Why did Toy Story 4 have to get made? It’s a question that director Josh Cooley asked himself. His answer was that every ending has a beginning. Just because the toys’ journey with Andy was over didn’t mean their journey with Bonnie was. In the nine years that have passed between the third and fourth films, there have been three Toy Story Toons and two TV specials. Life size Lego figures of Woody and Buzz stand beside the reception desk at Pixar. As Toy Story 4 producer Mark Nielson put it, those guys are in the fabric of the studio. How could this movie not get made?!
Toy Story will mark its 25th anniversary next year. For some of the animators on Toy Story 4, the 1995 film is the first they ever saw. I can’t imagine the joy and thrill of being able to animate characters that you spent your childhood with. And not only that, but you get to work on new characters for this world, who may end up being just as iconic and beloved as the original ones.
Those original characters, our old pals, are happily being played with by Bonnie. All except one. Woody, who once enjoyed the vaunted position of the favorite toy, and by default, leader of the rest, is now none of those things. He gets tossed in the closet with toys Bonnie has outgrown and no longer plays with. It’s a dull and lonely existence, but Woody still firmly believes in his purpose to be there unconditionally for his kid. That’s why he stows himself away in Bonnie’s backpack on the first day of kindergarten. He’s not supposed to. Toys aren’t allowed. But Bonnie is having such a tough time facing this newest adventure that Woody just can’t let her do it alone.
So when Bonnie makes a toy out of a spork and names him Forky (Tony Hale), Woody is actually privy to a very special moment. Bonnie loves her little oddball creation immediately. The way she looks at Forky, that love she has for him that he doesn’t even understand or want to reciprocate, are things Woody no longer enjoys. And that’s why he’ll do anything to keep Bonnie from losing Forky.
Bonnie does lose Forky quite a bit while on a road trip with her parents and all the other toys – she just doesn’t know it because of Woody’s singleminded pursuit of him. Forky runs longingly to any trash receptacle he can find. “Trash! Trash! Trash!” is his gleeful refrain. He makes his final escape out of the window of the RV, triumphantly yelling, “I’M LITTER!” Yes, it’s just as glorious as it sounds.
Forky doesn’t get far before Woody finds him, and a heart-to-heart chat about what it means to be loved by a kid convinces Forky to return to Bonnie.
But Woody and Forky have to take a couple of detours before either of them can go back.
The first of these detours takes place in Second Chance Antiques, where a familiar lamp sits in the window. Bo Peep’s lamp. Woody’s love that went away all those years ago isn’t inside the shop, which Woody and Forky find out for themselves when they go looking for her. They meet the unsettling Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) instead, a pretty little doll in a prim dress, and her horde of even more unsettling ventriloquist dummy henchmen. These guys inspire so much terror – the way they move is the worst. People are going to have nightmares and it’s Pixar’s fault.
Woody does eventually find Bo Peep after that frightening horror movie ordeal, and their reunion is awash in sunlight. When we talk about the most meaningful, inspired, symbolic Pixar movie scenes, this is going to be one of them. It’s just a brief interlude where neither of them speak because a child is playing with them, and that’s the beauty of it.
Though it’s been 20 whole years since we last saw Bo Peep, though her presence in this series was so slight even before she was written out of Toy Story 3, her inclusion in Toy Story 4 just feels right. It’s the most natural thing in the world. For Cooley, story supervisor Valerie LaPointe and others, this porcelain shepherdess was the reason they wanted to make the film. I predicted that Bo would be so much more significant, but even I couldn’t have guessed just how much! Again I ask, how could this movie not get made?
In addition to reintroducing Bo Peep, the film achieves yet another marvelous feat with its introduction of distinct and lovable new toys. Forky is joined by Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and Ducky and Bunny (Keegan Micheal Key and Jordan Peele). (For anyone who’s seen Peele’s Us, the fact that he’s playing a rabbit in a carnival toy game is eerie and awesome). While it’s a little disappointing that the new toys get more screentime over the older ones, that ultimately served the story best. (This is why we need more Toy Story toons). And then there’s Gabby Gabby. I was so prepared to hate her, but something kept telling me I would be proven wrong. I’m glad I was. Gabby isn’t what she appears to be. There’s always a certain value in stories where the villains aren’t what we expect at all.
Reeves and the comedy duo of Key and Peele are so fantastic that I would love to hear them again in another Pixar feature or a future Toy Story toon! Tony Hale had so much fun recording, that even if I hadn’t seen the footage of him in the booth, it wouldn’t matter; his enjoyment is palpable. Christina Hendricks also does memorable, heartbreaking, versatile work as Gabby. I’d be remiss not to praise yet another cast member in their Pixar debut, Ally Maki, as the impossibly adorable Giggle McDimples. That giggle and voice of hers are so infectious! The veterans, namely Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, and Tim Allen, are still at the top of their game.
Toy Story 4‘s other big feat concerns the plot. There’s so much of it, but it doesn’t once overwhelm the characters or feel unwieldy. Without its precise pacing, the film would suffer, it would just be a lot of noise. With Randy Newman’s subtle updates to his iconic score and the newer pieces, Toy Story 4 feels a lot like home; it’s a comforting nod to the past that is still looking forward. The nostalgia is potent but not overdone.
And it’s unbelievably hilarious too. I can’t remember the last time I heard so much raucous outbreak of laughter in a packed theater before. This movie is much wackier than the three that came before, but it’s just as beautiful, unforgettable, and devastating too. It might actually be the most heartbreaking of them all.
I simply can’t wait to watch it again.
Toy Story 4 is now playing in theaters nationwide.
A single tweet. That’s all. Just one tweet about a brand new, never before heard or hinted Pixar film which debuts in theaters exactly one year from today, on June 19th, 2020.
