While everyone knows Pixar for their computer animated films, the company's first venture was an advanced computer aimed at scientific applications. The Pixar Image Computer was intended to compete against the powerful and uber-expensive super computers of its time, at a fraction of the cost.
This demonstration reel from 1987 shows a number of uses and applications by the Pixar computer in action. It's vitally important to understand that computers were moving out of the labs and into the greater world in the 1980s. The "Computer Age" was very new, and very unknown, to the great masses. The very idea of computer graphics and animation, and graphics as icons (think of the original Macintosh), these are new and novel concepts that must be won over in the market. It seems so obvious and simple now, but hindsight is always 20/20, as they say.
It's fascinating to contemplate the twin paths of attack taken by Pixar at this time. In 1986, John Lasseter created Luxo, Jr. and was busy bridging the gap between computer graphics and traditional animation theory. And Pixar was likewise pushing the limits of computer graphics technology for more serious applications. It's easy to see how they are building the foundations for their eventual global domination. There's a reason why these guys and gals are always three steps ahead of everyone else in Hollywood.
I think this is they key reason why Pixar's work remains sincere and honest, while rival CGI studios like Dreamworks and Blue Sky appear so brazenly cynical. They're all trying to be Poochie - loud, brash, false, "hip." It's the difference between the student who slacks off and skips half his classes, and the dedicated undergrad who does his homework. Is there any surprise who's on top?