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The Making of ToyStory

Mark Henne, Hal Hickel, Ewan Johnson, and Sonoko Konishi

Pixar Animation Studios
1001 W. Cutting Blvd.
Point Richmond, CA 94804,

Abstract Many elements were vital in making the film, including

character and story development, unique software tools, the
Toy Story is the first full length feature film produced abilities of voice actorsand animators, and the imaginations
entirely using the technology of computer animation. The of artists and designers. Technical artists showed their abil-
main characters, Sheriff Woody and Space Ranger Buzz ity to create beautiful models, lighting and surfaces, and
Lightyear; are toys that come to life when humans aren’t managerskept the pipeline flowing. Lest we claim all the
around. Their story is one of rivalry challenges, teamwork credit, much is owed to the Walt Disney Company, Pixar’s
and redemption. partner and mentor.
Making this film required four years of effort, from writ-
ing the story and script, to illustrated storyboards, through
modeling, animation, lighting, rendering, and@lming. This 2. History
paper examines various processes involved in producing the
Severalcore members of Pixar beganwork aspart of Lu-
casfilm Ltd., starting with Ed Catmull in 1979. He attracted
1. Introduction John Lasseter from Disney, and also collected Bill Reeves,
Loren Carpenter, Tom Porter, Eben Ostby, and others to
Before Toy Story was made, the contribution of computer build the technical team. In 1986, Steven P. Jobs arranged
animation to feature films was measuredin secondsor min- for the team to split from Lucasfilm and form Pixar.
utes. The challenge of this project was to produce an entire Numerous researchpapers have been produced by these
feature film showing a complete world created digitally, to researchersand others at Pixar, including advancesin ray
populate it with characters seeming to act of their own vo- tracing and motion blur [2], rendering architecture [l],
lition and experience, and render it with the colors, shapes, shadowcasting [7], image cornpositing [4], particle systems
and textures of a believable stylized reality. [5], and animation [3] [6].
The result is a film that couldn’t have been made any
other way. When Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear come Through the years, Pixar’s ventures into the graphics
to life, they have a sense of three dimensional form that world have included the Pixar Image Computer, Render-
solidifies their existence, confirming our suspicions about man software rendering products, joint technical develop-
the secret lives of toys. The techniques used can create ment of Disney’s Computer Animated Production System
motion so detailed and fluid that a character’s emotion is (CAPS), several short films including Tin Toy, which won
clearly visible, all in an enticing world with the uncanny an Academy Award in 1988, and the production of various
ability to appear simultaneously both real and unreal. television commercials.
In the world of Andy’s room, Buzz is the new kid on By 1991 the company felt ready to take on a larger ani-
the block, blithely unaware of the the threat he poses to mation project, and looked to Disney for support in creating
Woody’s position in society as Andy’s favorite toy. Their a television special program. Instead of a TV project, the
conflict causesa distraction at a dangeroustime, when they deal blossomedinto talks of a full-length feature film, bring-
are left behind at the gas station and faced with the prospect ing to reality the long-time dream of Pixar’s founders. In
of being lost toys. Only through teamwork and friendship 1995, Toy Story came to market, providing the cornerstone
can they make it back home. for Pixar’s future.