One year from today, Pixar Animation Studios will take you on a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions. Disney & Pixar’s “Soul” arrives in theaters on June 19, 2020. pic.twitter.com/D3VP8Tw4RM
We are getting two Pixar films next year! Both one word titles that involve mystical journeys, although Soul has a more philosophical bent than Onward‘s fantasy adventure. Oh man. It’s so cryptic! Just a simple logo with the lofty goal of answering life’s most important questions. Which are not simple! Here is one question I have: who is the heroine of this story? Please tell me Soul has a female lead.
Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams and your interests come from? What is it that makes you… YOU? In 2020, Pixar Animation Studios takes you on a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions.
And guess what? Pete Docter is directing! His first film as Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer and his first since Inside Out, which coincidentally turns four today! The similarities to the former film are undeniable. First we were in the mind, now we are venturing to the soul.
There does seem to be another connection to Onward. While that film takes our elven heroes out of a suburb, Soul will leave the streets of New York city. Existential pondering leading us out of the places we know that can sometimes be a bit stifling into the unknown. At least that’s my take on it.
Let us know what you think! We will update this post with any more details and will be doing lots of Soul searching in the coming year!
There is something Ling Tu, the Sets Shading Lead on Toy Story 4, said during the It’s All in the Details presentation at the studio back in April that I think is very important. She hoped that we could feel the love that was put into the sets. The intention and purpose of Pixar films are not only the result of painstaking research, but painstaking love too! And that love extends to the locations as much as it does to the characters. The level of detail in Toy Story 4 is so intricate that even the sharpest eyed viewers might not notice – and that’s exactly the point. Regardless, each detail is both deliberate and necessary.
Tu was joined by Characters Shading Lead Alex Marino and Graphics Art Director Craig Foster to give us an in depth exploration of all the details.
As we’ve learned, the goal of the Toy Story films is to allow audiences to see everything from a toy’s perspective. Achieving that in Toy Story 4 relied on a number of factors, like making the sets characters with their own backstories and conveying the journeys of the toys through subtle visual hints. Something that was emphasized throughout were the imperfections in each detail, which allowed for greater authenticity and added a richness that would otherwise have been missing if the filmmakers aimed for perfection.
While it might be impossible to spot them all, here are some details (and Easter eggs!) to keep an eye on when you watch Toy Story 4.
Top 5 Sets Details
The leaves in the reunion scene between Woody and Bo Peep make Woody appear smaller and toylike. Pay attention to their texture, as they have the same veins and holes as real leaves do.
The reunion scene takes place in a dried creek bed. There’s a sprinkler box there to remind the audiences that this is still happening in the human world.
Dust in the antique store is very specific and just the right amount had to be applied. Take a look at the comparison image below – there’s a clear difference between them. The final frame still conveys the store’s age and unique history, but the dust isn’t distracting as it is in the first one.
Another crucial element of the antiques store is that it makes Woody feel out of place. It’s also the last place any toy wants to be, which is why Gabby Gabby is so eager to leave. The subtleties make it feel that way, without the filmmakers being obvious about it.
As Tu explained, carnivals draw you in with flashy lights and colors, but they’re actually shabby when you take a closer look. One of the ways they zeroed in on the shabbiness was the carnival prize grid where Ducky and Bunny spend all their time. The image below is fascinating because it’s something we take for granted and it’s distinctly unglamorous. But the filmmakers still took the time to include it for that extra layer of credibility!
Just like the antiques store, it was important to show how our toys have aged too. This was achieved by taking their journeys and motivations into account. Alex Marino also explained that subtle updates helped integrate the characters into the new settings.
Pay attention to Buzz’s stickers – they’re peeling. He’s no longer the glossy space ranger in mint condition.
Woody we know, has been through a lot. The micro scratches on him clue us into that and remind us that he and Buzz aren’t new toys.
Bo Peep’s porcelain isn’t as pristine as it was before, which makes sense considering that she’s been living as a lost toy. Her garments are a little shabby too.
Gabby Gabby is inspired by dolls of the 1950s and 1960s which were mass produced, but her hand painted features and the nylon quality of her hair are a contrast to the more generic features.
Since Gabby has been sitting on a shelf for so long, her dress is desaturated. She’s often in the dark, which would explain why her eyes are ominous rather than soft and inviting.
The Toy Story 4 art gallery, as seen on March 18, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Top 5 Graphic Design Details and Easter Eggs
Here’s something you won’t see in Toy Story 4: Woody’s Round Up. Craig Foster was deliberate about that because Woody is meant to feel out of place wherever he goes. To that end, no Western style fonts appear in the film either. Here’s a handy list of (more than) five Easter eggs to be on the look out for instead! And these are just the ones we were told about. A good chunk of the 8,000 graphics in the film reference past Pixar films.
Photo by Marc Flores
A Victrola in Second Chance Antiques has a record of Ernesto de la Cruz songs.
Paintings in the film include one of Alpha which is reminiscent of John Singer Sargent; the classic ‘dogs playing poker’ with Dug, Muntz and the other hounds of Up; Riley’s dad as a conquistador (?!); and Angel Kitty from “Toy Story That Time Forgot” in Margaret Keane’s signature style.
Fun ads in the film include 1940s Triple Dent Gum (and now I’m humming the jingle of course); 1950s era Eggman Movers from the first Toy Story; Hud’s Garage, a reference to Doc Hudson; and “Small Fry’s” PoultryPalace, also from the ’50s.
The pinball machine has a tiki theme and naturally, the tiki heads from Finding Nemo are there.
A really cool graphic is Duke Caboom‘s maple leaf. Not only is it a symbol of his Canadian heritage, it looks like an explosion too!
