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.
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!
The Disney store and shopDisney have released new Toy Story Shufflerzcollectibles. The limited edition toys feature your favorite characters from the beloved Toy Story films: Woody, Buzz, Rex, Bo Peep and Alien. On the 4th Saturday of each month Disney/Pixar will be celebrating a different Toy Story film in anticipation for Toy Story 4, which comes to cinemas June 21, 2019.
The Toy Story Shufflerz are compact, adorable, and filled with energy that will keep you and your loved ones entertained for days. Not only do they perfectly depict the iconic characters from the films, but when you press the top of the toys 10 times, they suddenly become alive as they aptly “shuffle” away from you.
Check out the toys below, and be sure to collect yours soon at a Disney Store near you or online at shopDisney.
2019 is the year that Toy Story 4 releases in theatres, and Pixar are doing well at keeping this at the front of our minds. Amongst all the Toy Story 4 hype (including the official reveal of Bo Peep’s return!), you may have missed out on some smaller stories happening around the studio and beyond.
Heimlich Finds A New Home
For old fans of Disney California Adventure, “A Bug’s Land” is likely to bring back a lot of fond memories. It was closed in September of last year, making room for the future (a new Marvel-themed land). It may serve as some solace to learn that Heimlich, who was the star of the attraction “Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train”, has found a new home back at Pixar Studios.
Just today, recently revealed Toy Story 4 characters Ducky and Bunny (who appear to live at a carnival) got their very own Twitter account: @duckyandbunny! They seem to have found someone’s lost phone and are using it to share blurry pictures, selfies, and obscene amounts of emojis. It’s interesting that they’re classing a smartphone as a ‘toy’ – maybe this is something that will be explored in Toy Story 4 this summer?
This new toy is AMAZING! Wow it’s so much better than staring into the distance for years on end. Now we can just stare at a rectangle from the future!
Pixar is undergoing a lot of changes – many of them positive, others a bit more bittersweet. Lee Unkrich’s departure from the studio after 25 years of brilliant and inspiring storytelling falls into the second category.
Deborah Coleman, Pixar
He first announced the news on twitter, linking to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, and following up with another tweet where he said “the time has come for new adventures.”
After twenty-five incredible years, I’ve decided to leave Pixar.
Of course, this news comes as a shock. Unkrich did not specify if he’s retiring from filmmaking, but he did inform the Reporter that he’s going to pursue some neglected interests and spend more time with his family.
“I’m not leaving to make films at another studio; instead, I look forward to spending much-needed time with my family and pursuing interests that have long been back-burnered.”
Unkrich’s last directorial effort was the monumentally successful Coco. It was just his second after helming 2010’s equally impressive Toy Story 3. He’s been at the studio since the very beginning, with Pete Docter praising him for his undeniable prowess.
“Lee arrived at Pixar as we were crafting Toy Story, and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since. He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition, and cutting. His artistry and expert craftsmanship as an editor and co-director became a major reason for the high quality of our filmmaking, and as Lee went on to direct, his ability to find the deep humor and emotion enabled him to create some of the strongest films we’ve made.”
Before codirecting Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo, he was an editor on the films. Pixar president Jim Morris also credited Unkrich’s ability to make the films even better. “If you look at the sweep of contemporary cinema, it would be difficult to find someone more brilliant in the filmmaking arts than Lee Unkrich. He has been a key player in elevating virtually every one of Pixar’s films.”
Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, echoed Morris and Docter:
“Lee has left an indelible mark on the world of film, and we are so grateful for the passion and talent he has brought to each movie he has worked on. He’ll always be part of the Disney-Pixar family, and we will miss him.”
While we are a bit sad over this news, we’re also happy that Lee is prioritizing his family. We truly believe he’s leaving the studio in more than capable hands, and that this new generation of storytellers will still be impacted by his years of dedication and keen storytelling gifts.
Update 1/19: Read Lee Unkrich’s parting letter below.
During my most recent visit to Pixar for an Incredibles 2 press event, which was a massive thrill in itself, I was given an exclusive tour of their new archive facility. And it was definitely the cherry on top of a very fabulous two days at the studio. Inside the archives I learned how Brad Bird and his team went back in time to research the designs and characters for the Incredibles 2.
Pixar itself is a magical place, and I don’t have enough room in this post to write about how it meant to visit the studio for the first time (stay-tuned for an upcoming post about just that), but the archives are really something special.
Just think of your favorite Pixar film and then think about all the hard work that went into making it. All of the designs that were created in the 3+ years of developing the film are all archived in their new 15,000 square foot facility.
Originally the building was just a raw cement warehouse, but the folks at Pixar spent a few years making it perfect and customizing it to accommodate all of the designs. The facility is now a working space where employees from Pixar can come to visit and pull designs for their research.
The archives is so big that it could get a little creepy when you’re there by yourself; every time someone enters through the main door there’s a cute little doorbell that rings, which alerts whoever’s working that someone has entered the premises. *Cue dramatic music*
I wanted to spend days, hours, WEEKS in that building looking at each and every piece of art work but alas, I only had less than an hour inside.