1063-6390/96 $5.00 0 1996 IEEE 463

Proceedings of COMPCON ‘96

Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE
3. Overview is used to create a story board, where one or more illustra-
tions are drawn in pencil for each shot of the film. A shot
Creating a fully computer-animated film requires bor- is a continuous camera take, which in Toy Story might last
rowing techniques from both live action film production from a half second to almost thirty seconds. Story board
and traditionally animated filmmaking, as well as the inven- drawings are scannedfor use in an Avid Media Composer,
tion of new techniques. In the new world, old-style cartoon where they are mixed with temporary dialogue and sound
charactermodel sheetsare expandedand merged with archi- effects, producing story reels.
tectural designs to produce three dimensional models in the Oncethe story reels arecreated,aniterative loop is begun.
computer. Sets and props are constructed once and can be The length of each shot is determined, and story pacing and
reused in any number of shots, and the time-tested methods camera angles can be judged. Weaknessesmight mean
of camera motion and real life film lighting are mimicked the addition or deletion of a shot, a change in dialogue, or
in the simulated world. Unlike the production of a live ac- something more extensive. The creative development loop
tion film, both old and new animated films rely on a greater doesn’t end until desired changes can no longer fit in the
amount of pre-planning, as it is very expensive to create schedule. In order to gain some perspective, outside test
multiple takes or to cut out finished shots. audiencesare shown work-in-progress reels at a point when
There arethree main phasesin the creation of a computer- the story is first considered to be “finished.”
animated film: creative development, production, and post-
production. 4.1. Artistic Design
During creative development a story concept is built into
a treatment, followed by a screenplay and story boards. The development of the story provides the locations and
Working with the editorial department, the story boards are descriptions of the action, but ignores the details of color,
recorded onto video as story reels and combined with voice lighting, and design. Character designs are explored early,
recordings. and as the personalities from the story emerge changesare
Once the creative development has sufficiently matured, made in design. The selection of voice talent also influences
production can begin. This includes art design, model- this design.
ing, and shot layout, and continues with animation, lighting The colors, shapes,and sizesof the various setsare cho-
and rendering. As shots are approved in rendering, they sento emphasizethe emotions and actions being portrayed.
are recorded onto film. The editorial department continues Andy’s room is very bright, safe and with soothing col-
its work of inserting new material from various stages of ors. Lighting conditions vary to simulate times throughout
production into the story reel, updating as more becomes the day, with the dramatic sunset lighting taking place as
available. Woody schemesto knock Buzz behind the desk. In Sid’s
As significant sequencesof rendered film become avail- room, dank and hidden corners dominate a black lit prison.
Notice however, that the lighting keeps pace with Buzz’s
able, they can be sent on to the post-production phase. Here
sound effects are added and mixed with a musical score,and reawakening. The rain falls during the night as he wallows
in self-abasement,but morning light comes and the showers
color corrected copies of the finished print can be made.
end as he realizes his worth and positive impact on others.
Since the creation of an animated film is so sequential in
The artists also prepare design documents for every
nature, efficient management of the pipeline is crucial. A
model created. Each item, from the hubcaps on the cars
suitable inventory is required especially during the stages
to the mailbox in Sid’s yard, is thought out, sketchedand di-
of the production phase, so that the order of attack can be
mensioned. The packet of model drawings is sent to a group
of model builders, but when the time comes to add texture,
dirt and scratches,the artists will once again be summoned.
4. Creative Development Reference photos and magazine clippings may supple-
ment illustrations in the model packet, andpointers to movie
Before any film can be made, a story is needed. Toy clips might be neededto clarify what is or is not wanted in
Story was conceived and written at Pixar, and developed in some visual effects animation. For some models, especially
a collaborative effort with a team from Walt Disney Feature faces,a clay sculptureis made to be used on a magnetic field
Animation. It all starts with a story concept, the basic digitizing table.
premise of the movie. This premise is expandedinto what’s
called a treatment or outline, where the fundamental story 5. Production
points are identified and sequencesare outlined,
Further refinement of the treatment produces a screen- The production phase of a film must wait until the cre-
play, complete with dialogue and scene descriptions. This ative development reaches an acceptablelevel of maturity.


Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE
Becausethe creationof eachshot will require somuch work, and choreographthe cameramovement relative to the ob-
it’s important to have the story fleshedout as completely as jects in the shot. The transition from pencil to computer can
possible beforehand. Occasionally a shot may get cut or often be difficult, as the realities of scaleand perspectivere-
changedafter it hasbeenproducedin finished form, but that veal liberties taken in the sketches.The overall motion of a
is rare given the total number of shots. charactermay also be blocked out during layout, especially
Models are producedfrom designpacketscreatedby the if suchmotion must coordinatewith a moving camera.Great
Art Department, and then placed in sets and dispersedinto care was taken to use establishedtechniquesgoverning the
the proper shots by the Layout Department. Layout feeds use of cameramotion. Too many productions in computer
the animators,who worry only aboutmotion but not color or animationmove the camerasimply becauseit’s possible.
lighting. Before shotscan progressfrom animation to light- Members of the Layout group have many details to re-
ing, shadersare written and assignedto models. Shaders member. Toy Story is composedof more than 1,500 shots,
are the surface textural description of an object, includ- and logical consistencymust be maintained. The collection
ing its color, reflectivity, transparency,patterning, dirt, and of objects into setsis one way to maintain order, and a shot
scratches. databaseassistsin the task. The visual flow betweenshots
The Lighting Team is given shots that have been ani- is also a factor, and sometimes adjustmentsare necessary
mated, and createslight sources,shadows,and reflections. to make things work. The audienceshould never notice the
Once the lighting is finalized for a shot, it is blessedfor film cameracuts; they should always feel natural.
rendering at a resolution of 1536 scanlines.
5.3. Animation
5.1. Modeling
The role of the Modeling andLayout groupsis to provide
The model builders translate the model packet designs the animatorswith shots that are ready for animation. The
directly itito the computer. Some models are createdusing setsarealreadyprovided,the cameraview defined,andgross
commercial design software from Alias, and then translated level motion blocked out. When an animator first visits a
into the in-house Model language. Model is a module of shot, they can even put on their headphonesand hear the
Marionette, Pixar’s proprietary production software envi- audio track as the shot plays on their computer.
ronment. Pixar employs an unusual strategywhen it comes to the
Model builders are responsiblefor more than realizing animation staff. Most other companysin the computer ani-
the static description of an object. Taking into accountthe mation industry look for peoplewith a certain level of com-
importanceof the object, the builder must de&de on the set puter graphicsliteracy, but the attitude at Pixar is to locate
of controls over its articulation. For example, both Slinky individuals who really know animation. They come from
Dog and the Jack-in-the-Box mutant toy have a coil spring, a variety of other media, including traditional ccl anima-
but Slinky’s has a more complex interface becauseit must tion, stop motion, clay, and evensand. Producing animation
do so much more. The controls of a model, known as avars, involvesprojecting personality,expressingnuanceand emo-
are describedprocedurally in the Model language. tion, using timing, staging,anticipation and follow-through.
Some models can be completed in hours, while others In short, animation is acting by proxy.
take weeks. Woody has 712 avars,counting 212 in his face The traditional hand-drawnway of producing animation
alone. Muscular control is provided in detail over various is for an animator to begin by drawing key poses for each
parts of the lips, cheeks, and eyebrows. Special software character in a shot, roughing out the extremes and flow
tools exist to assistin the creation of flexible characters. of the motion. The key poses derive from an exposure
As modelsareconstructed,review sessionsarescheduled sheet, a breakdown of the action in the shot, and a dope
with the director, art director, and animation supervisors. sheet, a written indication of where the words and stress
Proportion, scale,detailing, and control setsarecheckedfor fall in the dialogue. A cleanup artist then inherits the shot,
propriety. Complex models may spend time in animation redrawing the key poseswhile making surethey conform to
testing before being releasedwidely. the establishedlook of the characters. After adding some
in-between drawings, they pass on the work to animation
5.2. Layout assistants,who completedrawings for eachof 24 frames in
a secondof film. Tbe processrequires up to thirty people
As an inventory of models accumulates,the work of the to complete a single shot; by contrast, all of Toy Story was
Layout Department starts to grow. It is in Layout that the completedby thirty animators.
film takes its first step from the sketchesof story boardsto Animation on computer is completedthrough a seriesof
the threedimensional world of computer graphics. Working refinements. The rough motion inherited from Layout at
with Editorial, membersof the Layout Departmentposition the start is refined and adjustedto include broad gestures


Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE
necessaryto convey the intended message. Unlike tradi- the shader determineshow deeply the character intersects
tional animation, where key posesare specifiedfor an entire the bed and perturbs the surface downward matching the
character, animators on a computer can structure overlap- shapeof the foot. This could have been done by animating
ping key frames for different parts of the body at different physical deformationsof the bed, but it would haverequired
frames in the shot. As the animation takes shape,more sub- building a highly complex representationof the bedspread,
tle secondaryand tertiary motions can be layered abovethe especiallyto achievethe folds emanatingfrom the footprint.
primary action, which arethen completedby facial gestures. As more objects are given surface attributes, a library
Another benefit of working on a computer is that the ani- of useful shadersand functions begins to emerge. Special
mators neednot concernthemselveswith consistentdrawing utilities are provided for projecting dirt and other texture
styles and proportions. At any point in time, an animator paintings.
can seeand hear their shot running in real time.
5.5. Lighting
5.4. Shading
When a sequenceenters lighting, the placement of the
Models enter the shading department devoid of visual cameraand the animation are complete. The master lighter
character. It is the shading department’sjob to settle on a beginsby meetingwith the director andart director to discuss
look and realize it through the technology and capabilities the sequence.Togetherthey identify essentialstory points
of Render-man.Working from a shaderpacket assembled from the animation, color script, and story reels; they may
by the art department,the model is analyzed. What type of alsodiscussrelevant technical issues. With theseas guides,
object is it? Is it old or new? Is the material reflective, or the masterlighter defineskey lights in the setto establishthe
does it just carry a sheen? This processis straightforward, basic lighting environment for the sequence. Once this is
since the shader packet contains much of the information in place, individual shotscan be assignedto other members
as written notes and photo reference. The first step is to of the lighting team. Their job is to take the initial lighting
assign basic surface colors for the object. Afterward, the schemeand refine it for their given areas.
shaderauthor separatesthe surfacedetails into layers, each The work done during lighting can be likened to ink
layer a specializedprocedurewhich addsto the final surface and paint in traditional animation. Drawings done by the
appearance. animatorsarepainted on clear acetateeels and filled in with
The shaderon Sid’s window ledge is a prime exampleof carefully chosen colors. Dark and light areas are defined
layering. In order to provide the withered, old look that has to help lead the eye to the action. The difference is that
beenpaintedmultiple times, it is divided into more than five in computer animation the visual complexity that can be
layers: a layer for the wood grain, a hand painted layer to achievedis so much higher than in traditional means.
indicate where the base coat of paint lies, another painted Members of the lighting teams need to be concerned
layer to describewhere this paint is chipped and scratched, about lighting continuity, color, and brightness. Given the
more layers of paint for color, and finally, a layer of dirt and extreme freedom of altering lighting conditions on a per-
scratchesto provide the agedaffect. shot basis, it is tempting to beautify individual shots at the
In addition to describing the surface layers, the light- expenseof consistencyacrossa sequence.
ing model is encoded in the shader. The lighting model Since Toy Story wasproducedin three dimensional com-
describesa surface’s shininessand reaction to lights, and puter graphics, setting up lights becomes very similar to
may be as simple as plastic or as complex as satin. At its the sametask on a live filming stage. A key light provides
completed stage, a shaderwill have anywherefrom ten to the primary high-contrast contribution, added to a softer
two hundred lines of code to accuratelydescribeits surface fill light, and with rim lights to help define the shapeand
under a variety of lighting conditions. produce additional highlights.
The shadersin Toy Story also madeextensiveuse of dis- Even so, physical correctnessin lighting is often less
placement shaders, which describe physical variations in important than aesthetics. To achievethis, the behavior of
the surface. Grass, for example, requires a massive amount light sources and surfaces are often cheated. Marionette and
of geometric detail and is ill suited to a polygonal or sur- Rendermanare very flexible in the kind of lighting they can
face patch description. As a shader, however, it requires provide. This includesthe ability to alter the shape,softness
significantly less data to describeits shape,form, and vari- and extent of a light, or to allow the light to shine only
ation. It also has the advantageof knowing how large the on specific objects. Shadowscan be placed independently
grasspatches’ projection becomesin screenspace,and can of their casting lights, or reflections can be altered to suit
automatically vary the amount of detail. an artistic purpose. Throughout the lighting process, the
Another example of a displacementshader is the com- challengeis to make the sceneslook real, but with the visual
forter on Andy’s bed. For each step taken by a character, richnessthat is not necessarilylimited by realism,


Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE
Sinceeachshot is on-screenonly briefly, its effectiveness in a project the size of Toy Story, reliable data management
dependson how quickly the viewer’s eye is led to the key is a must.
story elements.Lighting is oneof our most effectivetools for The first elementof Ringmasteris its relational database,
achievingthis. By the useof lights, imagesarepaintedwith which is constantly updatedwith all aspectsof production.
areasof light and dark, cool and warmth, and hardnessand It maintains inventories of models, textures, and images.
softness. The interplay of these elementsis indispensable Using this database,Ringmasterroutes rendering requests
in bringing out the focal points of the story. to available machines on the RenderFhn and maintains
appropriate status information. Once a rendering job is
5.6.Visual Effects completed, Ringmaster continues the process by invoking
the cornpositingof layers to produce a finished image.
There were a relatively small number of shots in Toy Ringmaster also works with the Accom digital video
Story that had requirements outside the normal pipeline. recorders and the film recording software and hardware,
These shots had various visual effects animation on top of helping to provide a more fully automatedenvironment.
the other action, some examplesof which are rain, sparks,
smoke,exhaustand explosions. 5.8. Production Hardware
The visual effects animation falls outside the expertise
of the animatorsbecauseachievingthe proper look involves
too much technical ability. Thoseproducing the effectsneed Each animatorandtechnical artist is provided with a Sili-
to havea solid understandingof all phasesof the pipeline, as con Graphicsworkstation on their desk,typically anIndigo2
everything from modeling to animation to shaderwriting to loadedwith between96 and 256 megabytesof memory and
lighting must be addressed,often in an experimentalloop. up to 2 gigabytesof local disk space.Every animator is also
The visual effects were often done after the main scene given a dedicatedBandit frame store device, and thosepro-
lighting, but just prior to submissionfor film rendering. ducing high quality imagescan record them on one of four
Accom digital video recorders. Two Solitaire film recorders
5.7. Production Software transfer electronic imagesonto 35mm film. Film is viewed
in the companyscreeningroom, completewith couchesand
the central commandreclining lounge chair.
Pixar uses mostly proprietary software for it’s produc-
tions, with the exception of some modeling done in Alias An arrangementwith SunMicrosystems provided a Ren-
and digital painting done with Amazon. derFann of over 300 processorson the local network, com-
Marionette is Pixar’s software systemfor modeling, ani- bined with severalSilicon GraphicsRenderFam machines.
mation and lighting for computer animation. Marionette is As personal workstations begin to sit idle, they are drawn
the primary software tool used by every animator and tech- into the pool of batch processors.
nical director at Pixar. In contrast to many commercially Disk resourcesare equally vast, with a DiskFam of
availableanimation systemswhich are designedto address around260 gigabytesof on-line storagecontaining approx-
product design, corporate logo graphics or cinematic spe- imately 140,000digital image files.
cial effects, Marionette hasbeendesignedand optimized for
charactermodeling and animation. 6. Post-Production
The animation subsystemof Marionette is designedto be
accessibleto userswitl&nited computerexperience,allow-
ing Pixar to hire an animator basedentirely on artistic skill. The last phase of producing Toy Story occurred after
At the sametime, Marionette haspowerful functional foun- the film left Pixar. At Skywalker Sound, sound effects
dations that allow a moretechnically proficient user to take were addedand mixed with the final musical score. Final
complete advantageof the system. In Marionette, mod- prints are made of the film after adjusting to get consistent
els are programs in a specialized programming language. color acrossall the prints. Theseare then distributed to the
A technical artist can use the power and flexibility of this theaters.
languageto createmodels that move or deform in very com- Pixar’s post-production is simpler than post-production
plex ways, or can build control structures into the model of a live-action film, which requires more significant edit-
that make it easier or faster to animate. Most animation ing. In most live-action films, many hours of film are shot,
systemsrepresentmodels as setsof data separatefrom their and the film is then significantly edited and re-edited in the
animation controls. Changing the paradigmmakesit easier post-productionphaseto create a feature film. Pixar, like
to tackle a project as large as a featurefilm. other animation studios,edits the film throughout the entire
Pixar also has a data organizationsystemin place called creative developmentand production process. Thus post-
Ringmaster. Given the number of shots,models,and people processinginvolves only final editing.


Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE
7. Conclusions

The day is now here when it is feasible and cost effec-

tive to produce a feature length motion picture entirely on
computers. The commercial success of Toy Story confirms
the message long proclaimed by Pixar; that the important
elements of filrnmaking are story and character, and that
people will come to see a quality film.

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[3] J. Lasseter. Principles of traditional animation applied to
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[4] T. Porter and T. Duff. Compositing digital images. Siggraph
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[6] W. T. Reeves, E. E Ostby, and S. J. Leffler. The menv mod-
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Proceedings of the COMPCON Spring '96 - 41st IEEE International Computer Conference
1063-6390/96 $10.00 © 1996 IEEE