As always, this visual storytelling expertly reinforces the film’s main themes. The labyrinthine aspect of all these details doesn’t overwhelm the characters; they blend into the background of the story and beckon us to take a closer look.
Happy 10th anniversary to this masterpiece! I celebrated by watching the movie today, and Joanna posted some of the most unforgettable moments from Up on our twitter feed. There’s so much I can say about Up that would fill pages. I could talk about it for hours, if not days. If I can be honest though, there was a time in my life when I thought Up was childish. This was before I watched it. The trailers for the film did not interest me. The flying house made me think it was over the top silly, something that only children could enjoy. I was wrong of course. Up is for everyone. And that silliness is one of its strengths.
Up is just magnificent. Absurd, devastating, colorful, imaginative, funny (so, so funny), and hopeful. I love how completely bonkers it is, precisely balanced with the heartbreak. It is one the many reasons I love animation so much. Down with realism! I want balloons and flying houses and fantasy and dazzling colors. And just how many movies out there give us triumphant elderly heroes? As big as Up is, it’s also intimate: a meditation on grief that lets us revel in silliness and joy.
Nia wrote beautifully on the wordless impact of Married Life which Pete Docter discussed on Rotten Tomatoes.
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Director Pete Docter takes us behind-the-scenes of the opening sequence from #Up. pic.twitter.com/3eLvtIgAhF
When Carl finally sees that Ellie did fill up her adventure book, he’s surprised by the snapshots of their life together. All those boring moments that Ellie was wise enough to cherish. Seeing their shared adventure in the film’s opening sequence still inspires me with their inexhaustible optimism. I want to be just like that; cheerful even when life wrecks my carefully laid plans and dreams.
I was lucky enough to see Up in theaters in 2012 after I missed its theatrical run in 2009. I had even brought my dad along. It’s still the only Pixar movie he’s ever seen. He’s simultaneously a curmudgeon and a softie just like Carl. And most of the time, I’m like Carl too. A little withdrawn. (The joint pain also makes me see a kindred spirit in him. I haven’t reached my 30s yet, but still. I’m old). In the foreword to The Art of Up, Pete Docter writes that he wanted to escape the world. It’s a universal feeling. And who wouldn’t want to fly away from all the mess down here? But though Up started out that way, it evolved into something else – something greater. The reality is that we can’t just escape the world like Carl tries to, but Up shows us what we can do instead.
Although Carl and Russell embark on a grandiose adventure on the other side of the world, Up is really about having adventures right where you are. It’s about paying attention to moments we might easily take for granted.
“That might sound boring, but I think it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.”
When you reach adulthood, and sometimes even before, you’re resigned to the mundane. You put away childish things, you stop reading fairy tales, you get settled into the same old routines. But Up tells us to embrace the mundane; the small, simple joys that break up monotony. I think we’ve all just got to make room for adventures both big and small.
Meet the cast of Pixar’s 2020 feature film – a family of elves! People has the exclusive and even sat down with director Dan Scanlon who shared more details about Onward. The film stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as elf brothers living in a fantasy suburbia. Julia Louis-Dreyfus will appear as the pair’s mother. Octavia Spencer also rounds out the cast, but we don’t know yet what role she’s playing. And now here’s what we’ve all been waiting for, images from the film itself!
I like it! The premise is new territory for Pixar and siblings are at the center. I’m digging the clothes on the elves, and the fact that they have cars and dragons in their world. As Scanlon describes it, the brothers are on a quest to find out if magic still exists.
Ian (Holland’s character) is the younger of the two. He’s shy and awkward, while Barley, the older brother (Pratt), is much more outgoing and wild.
Of the film, Scanlon says:
“My hope is some of the questions that I’m asking in the film will be questions other people are asking about their own lives. And I think that’s what a lot of the times gets us to connect to a movie.”
We’ve got lots of questions of our own, and can’t wait to get more answers over these next couple of months! Onward will be released on March 6th, next year. Let us know what you think of it so far.
In Toy Story 4, filmmakers needed new locations for the characters to inhabit, characters that the audience has grown up with and loved. It makes sense for the Toy Story universe to expand beyond a child’s room, a toy store, and a daycare. The latest film brings the toys and the audience to unexplored places.
Thomas Jordan, Stephen Karski and Rosie Cole present, as seen on the Toy Story 4 Long Lead Press Day, on April 3, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Pixar’s sets department, comprised of 30 people, was responsible for making the two newest sets for the film: the antiques store and the carnival. To borrow from sets supervisor Stephen Karski, we take these places for granted. Toy Story 4 however, allows us to see them from a totally new perspective.
The Antiques Mall
We were given a glimpse into Second Chance Antiques (established in 1986, which makes it the same age as Pixar) when we met Gabby Gabby, but how was it created? Pixar films always involve research trips, and the same is true for Toy Story 4, even if antique shops and carnivals aren’t all that exotic. The artists and technicians are still committed to delivering authenticity without straying into realism. It’s truth to materials once more. Production designer Bob Pauley described some of the results of these trips to local antique stores.
“We discovered a lot of charming, interesting, and fun people running them, and many visual similarities from store to store. There’s often a spotlight, a juke box, sometimes a big plastic Santa and of course lots of collectibles and real antiques.”
Second Chance is not only where we meet Gabby Gabby, but it’s also where Bo Peep spent so many years. Just like any character, the store has its own backstory and unique history. Since a majority of these antique shops were once other things, Second Chance was once an appliance and department store all in one. Sets art director Dan Holland refined the final design of the store, which he first visualized as either a car manufacturer or a furniture store.
Cameras were placed on the ground for the toy’s point of view. The scale determined how big the store was in relation to both toys and humans. Stephen Karski let us in on one of their key goals with the antiques store: constantly reinforcing to the audience, both consciously and subconsciously, that we are getting the toy’s eye view.