Archives Manager, Juliet Roth, led the tour and has been with Pixar for 15 years. Everyone who works in the archives has a master’s degree in library science with an archive focus, or something similar. According to Juliet, “this is as much my job as a story artist is an artist that draws storyboards, we work really closely with the art and story teams in production, that’s where the majority of the materials are coming from. We also collect scripts from editorial, some animation drawings, and we also have a historical collection; which is more about the history of Pixar as a company, sort of what is culturally unique. What makes Pixar Pixar?”
(Photo by Marc Flores)
So, what does the Pixar Archives house exactly? And how did going back through the old designs help the artists prepare for the Incredibles 2?
The archives hold molds and maquettes of some of your favorite characters, like Mr. Incredible; some are full body while others showcase a range of emotions and expressions for the animators to study as they work. Artists were able to come into the archives and use these old designs as a starting point when re-creating the characters for the sequel. “They make the sculpts so they can sit on the animators desks and they can reference it as they’re animating all the smile lines, teeth and tongue and eye shapes, so we have a lot of them for all the main characters in The Incredibles. You can draw a character all you want, the drawings are really wonderful, but there’s nothing like bringing a character to life in 3 dimensions.”
The archivists work with the production team to integrate themselves into their pipeline. Once a design has served its purpose in production, such as going through art reviews and being approved by the director, it slowly makes its way into the archives. But it doesn’t stop there: the archivists spend time with the team, making sure the artists hand off important information, such as the context of the artwork that was created. It’s even important to know about the characters who didn’t make it in the final film or a character who might’ve started off as the villain but ended up the hero; whatever it is, they like to get the contextual information because the archivists are the “information experts in the future.”
The archives also hold all the concept art that was created during The Incredibles and the rest of Pixar’s feature films. In relation to the world of the Incredibles we saw heaps of collages from the first film, pieces assembled from copious magazines and other materials created for character and costume designs; there were also color scripts from Lou Romano; background roughs, character sketches, and original Tony Fucile model packs, which is basically a blue print of the main characters; Ralph Eggleston and Lou Romano gouache paintings; different versions of Edna Mode’s concept art, in each one you could see her attitude, despite it being completely different to what made it on film; and finally the tour included Tony Fucile’s Edna designs and expressions. It was pretty neat seeing what Edna could have looked like and how all of these different artists initially pictured her in their minds.
(Photo by Marc Flores)
(Photo by Marc Flores)
Ralph Eggleston and his team came to the archives prior to starting their work on the sequel 3 years ago. Eggleston was trying to work out designs for the Incredibles 2, particularly for all of the background characters. Since they had done so much work on the first film with unused characters and villains, they decided it was a good place to start and pull from, maybe even re-using old designs. You’ll definitely see a lot of the initial forgotten supers and background characters in the Incredibles 2 next month.
(Photo by Marc Flores)
(Photo by Marc Flores)
Some other fun things I found in the Pixar archives worth noting:
The building houses a collection of press clippings from the early days of Pixar, including clips from when Pixar was first founded and when Steve Jobs bought it; those artifacts go back to Juliet’s earlier quote of “what makes Pixar Pixar?” That thought alone blew my mind because the posts I write for Upcoming Pixar, and even this post, *might* somehow end up in the archives one day.
Before Pixar started making movies they sold software and hardware and they made some commercials; like the dancing Life Savers holes in Babies and the boxing Listerine in Boxer, which were both Pixar’s claim to fame before Toy Story. They had copies of the original software and items from the commercials mentioned on display. Those items all come from Pixar’s “historical collection.”
They even saved original crew gifts from the wrap parties of each feature film; for the first Incredibles they had given out t-shirts. I asked for a shirt but unfortunately they were out of stock.
The walls of the archive facility were decorated with original concept art from Brave, Up, Monsters Inc., and an even original character line-ups from Inside Out.
At the end of the building there were display cases that showcased a squash and stretch maquette of Sulley from Monstes Inc., samples of different Sulley concept art, a maquette of Woody’s original character design which was a ventriloquist dummy, and a maquette of Buzz Lightyear AKA Lunar Larry’s original design. There was even a printed card that showed a bunch of potential titles for Toy Story, my favorite being Toys in the Hood. The best part was seeingsome of the bronze statues the employees at Pixar get after being there for 5, 10, 20 years, etc.
(Photo by Marc Flores)
You could get lost in the Pixar archives and honestly, if that happened to me I’d be content living inside the building for the rest of my life. Although it was only a tour, I could see how important the archives are to the employees at Pixar and the company’s legacy. It’s amazing that the everyone at the company has a place like the archives to escape to, where they can venture into the past to study previous films and pull designs for research. It not only makes them stronger artists, but it makes the content coming from Pixar even more important and relevant. The more Pixar grows, the more designs and artifacts the archivists have to help continue to build the company’s legacy.
Don’t forget to grab your tickets to the Incredibles 2, which comes to cinemas on June 15th. Only 15 more days to go!
P.S. Do you have your super-suit packed and ready to go?