Before Toy Story 1, Pixar previously worked on commercials and individual sequences of feature films and produced such short pieces as the 1988 Oscar-winner Tin Toy, which John Lasseter took on behalf of Pixar.
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When it turned out that he was the one to direct Toy Story, it became a legend and revolutionized an industry. As a production director, he advanced the animation technology to produce an animation movie in a period of two years, integrating skills of more than 110 people, including 28 animators and 30 technical directors. (Robertson “A Triumph of Animation”)
Animation development is done through several techniques including stop motion, computer generated imagery (CGI) and hand-rendered art, among others. Stop motion involves the use of physical objects, photographing them and creating an illusion of movement through moving the object over a series of separate photography frames and then playing these frames sequentially.
Computer generated imagery involves the use of computer graphics, while hand-rendered art involves drawing scenes physically. An animation can be performed through a combination of such techniques. Exclusive production of Toy Story 1 is done by Computer Generated Imagery. Computer Generated Imagery involves three basic steps.
First, it is necessary to develop a wire frame geometric model for every object of the animation. Secondly, defining surface appearances, such as textures, color and reaction to light, is needed. The last step to perform is to execute the scenes, which is done by animating objects, integrating sound and light (Mitchel “Impact of CGI on Animation”).
Considering animation production of Toy Story 1, it should be noted that it is performed completely by computers, then computing power is of top priority. Pixar developed a unique computing room for Toy Story 1. The 24-hour operating room, named Sun farm after its excessive use of Sun Microsystems hardware, was created.
It had 294 processors running from Sun SPARC station 20s–87 dual-processor and 30 quad-processor SPARC stations. With the use of exceptional software for modeling, creating texture and colors, animating objects, integrating sound and lighting, the production included 1700 shots. It is the running of these frame animations which creates this computer-animated film, Toy Story 1.
The first step in Computer Generated Imagery animation is generating animated objects. With over 366 objects, it required a dedicated team of artists to use this proprietary shelf software.
With the exception of the digitization of the clay model of dog Scud, all other objects were designed by sole use of Alias and Men V software. The latter is procedural modeling environment fourth generation Pixar software, which was used to create a five-block neighborhood with immense details, so that each house has its own driveway and landscape or even the cars and telephone poles.
The software used revolutionized the way of creating animated characters, such as designing a manufactured look for Woody. In creating some objects, modelers used some parts of the objects to make other ones; this practice came into play in creating things and humans through appropriating sizes and magnitudes. To create hair in animations, such as Andy’s hair, is quite a complex task; it took Pixar 6 years, after finishing Toy Story 1, to perfect this technique to produce Monster Inc in 2001. (Robertson “A Triumph of Animation”)
After modeling the underlying object skeleton; step two is the next to be followed. In this step of computer generated imagery animators, it is necessary to define the surface appearance of each object like color, texture and transparency. This involves the use of a specialized animation-computing tool, Shaders. Apart from describing outlook of object’s surfaces, it defines their reaction to light. An added twist to this mix was using top animation painters to paint splotches to incorporate into the software set.
This created a realistic effect of surface change in the occurrence of actions on the object and creating a background disparity and depth. An integral development of this software enabled the Pixar team to reduce the number of models needed, instead of creating models for providing minor details on existing objects; the result of complex software development was ability of Shaders to create a rich texture, such as scuffmarks on the walls. Further modification of this software was crucial to handle close-ups.
Third step was in parts animating the objects, lighting, inclusion of sound and finally, film shooting. In Toy Story 1, the animation of all the 50 characters including main characters, other toys and humans was needed. Human toys were complex to animate, especially due to clothes, which require a lot of details to be taken into account.
Characters’ animation was accomplished by Men V, implementing animation controls into the models, such as Buzz’s 800 animation controls. This software uses an inverse standard animation toolset. The assignment of characters was to multiple animators, each animator was working on a movie frame. (Robertson “A Triumph of Animation”)
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Animation is quite a tedious yet still stimulating activity. The first step was analysis of the characters make-up, such as rigidity, then repeatedly listening to the dialog track in order to grow an imagination of their expectations of character’s movement in a given frame. After character’s animation is done, facial animation and lip sync came in; it included the development of character faces with pull points for facial muscles, which were essential to depict emotions and lips’ move in tandem with voice. (Calhoun “Toy Story”)
With animated models and sound built in, one detail was missing, lighting. Galyn Susman, a long standing Pixar employee, was the lighting director. With Man V, modelers created objects’ reaction to the light, which was quite essential development for this stage.
Importance of lighting cannot be underestimated because this is what creates drama, interaction, environments as well as hides animation flaws. The dramatic environment, such as a shower of rain and light streaming out, is a good example where lightning plays the major role. Animation of humans was a challenge; covering any of their animation flaws in shadow was a necessary action.
For Pixar, much used to just creating commercials, movie production required a different form of management. A team of Heidi Stettner and Peter Nye led by Karen Robert created a tracking system for the production. The system had complete information of everything in the movie. It was an all-inclusive system, which had versions of all details of the production work and the updates. The string tied the production all together.
The Pixar team succeeded in turning imagination of children’s book to a real movie. In the process, it built a new world for us, a world filled with animated humans and living toys. On November 22, 1995, launch of Toy Story 1 took an industry by storm by becoming a clear box office winner through gaining $361 million.
Years later, 2010 to be exact, after much tweaking with the software in areas, such as lighting and Shaders, though not under Lasseter’s wing, Toy Story 3 became the tenth all time grossing animated film and the most grossing animation, with unfathomable $1 billion at the box office (Mitchel “Impact of CGI on Animation”).
Calhoun, John. “Toy Story”. TCI. February 1996. Print.
Mitchel, David. “Impact of CGI on Animation” zenoshrdlu, 2002. Web.
Robertson, Barbara. “A Triumph of Animation”. Computer Graphics World Magazine – August 1995. Print.