Rosie Cole as seen on the Toy Story 4 Long Lead Press Day, on April 3, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Sets technical director Rosie Cole designed the set modeling and dressing for Second Chance Antiques, which involved arrangement of the furniture, as well as arranging the items in a random order that was still cohesive and appealing. The antiques store also resembles a city, and each neighborhood has a specific theme. A warehouse of props, many of them from previous Pixar films, also filled up Second Chance. It’s the perfect set to go hunting for Easter eggs! Cole, whose family owned an antique store, grew up in one, and so she was familiar with all the hiding places.
The antiques store also has a staggering level of detail which further lends it authenticity. Director Josh Cooley challenged his crew to add an extra layer of age, history, and wear – as seen in the film still below. Those cobwebs and scratches serve a purpose and there are lots more in Second Chance Antiques.
And those cobwebs? They were made by spiders. Not real ones, but a computer program of artificial intelligence spiders. Pixar’s advancements in technology never cease to amaze. According to Thomas Jordan, they never would have finished the film if they had to make those cobwebs themselves!
Toy Story 4‘s second set also provided ample opportunity to introduce a familiar world that was still new. The carnival just made sense in relation to the story. Screenwriter Andrew Stanton put it this way: “If you think about it, a carnival has the cheapest, saddest, most disposable toys known to man.” Carnival toys are a parallel to the ones in an antique store, too.
There was just one research trip to a carnival in the nearby town of Walnut Creek. Photos of carnival rides served as reference for the ones in the movie. But there were also other factors that had to be accounted for, ones which the audience won’t even think about. How is everything powered and how do the crowds of carnival goers not get in the way? And there are also the trash cans – good for humans, but perfect for toys; more hiding places.
Cole worked on the game booths for the carnival, arranging the toys by theme, but also varying their shapes and sizes. A childhood love of antique carousels also motivated her to design the one in the film. They filmed the inside of the carousel too, making sure that all of the working parts moved correctly.
There’s a level of detail in these sets which hasn’t been seen before in a Pixar film. Bob Pauley noted that not many will notice all of the details, but they remain necessary anyway. Karski told us that the crew is passionate about taking the audiences to places we can’t normally go and experiencing them through our favorite toys. Pixar movies often transport us to vast places both real and imaginary. In Toy Story 4, the familiar is made brand new.
Advance tickets for Toy Story 4 are now on sale! Get yours today!
Sporks are going to be the newest sensation, thanks to Pixar. Typical of them, right?
THREE-IN-ONE – He’s not a fork. He’s not a spoon. And most of all, Forky is not a toy! At least that’s what he thinks. Bonnie created him from an assortment of supplies Woody’s retrieved from the kindergarten trash can. So, it’s no wonder Forky feels strongly that he’s trash and not a toy.
I got to make a Forky of my very own while at Pixar! Mine was a bit plain, but then his eyes became lopsided and he started to resemble Bonnie’s Forky. Just a little bit. I regret not taking advantage of all the glitter we were given.
Animator Claudio De Oliveira supervised our arts and crafts session, and he walked us through Forky’s creation. The studio’s artists made many versions of the spork-turned-toy before settling on his final design.
De Oliveira began by focusing on Forky’s limitations because ideas would flow from there. And flow they did. Truth to materials is the principle that was touched upon repeatedly in each presentation, and that’s what Forky’s design adheres to as well. De Oliveira had to explore the ways Forky would be able to convey emotion with his minimal movement. Since he has googly eyes he doesn’t blink, and he has to move a certain way because of his plaster/Popsicle stick feet. At first, De Oliveira was somewhat ambivalent about the character because he wasn’t sure how Forky would be powerful, but his potential was unlocked when De Oliveira was working on him at home. Suddenly one of those googly eyes moved and Forky was alive!
But it was Tony Hale’s performance that added the extra bit of life and emotion. Seeing him in the recording booth was honestly such a treat. His expressions provided a wealth of inspiration for animators.
“Tony’s performance as Forky is a comedy salad of confidence, confusion and empathy…served by hilarious spork.”
Claudio De Oliveira presents details about the creation of the character Forky, as seen on the Toy Story 4 Long Lead Press Day, on April 3, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
The most side splitting moments of the film, at least of the footage that was screened, involve Forky saying ‘trash’ with longing and jumping into any available trash bin. And actually getting to see Hale squeal and shout just that one word made me laugh even harder as I pictured the movie scenes. Gaining sentience positiviely freaks Forky out, which is why he’s so adamant, in Cooley’s words, “to fulfill his purpose as a spork, but now has a new toy purpose thrust upon him.”
So can you guess where my Forky ended up? That’s right, the trash. He didn’t survive the airport (his legs broke off), and then eventually the rest of him did too. There’s no doubt in my mind that movie Forky would have welcomed such a fate. How does he even stay intact through the entirety of Toy Story 4 anyhow?! There are so many more questions about Forky, too. Producer Jonas Rivera addressed these concerns in a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports. Though Rivera cautions us not to think too deeply about the logistics of the toy/Toy Story universe, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
“[Forky] is a wrench thrown into the works of the Toy Story universe.”
Now I can’t help but think of an actual wrench with googly eyes and pipe cleaner arms…
Forky creations are photographed on April 4, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
The Toy Story 4 art gallery, as seen on March 18, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Getting to make a Forky of my own made me feel like a kid again. And I’m pretty sure lots of people, including adults!, will be gluing googly eyes onto sporks after the film is released. De Oliveira was able to share Forky with his family too. His young children made their own versions of the character and were so ecstatic about him that it’s clear Forky is going to be a memorable and beloved addition to the Toy Story family. What’s more, he also spoke about how young kids will be able to connect to the character because they can make Forky themselves. This idea is further reinforced by Bonnie. She made Forky on her first day of kindergarten when she was feeling anxious, and he instantly brought her joy and comfort. Because Forky is so important to Bonnie, Woody makes it his mission to keep him from harm. And the trash.
