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Review: The Bittersweet Brilliance of Toy Story 4

Josh Cooley, Review, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • June 21, 2019

 

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.

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Pixar has just announced a new movie!

Pete Docter

Posted by Simoa • June 19, 2019

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.

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.

A longer description from The Wrap:

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!

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Love in the Details of Toy Story 4

Behind The Scenes, Pixar, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • June 19, 2019

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.

©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  • 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!

©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved. Lots of Easter Eggs here too!

Top 5 Characters Details

Photo by Marc Flores. ©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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” Poultry Palace, 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.

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Grab Your New Toy Story 4 Interactive Talking Action Figures This Week!

Disney, Josh Cooley, Toy Story 4

Posted by Nia • June 17, 2019

With only four days to go until Toy Story 4 is finally released in cinemas, there’s no better time than now to peruse your local Disney Store or check out Shop Disney Online and pick up your own interactive action figures of your favorite Toy Story characters!

The ol’ gang is definitely back and ready to play! You’ll be able to find action figures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Rex, and Bullseye in stores. The exclusive line-up also features the new and improved Bo Peep and the loveable Forky, which you can see in the gallery above. The interactive action figures each have 10 unique expressions when they’re playing alone but when they’re paired with another figure, they unlock special phrases with their new interactive features. The toys are even able to sense when another interactive figure is nearby and they instantly start “talking” to each other, making you believe you’re right in the middle of a Toy Story film.

Has anyone bought their own figures yet? What are some of the special sayings you’ve heard when putting the toys together?

I don’t know about you, but I’m bringing all of mine to the cinema this Friday to watch Toy Story 4! We hope to see you there!

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Toy Story 4 “Takeover” Is Coming to a Disney Store Near You

Disney, Events, Toy Story 4

Posted by Nia • May 30, 2019

Good news, Toy Story fans! On June 1st Disney Stores around the U.S. and Canada will be transforming their locations and giving guests the opportunity to enjoy an immersive shopping experience, putting them right into the world of Disney/Pixar’s upcoming film Toy Story 4. Not only will there be loads of games and trivia for the whole family to enjoy, but new Toy Story 4 inspired toys, accessories, and clothing will also be available to purchase in stores.

If you have the chance to visit a Disney Store, you’ll be able to delight in the following activities:

  • Free Toy Story themed events and trivia
  • A new game called “Star Adventurer” where you’ll be able to practice your tossing skills to help fuel a rocket’s engine for take-off
  • Two new Toy Story 4 interactive digital games that will showcase all of your favorite characters from the film
  • In New York at the Times Square Disney Store, you can score a limited-edition pin if you decide to opt in for a paid photo experience on the Disney Store Times Square Spectacular screen
  • And if you decide to participate in any of the events, you’ll get a free sticker and have the opportunity to purchase special edition Ducky and Bunny figurines

Luckily you have the entire month of June to explore all of the fun and games at a Disney Store near you. And don’t forget to check out Toy Story 4 when it hits cinemas on June 21st!

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Onward – First Poster, First Trailer

Onward, Poster

Posted by Joanna • May 30, 2019

We only just got our first glimpse of Pixar’s next original movie Onward yesterday, and now Pixar are immediately surprising us with more Onward firsts! On Twitter, they teased us with a ‘magical riddle’ of sorts – if you reply to the tweet and solve it correctly, you’re rewarded with a beautiful poster. And a trailer is coming later tonight…

If you’re not wise enough to crack the code (or if you’re just impatient like us), then have a look at the poster below!

Isn’t it stunning? It looks like the city centre has lost some of the magic that the suburbs are still clinging onto. It’s surreal to see such a civilisation surrounded by jagged mountains and overseen by two crescent moons. Perhaps Onward will explore the fact that our world is a little like this too – huge cities can block out the beauty and wonder that our planet has to offer.

Also, can we just appreciate that van? And that it’s called Valor? What a beautiful paint job it’s had done on it. And look at that magical staff Ian has in his hand!

The excitement doesn’t stop at the poster though – the very first Onward trailer will also air tonight during the NBA final! Stay tuned to hear our thoughts on it, because we’re sure to have many!

Onward cometh to theatres in March 2020.

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Onward we go! First Look at Pixar’s Newest Film Arriving Next Year

Dan Scanlon, Onward

Posted by Simoa • May 29, 2019

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.

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10 Years Later Up’s Opening Sequence Still Packs An Emotional Punch

Anniversary, UP

Posted by Nia • May 20, 2019

It feels like it was only yesterday that Up premiered in cinemas and we fell in love with some of Pixar’s most iconic characters: Carl and Ellie Fredricksen, Russell, Dug, and of course, Kevin. It’s unfathomable to think it’s been 10 years since we all laughed, cried, and went on one of the biggest adventures of our lives as we followed Carl on his epic quest to reach Paradise Falls.

There are obviously a lot of amazing things about Up that still hold the test of time: the breathtaking reveal of Carl’s balloon house as it soars out of the city for the first time; the sweet depiction of Dug and his adoration for his humans; even the delicious villainy of Charles F. Muntz. But the greatest part about Up, and one of the finest moments in animation history, is the opening sequence, otherwise known as Married Life.

