Pixar began as a technology company, developing 3D rendering systems mostly for advertising purposes. But now we know it primarily as a movie studio. In fact, it’s both, and each side makes the other possible.
Pixar tells powerful stories. That’s true of many movie studios, but Pixar’s stories are often unique because they’re told in a medium which it has invented, and which it continues to evolve. The needs of the stories drive evolution of its media technology; the new frontiers of 3D animation enable new kinds of stories to be told.
Pixar has been quite successful as a business, but not at all due to direct sale of their technology: RenderMan sales are probably not important to Pixar’s business.
This appears to be a powerful strategy in general: Powerful enabling environments usually arise as a byproduct of projects pursuing their own intrinsically meaningful purposes.
Related: Deep collaborations between tool-makers and tool-users may support insight through making