Learning how Pixar movies get made is a little daunting. For anyone who doubts just how rigorous this process is for animated films, let the artists, writers, technicians, and animators lay those doubts soundly to rest! During my Pixar visit last month, I was wowed by the way a specific scene in Toy Story 4 gets made. Read on to learn more and wow yourself!
From Start to Finish: Creating a Scene in Toy Story 4
This presentation was moderated by nine people, which is still just a small portion of the crew who worked on this particular scene, Meet Gabby Gabby. Things start off even smaller with just four people: the writer, director, story supervisor (Valerie LaPointe on this film), and editor. The writer and director have a basic story and it’s LaPointe’s job to detail that story, with the concept and characters. LaPointe supervises a team of story artists, who contribute gags, character ideas, and key narrative points, in addition to drawing the film!
There’s many steps involved in building a scene, but the first and most crucial begins with the script. Everything is written and broken down into about 30 sequences. Then the artists draw the scene. By this point, the director (Josh Cooley), writer (Stephany Folsom), story artist, and LaPointe read the script, give feedback, toss out ideas, and ask questions. With all of that material, the story artist can now visualize all of those ideas on the pages, which is called ‘thinking on paper.’ This includes shots, acting, and posing. Remember that animated films are made entirely from scratch; the actors in any given scene are the animators giving physical performances through the characters; the sets, shots and props have to be created too, all inside the computer.
“When you’re a story artist, you’re taking the first stab at everybody else’s job on the film with thinking through the entire scene.”
The story artists, in a truly stunning feat, draw every frame of the shot. There’s anywhere from 100 to 300 storyboards/drawings in the sequence. These drawings get pitched digitally to the director, writer, editor, and story team, which is similar to how LaPointe presented the drawings to us in Pixar’s theater. If you’ve ever watched the special features on Pixar’s home releases, you have an idea of what these pitches involve. The drawings are displayed as the artists use sound effects and special voices to “sell the scene” they’re working on. They receive feedback and changes from the rest of the team and then it’s back to the (digital) drawing board. When those changes are complete, the scene goes to the editorial department, who are responsible for making a watchable movie.
The folks in editorial add more sound effects, as well as scratch (temporary) voices for the characters before the actors record their lines. A reel with the drawings, sounds, and voices represents the film, which goes through lots of rewrites and drawing fixes. This process lasts one to three years, but the typical timeframe is two.
Now we are ready to meet Gabby Gabby! Some background on this scene: Woody and Forky wind up in an antique store, where they come across the vintage doll in a baby carriage. She’s out on her morning stroll with her henchman, Benson, a ventriloquist dummy. LaPointe provided the scratch voice for Gabby in this early stage, and she sounded great! Christina Hendricks voices the doll in the completed film, and that’s who I thought we were hearing at first.
Think of scene building as you would of the set design in a live action movie or TV show. The story is the set and all the props are what the editorial department add to the scene. In this case, the “props” are dialogue, sound effects, and music. Axel Geddes, who’s been editing Pixar films since Monsters, Inc. in 2001, was the sole representative from editorial for this presentation, but in reality, there’s a large team of editors and assistant editors who put the film together repeatedly. Editorial is really the center of every department as shots go through the production pipeline. A shot moves through the pipeline but it is frequently returned to editorial to make sure it contributes to the overall film.
So what’s the editing process like? Well, a stack of virtual images from the story department is sent to editorial. As previously mentioned, the reels are the film, and they contain the storyboards, which act as the foundation. The editorial team uses their temporary dialogue as building blocks for the scene which determine the performances and other aspects, like how long to hold a specific pose. And those performances are the tools to build each shot. As Geddes explained, the editorial team are the second actors for these characters; they inhabit them. Once the performances are timed out, the scene can be edited.
Animation editing is similar to live action, but editorial decisions are made on each frame rather than each shot. Live action films utilize latent production sounds, but they have to be created for animated films. Sound effects go a long way in establishing the mood and atmosphere of a scene. In Meet Gabby Gabby, the mood was eerie; the creaky wheels on the baby carriage helped with that. Music also strengthens the tone. The editors use preexisting soundtracks before Pixar’s trusted composers are brought in.
We watched Meet Gabby Gabby more than once, and it had evolved each time. Geddes said it was boring to watch the same shot multiple times (“Which is exactly what my job is like”), but I can honestly say that I didn’t find it boring at all. I not only got a glimpse into what he does, but I did it myself! Sort of. The editorial team does a lot of repetitive work, but that’s to ensure that the most compelling version of the story is being told. Variations of the film, some of them vastly different, are screened for internal audiences over a four year period. Meet Gabby Gabby was just one version of the film where the goal was to introduce a brand new villain into Toy Story’s universe.
Supervising technical director Robert Moyer works closely with most of the departments to build assets and shots for the film. After meeting Gabby Gabby, we got some insight into how she was brought to life. She’s a 1957 pull string talking toy who was made around the same time as Woody. The challenge was to make her look doll like rather than human, like animators had to do with Bo Peep. There was a lot to think about: making her look as if she was made of hard plastic and not flesh, how her eyeballs sat in their sockets, the crease of baby fat, and even how her head fits into her neck. Gabby Gabby’s hair also had to look thicker and more metallic, as did the iris of her eyes, so she could appear alive.
Forky is the other challenging character. He had to be believable as something made by a child, but also appealing and consistent with the rest of the Toy Story characters. The crew made Forkys of their own in workshops to determine the basics of his design. Forky looks simple, but he’s made up of more materials than any other character.