What makes the sequence so special is the fact that Up’s director, Pete Docter, decided to tell the story of Carl and Ellie’s relationship without dialogue. I’ve always been a firm believer that you don’t need dialogue to tell a story – so much can be achieved with a subtle glance or the character’s body language, how they carry themselves across the screen or interact with the world around them, that 10+ pages of dialogue can never achieve.

The Married Life opening depicts the entirety of the couple’s relationship without words but through images of their life together, little snippets of the good and the bad parts of any relationship – starting from Carl and Ellie’s wedding and ending with Ellie’s funeral. Their relationship could’ve spanned at least half of the film, there’s even a feature length film in there somewhere about the duo, but it was told brilliantly in less than five minutes. We didn’t need dialogue to tell us that Carl and Ellie were in love and what they went through in the course of their time together. Instead, with the clever way the talented folks at Pixar animated the sequence, we saw their love for each other in the brief glimpses of their relationship as they built their dream home and worked at the zoo. We saw their hopes about the future and their goals of traveling to South America and starting a family. We saw how they were able to overcome adult problems like home-owning and having a flat tire, and we even saw their struggles with infertility and how that affected them both in different ways.

Another reason why Married Life works so well is because of Michael Giacchino’s heartbreaking score; the sequence simply wouldn’t be the same without it. If you closed your eyes while listening to Giacchino’s Married Life theme, you could almost picture the story, scene by scene, in your head. The melodies that follow Carl and Ellie on their journey together are simple and just as unique as the old-fashioned couple; the score perfectly follows the ups and downs of their relationship, giving us some lighthearted and catchy tunes while also pulling at our heartstrings at the more somber moments. Michael Giacchino even went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on Up at the 82nd Academy Awards.

I have no doubt in another 10, 20, or even 30 years, the Married Life sequence in Up will still break our hearts and fill us with as much joy and devastation as it did the very first time we watched it. The opening sequence is a testament to the brilliance of animation and that with this art form, there are SO many ways to tell a story; not everything has to involve dialogue or spelling it out for the audience.

So, happy 10 Year Anniversary, Up! And congratulations again to all the amazing and incredibly talented people who worked on the project many moons ago. Adventure is out there! 

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Meet Gabby Gabby (Again and Again)!

Pixar, Pixar Employees, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • May 16, 2019

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!

Toy Story 4 (Pictured L-R): Valerie LaPointe (Story Supervisor), Axel Geddes (Editor), Thomas Jordan (Sets Supervisor), Steve Karski (Sets Supervisor), Patrick Lin (Layout Supervisor), Robert Russ (Supervising Animator), Scott Clark (Supervising Animator), Jean-Claude Kalache (Director of Photography, Lighting) & Robert Moyer at April 4, 2019 press day. Photo by Marc Flores. ©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Story

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.”
-Valerie LaPointe

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.

Editorial

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.

STORYBOARD – To create a sequence in Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” one of the early steps in the production pipeline is building storyboards. Artists sketch the key beats in a sequence, suggesting possible set positioning, camera angles and character poses. This sequence is when Woody and Forky meet Gabby Gabby for the first time.

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.

Technical Direction

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.

Animation

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.

ANIMATION – To create a sequence in Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” the animation team works with the suggested layout and recorded dialogue to create the physical and emotional character performances. This sequence shows just how ominous Gabby Gabby and Benson are when Woody meets them for the first time.

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

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 4 – Concept art of Gabby Gabby by Michael Yates. ©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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New Toy Story 4 Goodies – From Cereal to Books to Topiaries!

Round-Ups, Toy Story 4

Posted by Nia • May 9, 2019

Well folks, Toy Story 4 is coming to cinemas June 21st, which is NEXT month! And that only means one thing: we’re going to be showered with numerous campaigns and merchandise and all things Toy Story 4 related for the next 43 days and honestly, we cannot be more excited.

Here’s a round-up of some charming Toy Story 4 centred events and products you can pick-up in stores:

  1. If you’re going to be visiting Orlando anytime in the near future, check out the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival at Walt Disney World – where you’ll see stunning Toy Story 4 topiary set-ups like the one of Bo Peep below:

  2. Do you love cereal?  And most importantly, are you a Toy Story fan? (I mean, you have to be, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this). Well, you’re in luck, because Kellogg’s has released their own Toy Story 4 cereal in preparation for the film’s release. They’re calling their new product “Carnival Berry” which is Kellogg’s spin on the delicious and sugary berry Froot Loops taste.
  3. And finally, there’s a new set of adorable Toy Story 4 books on the market focused on 3-6 year olds. The books are called, Toy Story 4 Toy Box: Words to Play By and there are 5 books that focus on the famous Toy Story characters while highlighting their most inspirational and hilarious “words of wisdom.” The books were written by Suzanne Francis and illustrated by Jerrod Maruyama.

It’s safe to say we’ll definitely be buying ALL the Toy Story 4 cereal boxes and picking up copies of Words to Play By for all of our friends and loved ones. We can’t wait to see what new merchandise products Disney/Pixar release soon. To infinity, and beyond!

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