In 1995, the insanely popular Toy Story premiered on the week of Thanksgiving. After that, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 came out and delighted us even more. The movie was not only the very first computer animated cartoon, but it was the very first theatrical film Pixar had made. Twenty years had gone by, and Toy Story has inspired theme park attractions like the11-acre Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida that opened last August, a perch in the Smithsonian Museum, and even Buzz Lightyear going to the International Space Station.
The creators of Toy Story and Pixar Animation Studios took their audience for a 90-minute personal tour of the film and company on Monday night in San Francisco. John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, the founders of Pixar, spoke about Buzz Lightyear, who was named after Buzz Aldrin, the famous astronaut. They also went on about the storyboard sessions that turned the plastic army men into featured characters, and not just extras. They also had to deal with the hectic schedule and Disney threatening to cancel the project.
Catmull, the computer scientist and current president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios had talked about the reviews Toy Story had gotten:
Most reviews only had one line saying it was computer animation. And I have to tell you, all the technological people took incredible pride in that, because it wasn’t about the technology. It was about the story. And that’s been the foundation of the company ever since.
The money made from last Monday’s events went to the San Francisco Film Society, the non-profit organization that supports filmmakers, hosts educational programs and sponsors the San Francisco Film Festival each spring. A March panel at the South by Southwest Film Festival outlined the multiple iterations of story that led to the final product. Also, earlier this month the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles gave this film another panel.
Lasseter and Catmull talked about how they were part of Lucasfilm, a group of 40 people that harnessed technology for filmmaking. The group had developed the early roots of computer generated imagery: digital non-linear film editing, digital sound editing, high resolution editing and 3D computer animation.
According to Lasseter, days were so busy back then that he ended up spending nights sleeping on a futon in his office. In 1986, Luxo Junior, a film that was about a parent and baby desk lamp, playing with a rubber ball came out. One of the people who saw this film was Steve Jobs, the owner of Apple Computers. Jobs said in a 1986 Dallas Conference:
I was blown away when I saw Luxo. Luxo was a big turning point for me. … You saw Luxo and said ‘Yes, I could watch an hour of this. I would love to watch an hour of this.’
Apple Computers later went on to buy Pixar and became a partner for Catmull and Lasseter. They remember Jobs telling them:
No matter what happens, we have to trust each other.
The idea of Toy Story came from a half-hour holiday special spun off from the Academy Award-winning short film Tin Toy. One of the first ideas was that Woody was going to be a ventriloquist dummy, but that idea didn’t last very long. Early in its days, Pixar signed a distribution deal with Disney, and so they needed an idea for feature films. Disney had called the ventriloquist dummy idea “too creepy.”
The team had decided to do a buddy picture, a film about mismatched pals. In this sort of film, the two enemies had to work together, and later became friends. Lasseter had said:
We started thinking about we could do to an old toy that is a child’s favorite and the child gets a new toy on his birthday, which has got to be the most feared day in an old toy’s life … besides Christmas.
The team had some conflicts with Disney, who felt that the early drafts were too soft, and that they needed an edgier film. Because of this, Woody became a downright unlikable character, which the team felt was absolutely horrible. On Black Friday, the presentation of the film so far was disastrous, but Lasseter said:
I said give us two weeks and if you don’t like what you see, we will move down and shut production down.
Since then, the team worked so hard every day to edit the film. Lasseter had also said:
We completely redid the movie. We took the notes that we think make the movie better and throw the ones away we think don’t. And start trusting our own instincts at that point.
After seeing what they had fixed, Disney approved of the film. And so Toy Story went on to become a critical and box office success.
Toy Story 3 later easily surpassed the original film, but Toy Story 2, while wasn’t as successful as the other two, still made $485 million. It is a relief that the Pixar team was able to save Toy Story, because a world without Woody and Buzz would be an unbearable one.
And since then Pixar has been creating fantastic films. In June, Inside Out was released, and went on to be very successful. And on November 25th, Pixar will release The Good Dinosaur, a film about the apatosaurus Arlo and the little boy Spot. Hopefully this film will be just as successful as Toy Story.