We also got to learn about those dummies. Four of them were built, and the crew studied their internal structures which were very complex. Moyer was able to show us why the dummies move the way they do; they had to look as if they’re being supported by someone else. Essentially, everything about them had to feel slightly off, which only enhanced their creepiness.
Location, location, location (sets!)
Pixar sets are usually massive. From the ocean to outer space to the inner workings of the mind, they’ve taken us almost everywhere. In Toy Story 4, there’s the antique store, which is impressive despite its ordinariness. It’s an exciting place for a toy, because they get to stay hidden while moving around and being alive. Set supervisors Thomas Jordan and Stephen Karski walked us through the creation of the antique shop, which is 8,000 square feet and houses more than 10,000 items. A lot of those items were custom made for the movie, but some others were recycled from earlier Pixar films. This set took two years to build.
The antiques mall in the film feels like a city to a toy, not unlike boxes in a basement resembling a sprawling city to a bug! Not only did the antiques mall feel like a city, it looked like one too. The rugs in the aisles are where the customers shop, and toys avoid those. But the items are all arranged by theme and take on the appearance of a city complete with alleyways and neighborhoods.
Camera and Staging LAYOUT – To create a sequence in Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” members of the camera and staging team use the storyboards to further explore how best to shoot the sequence. This team determines placement of the virtual cameras, which informs the sets teams where to place set pieces and props. Camera and staging also roughly choreographs the movement of the characters, considering framing, composition, lens, camera angle, stage lines and screen directions. This image shows the team exploring camera placement within the virtual set.
From the sets we moved on to the cinematography, which was managed by layout supervisor Patrick Lin. There is a virtual camera inside the computer which is mathematically true to a physical camera and even mimics the movements of one. So the camera works just like one used on a live action film. Staging places the camera and character on the set and is also concerned with choreographing movements in a scene. And at the same time, Lin is also paying attention to other factors, such as framing, composition, and lights.
This process begins with the story reel which is broken down into shots that form the shooting script. Just like live action, there’s a location scout. In this case, the characters are placed in the antiques mall. Lin and his team worked with sets to find a special area for the moment when Woody and Gabby Gabby meet. Something else we wouldn’t think about are the locations of the story beats, like the route of the carriage ride through the mall, and how it stops at the right moment when the clock chimes in the scene. According to Lin, it’s the most complex set he’s seen in his 22 years at the studio.
As we learned, editorial actually makes the film twice: first with story and second with camera and staging.
Now that we know how and why each of these disciplines contribute to this scene, we can see how the characters are animated, courtesy of supervising animators Scott Clark and Robert Russ.
“As animators, we craft the physical and emotional performances of the characters you see on the screen.”
The expressions and movements are influenced by the emotions and vice versa. Like Bill Reeves said at an earlier presentation, animation is Pixar’s crown jewel. That doesn’t make the other departments any less important, as I hope this post demonstrates! They are all responsible for the success of this scene just as much as the animation, and Toy Story 4 overall.
Every piece is working in tandem to tell the story. We got to see different versions of this scene and how the changes made were more effective in communicating emotion. On the technical side of things is truth to materials, a principle that Pixar takes very seriously. Although it’s a limitation, that’s a good thing: the animators work twice as hard to achieve specificity for a character.
Lighting is one of the most appealing things about all of the studio’s films! Director of Photography Jean-Claude Kalache informed us that the lighting emphasizes the animation performances. For example, by turning the lights off, the characters have to perform through silhouettes. Lighting was so important because of its relation to the film’s theme. According to Josh Cooley:
“Our purpose in life is a moving target. The only constant is change.”
Toy Story 4 is a story all about change, as Woody discovers that there is much more to being a toy than what he’s always strongly believed. The lighting had to reflect that transition of our beloved cowboy.
LIGHTING — To create a sequence in Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” the lighting department is responsible for lighting the scene in a way that supports the story—in this case, using shadow and color to help convey the tone of the sequence as it progresses from uncertain to mildly menacing.
Some of the lighting techniques for Meet Gabby Gabby began dark and then ended brightly. Soft light turned harsh, cool tones became warm. The doll herself even has her own villain color, a sickly green that signifies her presence at any point in the film. Gabby Gabby is physically trapped, so there was a lot of light on her eyes. Woody is mentally trapped, so his eyes are shadowed. The antiques mall, which took three months to light, was also a major shift from Bonnie’s room. There’s no real sense of location or geography there, and even all the dust had a purpose, for chase scenes and for simplifying the backgrounds.
There isn’t a specific order to this process after the script because all of the departments overlap with one another. The goal was to recreate the intimate level of collaboration from the first Toy Story all those years ago. It’s easy to take all of this for granted, Pixar’s stories unfolding before our very eyes. And it’s all the more impressive when you realize that you never really have to think about this stuff, until Pixar gives you the opportunity to see how it’s all done. That doesn’t lessen any of the magic; it’s actually made a lot more tangible.
Maybe you’ll be thinking about all of this when you meet Gabby Gabby when Toy Story 4 opens next month. And don’t forget to check back here for more posts about my incredible time at Pixar!
Toy Story 2. Finding Dory. Cars 3. Incredibles 2. Toy Story 4.
What do these films have in common? They’re Pixar sequels with female protagonists. In Toy Story 2, Woody was still the main character, but Jessie very nearly stole the show. She was just so spunky, vivacious, tough and vulnerable. If Pixar universes did overlap, I like to think she would be Ellie’s favorite doll! (And Ellie would’ve kept her forever). Dory was the focus of Finding Dory. Andrew Stanton was compelled to return to that world because there were so many questions he needed answers to about the blue tang. Cars 3 justified its existence with the inclusion of the sunny yellow Cruz Ramirez. Last summer’s Incredibles 2 gave Helen Parr the spotlight. “Parenting is a heroic act.” So she was always a hero even before the Deavors let her have her own glory.
