our side was key. Next to him stood Jonathan Ive, the company’s thirty one year-old British designer. The iMac was his baby - the first in a range of stunningly innovative products he would design for Apple over the coming decade, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad. He was wearing a blue silk shirt identical in colour to the iMac. “How did you manage to find a shirt exactly the same colour?” asked Jillian.
“Other way around,” laughed Ives. “I bought the shirt on Bondi Beach, and then used it as the swatch for iMac’s translucent shell, called it Bondi Blue.”
“Cool!” I said.
Next stop, Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, to meet Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, directors of the new Tarzan animated film. They gave us a tour of the “set”: a hive of animation cells connected by corridors decorated with large images of the story’s main characters. Every frame of the movie was drawn in one of those cells, by an animator on an easel. The image would then be scanned and, with massive rendering power, made to run in sequence.
|Jillian and I (centre) at Disney Animation, Burbank, CA, with Chris Buck and Kevin Lima|
Buck and Lima recounted the exhaustive research the team had undertaken to prepare for animating gorillas: attended lectures on primates, made trips to zoos, witnessed a gorilla dissection to learn about its musculature, even visited Bwindi in Uganda to observe mountain gorillas in the wild and gather inspiration for the setting. The movie’s sweeping 3D backgrounds were breathtakingly similar to the real thing. This required a rendering technique known as Deep Canvas, software that keeps track of brushstrokes applied in 3D space.
We asked them if the gorillas might be the beneficiary of Tarzan’s premiere. They agreed to consider it, but in the end gave the premiere to LA Zoo.
|Dinner at Emelio's, Santa Barbara, CA. (From left to right) Berkeley Breathed, Jillian Miller, Savannah Brentnal, Kai Krause, the author, Mike Backes, Douglas Adams, and Jody Boyman|
In the restaurant at the end of our journey, a hero’s welcome awaited us. Gathered in a bistro on the Santa Barbara waterfront for a feast in our honour were Kai Krause, Savanah Brentnall, Jody Bowman, Berkeley Breathed, and Douglas Adams. Mike Backes arrived late in his gold Porsche 928 which he’d driven down from LA. Jillian and I regaled them with thrilling tales of our Pacific Coast journey, how we’d sealed the deal on the Gates appeal, and pitched some of the most influential people in tech. “Timing is everything,” I said. “I mean, to have shown up on the day they launched the iMac. It didn’t take much to get them to agree to a further donation of stuff.”
Douglas, who was befuddled by a magic trick that Mike had shown him, looked up and beamed proudly. “How many AppleMasters do you now have as supporters?” he asked.
“Eight,” I said.
“That must constitute an orchard,” said Backes.
|Mike Backes, Los Angeles, CA, 1997|