Decoding the Most Prolific Hidden Symbol in Movies

·Contributor

Recognize "A113"?

This code has popped up in every Pixar movie — often more than once. It's an absolute staple of the studio's Easter egg-laying tradition.

But A113 — an homage to the CalArts animation classroom where Pixar exec John Lasseter and writer-directors Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Tim Burton once studied — has an even more prolific onscreen presence, mapping out a very "Da Vinci Code"-esque trail throughout cinema and TV for decades.

Bird's "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," for example, is one of the latest examples of A113 infiltration. The symbol appears on the ring of Josh Holloway's character, Agent Hanaway. It is also the signal Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt uses to call in support (as "Alpha 1-1-3").

Bird also snuck A113 into a license plate in his 1999 Warner Bros. animated movie, "The Iron Giant."

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," too, features a hidden A113. During the scene where President Snow is watching Katniss on a monitor (how very meta, right?) in the arena, the sequence make a blink-and-you'd-miss-it appearance in the corner of his tube.

Similarly, "The Avengers" hopped on the A113 wagon, featuring a wink to the code during a segment of news coverage near the end of the film — a scene that also included the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.

This appears to be Joss Whedon's nod to his "Toy Story" pals; Whedon co-wrote the Pixar hit alongside  Stanton and with the guidance of Lasseter and Docter.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Terminator Salvation," and "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" are among the myriad live-action films which have also partaken in the A113-hiding tradition.

Bird first introduced the A113 coding tradition back in the early '90s in one of his first animated creations, TV's "Family Dog," years before Pixar opened its doors.

[Related: Easter Egg Hunting, Pixar-Style]

"On 'Family Dog' I put it on the license plate of the thieves' car," he told Salon.com. "And I put it into every single one of my films, including my 'Simpsons' episodes — it's sort of my version of Hirschfeld's Nina."

"A-113" was used as Bart Simpson's mug-shot number from "Do the Bartman," a music video Bird directed for the series.

The sequence was also used on the jail uniforms of Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob during the two episodes Bird directed.

Lasseter, another CalArts alum, soon adopted the hallmark and transported it over into some of Pixar's earliest pics, "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life."

"CalArts is one of the best animation schools, it was my alma mater, and a lot of the students during my time, as they created films, short films and feature films, they've kinda hidden A113 in the movies," Lasseter explained. "It's one of those little things you have to look for."

[Related: Production Shakeups Mean No New Pixar Movies In 2014]

This also launched the studio's now-grand tradition of inserting throwback imagery from prior (and, later, future) Pixar pictures into each of the studio's films.

It was sprinkled into "Toy Story" via a license plate and was also used as the camera model number in "Finding Nemo" and the cell block number in "The Incredibles." A113 was later seen as the tag number of Git the lab rat in "Ratatouille."

It's featured prominently in "Wall-E," literally flashing on-screen as a directive for the space ship Axiom's autopilot never to return to Earth.

Sometimes, the Pixar team has had to be creative to get the code in, as with "Brave," wherein the filmmakers had to translate it into Roman numerals ("ACXIII") shown above the witch's cottage to ensure it fit within the time period of the story.

Disney, which also counts a few CalArts alums among its animation team, has also followed in the A113 tradition in by way of license plates in "Lilo & Stitch," "The Princess and the Frog," and "Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers."

Even though CalArts' beloved classroom is now used as a graphic-design studio, don't expect the on-screen homages to disappear. The alphanumeric sequence is about as close to Illuminati action as animated Hollywood gets, so next time you watch an animated movie — even a live-action one — keep your eyes peeled for A113.

Watch the A113 reference in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" at the 50-second mark:

Meriah Doty contributed to this report.