When it was announced that Bo Peep would return in Toy Story 4, I was ecstatic, but not surprised.
It’s why I ignored much of the hand wringing over Toy Story 4. I know Pixar doesn’t make films solely for the box office returns, and I wasn’t worried about the direction the studio was headed. People say there’s too many sequels. But there are also original projects. And Pixar is still taking risks. Toy Story 3 ended on such a perfect note; the series was the rare trilogy where every film was excellent. So Toy Story 4 does represent a great risk. How will they outdo themselves? Seeing Pixar’s track record of introducing or centering female characters in its sequels made me all the more eager to see Bo Peep again.
The filmmakers began their Bo Peep research by watching the first two films in the series. Bo was confident, flirty, and Woody’s voice of reason. She was his confidante. And as they began to think of ways to bring her back for the fourth film, they knew she would have to be the driving force behind Woody’s change. The challenge then became to turn her from a tertiary character into a main one.
The goal was to give Bo dimension. In one of the film’s clips, we see her take the lead in staging a toy’s rescue. Just as Woody was the leader of Andy’s room, she was the leader in Molly’s. Unlike Woody, she can’t be in the room forever. She’s part of a lamp; a baby lamp at that. She doesn’t have the long life of a toy like Woody and Buzz. Once that baby grows up, she’s gone. The story team, led by supervisor Valerie LaPointe, also thought about Bo’s life in the intervening years. Where were the most unexpected places they could take her? Would Andy’s mother have donated her, or would she be tossed out? How did the antique shop, one of the new locations in the film, shape her? Could she even be a Robin Hood type? And would she have given up toy life or want to remain one? There was something else to consider too. Bo Peep is made out of porcelain, so maybe she just wanted to be safe.
Eventually, they decided that Bo chose to live as a lost toy. But getting lost is such a terrible fate for a toy. How did that become something positive?
This is the Bo Peep we’ll be reunited with on June 21st: she’s someone who didn’t want to sit on a shelf and just wait for life to happen to her. She takes chances and is a bit unpredictable. Bo doesn’t play by toy rules and she even breaks away from her original toy mode. From what I saw at Pixar, the story team has stayed true to Bo. They used knowledge from Toy Story and Toy Story 2 as the base for molding her into a character with more to do. She’s playful, silly, a little sarcastic, but still caring too. And Bo, unlike Woody, knows the realities of the world. He’s been sheltered for so long. Another goal for the story was to figure out the effect she would have on Woody, and the realizations that they each impart on the other.
It’s also worth noting that this presentation was moderated by women only, so that’s one reason why they were so successful in redefining her.
When it came to redesigning Bo, the artists had to strike a balance between reinventing her while also staying true to her original look. Pixar films usually involve research trips, and for this one, they went down to a doll factory in LA. There, they studied how the makers prototype the dolls and all of the thought put into hair, clothing, and shape.
We also saw the original Bo maquette that’s currently in the Pixar archives. They used that sculpt for their redesign of the character.
Drawings by character designer Daniela Strijleva were a huge inspiration in creating Bo’s new design. A Rosie the Riveter inspired drawing also helped them in reshaping her personality. Unfortunately we don’t have a clearer photo of director Josh Cooley’s concept art of Bo, but I hope my description can do it justice. She looked a lot rougher and even had a robot arm!
Another task for the artists and designers was refashioning Bo into an action heroine. They also had to achieve a balance where she could be athletic but still feminine. She needed to be instantly recognizable to audiences. So her dress was flipped inside out and used as a cape. Tiny versions of Bo’s iconic dress were sewed onto dolls for reference too. Viewers had to be reminded that Bo is only 10 inches tall, since her proportions are so human like. Her movements were also decreased to make her appear toy like.
Animating Bo Peep
As supervising animator Patty Kihm explained to us, certain characteristics determine how a character behaves in the world around them. A clear distinction had to be made between classic and modern Bo. Classic Bo was feminine with a dry wit, and prepared to always stay in Molly’s room. Her movements were reserved likely owing to the restrictive dress she wore. Modern Bo still has that dry sense of humor, but she’s matured and is much more independent now. She’s comfortable living on the road and is confident with her new life as a lost toy, along with being a leader. Her new outfit allows her to move freely.
Voice actress Annie Potts was another source of inspiration for the animators. And they added a subtle reminder to the audience that she is indeed porcelain with the crack in her hair. As I mentioned before, Bo is still feminine. The filmmakers wanted her to remain that way, because athletic or heroic women are often portrayed as masculine. (Keep in mind that they weren’t disparaging women who appear masculine, as one of the presenters, directing animator Becki Tower, was pretty masculine herself! Just another example of Pixar’s diverse workforce). One of the things I hoped for with this movie was that Bo wouldn’t evolve into a character lacking warmth or softness, because too often, action heroines are portrayed with masculine personality traits. Thankfully, my hopes were fulfilled! Bo was always sassy, and she still is.
We were very lucky to see the reference footage used by the animators. They studied gymnasts and dancers for their grace and strength to model how Bo Peep would move. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman was just one gymnast they studied. They noted that she was powerful with strong lines and protected her body. Bo’s staff is also an extension of her body, for her poses and movements. It is not just a prop or accessory. They studied footage of martial arts for her staff movements as well. Bo’s feminine athleticism also adds an interesting layer to her character. The other layer is her knowledge that she knows she can break, but she still chooses to live as a lost toy anyway.
Towards the end, we got to ask questions. I had to mention how Pixar sequels make the female characters more prominent, and asked if it was intentional or part of a pattern. Valerie signed on for the film because Bo Peep was the biggest lure. Although her absence in Toy Story 3 was tastefully done, reminding us that we often lose the people we care about, Valerie still felt that it wasn’t fully addressed. And it just felt natural to make her a multidimensional character. And there’s always been something to mine in her relationship with Woody.
