Every child knows toys have a life of their own, but now adults can see the evidence with their own eyes in Toy Story. Anwar Brett discovers that Disney’s first computer-generated animation feature is more than child’s play.

'8 The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996


Toys will be toys

t’s 58 years since Disney, the spiritual

home of traditional animation, produced

the first full-length animated feature, Snow

White And The Seven Dwarfs, and over the

years the studio has continued to break

new technical ground while pulling in the dollars. Yet the success of Disney’s most recent filth. Toy Story. is a little different.

Okay. like its recent predecessors, it has trounced all-comers at the American box office, spawned a huge range of merchandise and been nominated for its songs at the Academy Awards. What’s unusual is that this adventure in toyland utilises the state-of-the-art technology at the cutting edge of the computer industry.

In a way. Toy Story is a companion to the stop- motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas when it comes to animation techniques other than

the hand—drawn variety, Disney ‘Toys want to be waved The with more than

now seems keen to ‘sub-contract’

process is pretty much the same as in traditional animation,’ he explains. ‘The story is written, the dialogue is recorded and, as the actors are doing that, we set up a video camera so that we can capture any expressions or gestures that we feel are appropriate as we animate the characters. We come up with lots of drawings. storyboards and story reels, then animate the characters in the computer, in three dimensions. My job as an animator is to move the characters around and make them come to life and appear as though they are thinking and feeling. Someone else then goes through and takes care of the lighting and simulates highlights and shadows and colour and so on.’ Four and a half years in the making, Toy Story is obviously no production line effort. With Tom Hanks voicing Woody the toy cowboy and Tim Allen (fresh from Santa Clause) as the wonderfully pompous Buzz

work to the experts in the relevant anything else in the Lightyear, the vorce cast boasts two fields. A few years back, Disney , highly recognisable star names. . . . . - world. That s why . . .

approached specralist computer th , f t ed , Their on-screen relationship animation company Pixar with a 8y '8 man“ ac I" ' provides the key to the film’s appeal

view to producing the industry’s

first full-length computer animated movie. Ironically. Pixar‘s key creative talents learned their trades during spells in Disney’s animation department in the early 803.

‘We’rc combining art and science to an extent,’ says supervising animator Pete Docter of the new approach to animation at Pixar. ‘We

have some people who are traditionally

trained artists and others who are computer scientists. The programmes that they’ve come up “a, with allow you to think 1 creatively without having to worry about “x co- tangent

minus y or anything like that. A lot of people have this idea that we type “make a film <return>” and it comes out the other end. but this method actually requires the same amount of work as a traditionally animated film. The computer has to be told exactly what you want it to do, otherwise it does nothing. It’s just a tool.’

Nevertheless, with such high- powered technology available in so creative a discipline as animation, basics must be adhered to if the film

is to be anything more than a

technical exercise in computing. Docter stresses that both story and characterisation always came before technical considerations. ‘The beginning of the

- at Disney’s insistence, the story was aimed at both children and adults as the cowboy and the spaceman get lost in the outside world and are forced to put their rivalry behind them in order to get back home.

‘Toy Story is a buddy picture 48 Hours meets The Odd Couple but it’s also about toys being alive,’ says director John Lasseter. ‘Woody, the old toy, and Buzz who becomes the new favourite. I love bringing inanimate objects to life, and ifsomething is man-made, it’s made for a purpose and to me that purpose would help derive what its desires are. Toys want to be played with more than anything else in the world. That’s why they’re manufactured.’

Docter adds, ‘We realised that one of the most horrific things for toys was when new toys arrived, that there was a chance their usefulness would fade away. I never thought, however, that we’d be nominated for Best Original Screenplay. I thought we might be nominated for some technical achievement, but we heard through the grapevine that it wasn’t eligible because it’s not [predominantly] a live action film. That seemed rather odd. I mean, when you look at it, the whole thing is one giant special effect!’

That said, Lasseter will receive a Special Achievement Oscar for ‘the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer animated film’. This acknowledgement of Pixar’s talents will give a boost of confidence to the team who have two more features on the way as part of the Disney deal.

‘lt’s a noble profession to make children happy,’ says Lasseter of a toy’s purpose in life. It’s a maxim that could also apply to the filmmakers.

Toy Story opens on Friday 22 March.