It just so happens that FMX and Toy Story converged 20 years ago, so it was great timing to have a Pixar reunion honoring the first CG-animated feature last week in Stuttgart, Germany. Illuminator Christophe Hery (who hosted his own presentation on a new lighting path for Finding Dory) moderated a wonderful discussion with Bill Reeves (supervising technical director), Eben Ostby (director of technical artists) and Ralph Eggleston (the production designer who just completed Inside Out).
For animation insiders, it was more celebratory than revelatory, yet it seemed fresh coming from this Pixar trio. As producer Darla Anderson pointed out in an opening tribute clip, they were “building a bridge as they crossed it,” and Toy Story “humanized animation.”
Eggleston provided the framework with John Lasseter and Joe Ranft, creating the first color script. In fact, a mysterious guy dropped by one night and asked Eggleston to see his color script — it turned out to be Steve Jobs.
Ostby admitted that early on they figured it would be like doing 10 shorts in a row. But they soon discovered that it was analogous to what Walt Disney went through with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: “Using color as color to advance the story,” among other more intricate things.
“From the technology point of view, I felt confident because of the shorts,” Reeves suggested. “But we didn’t have an infrastructure. We needed a tracking system for 1,500 shots [as well as 120,000 frames].”
They built a new animation system and used text-based modeling and brought in the fledgling PowerAnimator from Alias. “It was terrifying…you’d see bits and pieces [of the animation] along the way,” added Eggleston.
The notorious “Black Friday” was recounted when Disney hated the first production reel that was screened. Woody was an ass-hole and even kicked Slinky. However, Disney got what it wanted (particularly Jeffrey Katzenberg): Woody was edgy. But it turned out to be a godsend for Pixar, which was half-way through production. It meant starting over and making the movie Lasseter wanted to make in the first place with a likable Woody.
Reeves recalled that when he made Woody’s face contort by hand during the important rocket scene that the squash-and-stretch in 3D didn’t break the rig while achieving achieved a remarkable result that surprised everyone at the studio.
And when they screened a rough version for a test audience, they loved it when Woody lit the match. It looked crude, but Eggleston said it was affirmation that Toy Story was going to connect emotionally.
Some fun facts: They were budged for 8-10 animators and it took 33 (Inside Out required 70); they budgeted for 16 TDS and wound up with 43 (today they typically have 150); they budgeted for a production staff of three and needed 23 (today they use 36); they had a crew of 147 (current Pixar movies have 400); they budgeted a render time of 3.5 hours per frame and it took 5 hours (today it would take 2 minutes).
Actually, because of the long render time, Disney merchandising scrambled at the last minute to introduce a line of toys, which wasn’t launched until months after release.
“The hardest part is still doing stories that people care about,” Eggleston concluded.