Getting Woody out of his comfort zone was the primary goal of “Toy Story 4,” and the Second Chance antique store became Pixar’s most complex achievement in worldbuilding. The 8,000 square-foot, Art Deco-style retail space, full of lost toys clamoring to get out and lorded over by creepy ’50s doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), was the perfect place to disarm the befuddled toy sheriff.
Second Chance Antiques was constructed like a giant toy city with a multitude of themed areas that functioned as neighborhoods, packed with 10,000 objects (including a record number of Easter Eggs, such as a Greatest Hits record from “Coco” and a painting with the dogs from “Up”). It was like a maze of crowded aisles and dark passageways (inspired by the noirish street photography of Fan Ho), and required such detail that the animators became experts at dust and aging. The additional factor, though, was keeping everything low to the ground to maintain the crucial toy perspective.
After scouring local Northern California antique malls and stores and studying how vintage objects age, the Pixar art department divided the space into individual set dressing units to handle each neighborhood. It took two years to create the antique store and its assortment of collectibles. On top of that, the sets shading team went to work on aging all of the hard surfaces, particularly metal, glass, and wood. Micro detail was important for cracks, scratches, sun exposure, fading, and other defining characteristics. And when it came to cobwebs, an animator came up with a software program with artificial spiders that spun a series of intricate webs. For the rest of the dust, they used a simulation software package.
“We knew from the beginning that the story needed an antique store, something that felt like a city in the eyes of toys,” said Stephen Karski, the sets supervisor. “But we didn’t know what kind [of antique store]. And so there were lots of maps drawn about where the action would be taking place. It usually had to do with where there would be a chase sequence and we had to figure out how to connect the dots with other key moments.”
“Then there was this new idea of going behind the display cases where toys could be hidden. And there was a whole rewrite of the map of the store with secret passageways. It was driven at first by key moments in the film and how to get between these spaces. And we worked with the camera and staging department to do tests. So we would mock something up and have the camera go through it and realize that it wasn’t working. We needed to go further or it was too far away, so we had to block it off. Once we had the basic framework of aisles and secret passageways, the art department came up with different themes [various decades or kitchen items], the way a real antique store would be decorated and arranged.”
For instance, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) leaps into action by taking Woody (Tom Hanks) to a secret nightclub inside a pinball machine, where she recruits the scene-stealing, Canadian daredevil toy, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). “We wanted the juxtaposition of a vintage pinball machine and cool nightclub…and pushed everything to the max,” said Ling Tu, the sets shading lead. “We then introduced Duke with epic ‘Saturday Night Fever’ disco lighting and he does his assortment of poses. We threw in some dust in there to remind you that this is part of the antique store.
“This is the detail that was initially saved for specific scenes, but that was so successful in reaching every environment that we ended up putting dust over the entire antique store. To build up this dust, we started around edges and layered it around all of the objects and created particles and dust bunnies for behind shelves.”
Gabby’s lair was also an important setting. She lives comfortably in a large rosewood cabinet with windows from top to bottom and a tower on top. “We built her home with multiple layers and props,” said Rosie Cole, the sets technical director. “We gave her a sewing kit and a throne that she sits on, overseeing the front of the store. It resembles a fancy apartment building.”
“And Gabby’s cabinet is very purposefully situated in the center of the store so that she can see everything,” added Karski. “We made it very dangerous for any of the toys to be traveling in the store because Gabby and the [ventriloquist] dummies who live on top have complete control of the whole store.”