I found myself falling in love with Bo Peep all over again, and it’s clear that the film crew did too! And you all will do the same in just a month’s time.
Pixar caused quite a commotion when they released the final trailer for Toy Story 4 in March. It had nothing to do with the plot, but with the appearance of a character. And no, that character was not Bo Peep, whose return in this latest installment has made fans very eager. No, the character that sparked so much discussion was Andy. Just read this headline: “People think Andy looks like he’s had plastic surgery in the trailer for Toy Story 4” along with the series of tweets in the article. Andy does look very different – and there’s a reason for that!
CG animation has obviously progressed since the mid ’90s. Pixar caused another commotion with the latest TV spot for Toy Story 4; this time, the gorgeous cat left viewers in awe. In fact, our feline friend made it onto Twitter moments like Andy had previously.
Myself and other bloggers and journalists from various outlets were gathered in the Pixar theater to learn about the design principles in this world that I’m so happy we get to revisit! Our presenters were production designer Bob Pauley and global technology supervisor Bill Reeves, who guided us through all four films in the franchise.
It’s the early ’90s. Pixar is much smaller than it is today. For Toy Story, the studio’s first feature length film, there’s just 16 people on the film crew. At this point, there’s no art or story or editorial departments. In fact, there’s only three animators on the team who will eventually become 50; 10 technical directors grow to 70; and the art department gains a whopping four. Toy Story is an hour and 21 minutes long, but Pixar’s one theatrical film under their belt at that time (“Tin Toy”) had merely a five minute runtime. So there were lots of external pressures in addition to the design challenges we learned about in this presentation.
The software back in 1995 was rudimentary, so the filmmakers relied on basic shapes. Since the film is about toys, they were in luck: plastic was easy to work with using the tools they had. Pixar’s Renderman is world renowned today, but 24 years ago, all of the rendering, lighting, and layout were done with just a simple text editor. To get a better idea of the restrictions in the software, look no further than the Dinoco gas station. The lighting in that set used six to seven light sources, but today, that number would be 300 or more.
Still, despite the primitive software, which included only basic rigging (what animators use to animate), the filmmakers did take pride in their work. Bob Pauley noted fondly that they amazed themselves with the first sequence of the green army men. That sequence offered them a glimpse into the exciting world they were building. And no one can deny how Toy Story changed the landscape of computer animation.
With all of the experience gained from Toy Story, the artists moved onto Toy Story 2. The second film’s fraught history is well known, but though it was released four years after the first film, it was actually completed in just an eight month period. By this time, the software had improved somewhat. The filmmakers were able to utilize better shading, along with an interactive layout and lighting system. A Bug’s Life, Pixar’s second feature film, was also useful, as its crowd shots helped them to do the same with the robots in Toy Story 2‘s video game opening. More risks were taken with this film, and it even featured sophisticated human characters in Al and Geri the toy cleaner.
Eleven years later, Toy Story 3 made significant strides with its technology. There were ten feature length films in the studio’s library at this time, which meant the software provided more tools. For example, the hair technology in Monsters, Inc. proved quite beneficial to Toy Story 3 for Buster the dog’s fur. The models were also more organic and flexible. The lighting enriched the scenes and made space for even greater complexity, and as always, served the story. And the studio wasn’t merely acquiring advanced software during this period. There were also new artists. To hear Bill Reeves describe those artists as “new blood” speaks to Pixar’s wholehearted enthusiasm for new, fresh voices; new blood pumping into the studio’s heart!
Now with Toy Story 4 just a month away, countless artists and technicians are working with an abundant variety of textures and materials.
The software now allows them to make human characters more appealing. Andy was never the focus of Toy Story, but now they have the ability to upgrade his design. With these technological improvements, the filmmakers no longer have to stick with just the basic shapes and textures they started out with. The new Renderman mimics the physics of life, which is less about making the animation look “real.” The actual concern is making it all truthful.
At the beginning of this talk, Reeves reiterated the ‘story is king’ mantra that Pixar has always championed. It’s vital to every single department on each film. What I found so illuminating in this talk, aside from the explanation of technical terms, was how the old and new technology still served the story. As I learned throughout my time there, and what I hope to convey in later posts, is how intentional Pixarians are in their work; everything is deliberate and nothing in the film is simply there by chance.
Animation, described by Reeves as one of Pixar’s crown jewels, involves much more polish in Toy Story 4. Polishing allows animators to add subtle elements to their shots that make those shots come alive. Polishing doesn’t simply make the film pretty to look at, it serves a narrative purpose. For this film and Toy Story 3, there was ten times more polishing compared to the earlier films. Take a look at the comparison shots of Bo and Woody below:
There’s much greater detail and polish in Toy Story 4. It’s how the first film might have looked if there was more time and newer software. But then, the film never would’ve been made in 1995. Despite the film’s “seat of the pants” process, it went on to become an enormous success. Even with the primitive software, Toy Story is a timeless classic with beloved characters that we’ve spent over two decades with! Seeing these shots side by side isn’t jarring. Toy Story still looks beautiful – Toy Story 4 has just enhanced its look, added depth where before there could only be simplicity. 24 years later we’re still thrilled to see Woody and Bo again, and it’s not because of how they look.
I first watched Toy Story when I was four years old. Now I’m 28 watching Toy Story 4. As impressed as I am with the film’s design and technology, what affects me the most are the characters I’ve grown up with for nearly my whole life. I’m predicting the same for everybody else when this film hits theaters in June.
As always, check back here for more posts. There’s so much I’m excited to share about Toy Story 4 and my Pixar visit!