Dove eravate 20 anni fa quando uscì Toy Story?

In November 1995 Toy Story opened in cinema. Now, after 20 years, the industry landscape has changed drastically, all because of this little movie made in a San Francisco-based studio. Fumettologica asked the best artists in global animation where they were in 1995. And what they think about the movie.

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Paul Brizzi, director (Fantastia 2000, The Prophet):

In 1995, me and Gaëtan had just finished producing the animation for the sequence of the prologue of Hunchback of Notre-Dame in the french Disney animation facility. That sequence were among the ones that we story-boarded in Los Angeles a few months before. By the end of 1995 we also were beginning working on the concept of the finale piece for Fantasia 2000.

I remember particularly well this moment when in Los Angeles the crew was invited to attend a screening of some footage of Toy Story. I was particularly curious to see that, because at that time, a lot of us had some doubts about computer animation. The challenge was: will they be capable to succeed in the acting performance of the characters? Well… I remember when we came out of the screening! We were all astonished and praising Toy Story! We understood it was a masterpiece and the beginning of trouble for hand animation.

Mark Kirkland, director (The Simpsons):

I was working on The Simpsons. I met John Lasseter while we were both animation students at The California Institute of the Arts, CalArts. We were friends and we took many classes together and one of our favorite instructors was the legendary Disney Art Director, Layout Artist, A. Kendall “Ken” O’ Connor. He taught classes on perspective, composition, staging and storyboarding. One time he brought in art from the “Mad Hatter Tea Party” from Alice In Wonderland. While most students were studying the Ward Kimball’s animation of the Mad Hatter, I noticed that John paid special attention to a secondary character in the scene, a little personified Tea Pot. He mentioned to Ken that he liked that character and it’s personality, all expressed through shapes and gestures. John and I had dinner in his dorm room and he told me he thought it would be wonderful to create animation and even animated features using then futuristic computers. That was in 1977. About ten days ago [in August], I was on the 20th Century back lot on my way to recording session and I saw someone who looked familiar in the distance. As I got closer I said, «John Lasseter?» and he looked up at me. I said, «It’s Mark Kirkland» He gave me a big hug. I asked him what he was doing at Fox and he said he was doing a recording session for Toy Story 4. I was doing a commentary for an old Simpsons I directed, I’m currently directing my 80th episode of The Simpsons. We are still doing the same things! We are making plans to get together. I’m working on a small photography book about a dear friend of both John’s and mine, the late great, Ollie Johnston. I was lucky to be with John and Ollie when they had their last visit together I caught some touching moments of them together with my camera.

When Toy Story came out it changed everything. Both in the animation world, every animated film is measured to Pixar’s successful run of hit films.  John’s inspired work has brought so much joy to everyone, children and adults alike. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed John’s inventive story thinking while we were schooled together. It’s been such a pleasure to see his dream become a heralded, beloved, successful reality.

Tom Sito, animator (Aladdin), professor and author of Moving Innovation, a History of Computer Animation:

I was at Walt Disney Feature Animation. I had just completed Pocahontas, and was finishing up on Dinosaurs, before preparing to go help start up DreamWorks Animation. I was also president of the animators trade union Local 839 Hollywood.

Toy Story sealed the final victory of the Digital Revolution in Hollywood. It was not a surprise, it was the result of twenty years of trial and error. As early as 1977 Ed Catmull and his team were at the New York Institute of Technology attempting to create an animated feature by computer. John Lasseter was hoping to do the first CG feature at Disney in 1982. In France, Moebius was trying to create one in the late 1980s.

But Toy Story was the culmination of all their efforts. You can point to three films in the 1990s that signaled the digital conquest of Hollywood. Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Toy Story. Before those films, the idea of using computers to make movies was considered ridiculous. After those movies, the idea of making a movie without computers was considered equally ridiculous.

Signe Baumane, director (Rocks in My Pockets):

In September 1995 I had come to New York, to try my luck. I didn’t have proper documents to work here and was very very poor. In November Toy Story was released and everybody was talking about it, every single person I met. I felt stupid that I hadn’t seen it (it was embarrassing to be an animator and not to have seen the film). So I starved for a few days to pay for the Toy Story ticket. The film deeply disappointed me. The story seemed so trite and shallow. Kinda irrelevant, too. Now I realize that there were two important factors affecting my disappointment – first, investing several meals into a movie ticket sets a bar for the movie too high. I could not possibly enjoyed ANY movie paying such a steep price. Secondly, I was still new to American culture and could not grasp all it’s intricacies and cultural references. Even the American joyful character was hard for me to comprehend. I was coming from a dark, moody Eastern European country whose economy had recently collapsed. I could not relate to problems of shiny plastic toys. I was a real-life-frightened illegal immigrant. Now, I absolutely love it.

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Woody, by Bud Luckey

Claudio Acciari, artist and animator (La freccia azzurra, The Prince of Egypt):

In 1995 I saw at the Annecy festival a preview of the opening sequence of Toy Story, the same day that they projected a work-in-progress of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Initially the interest was all toward the pencil test of the latter; however, I remember that the acting of Buzz Lightyear when he interacts with the other toys, struck me. I think the combination – acting and classical hyperrealism – was what hit me the most. At that time I was working as an animator on the feature film The Fearless Four in a study called Munich Animation, I remember how we were clumsily trying to insert CG characters or elements in a traditional animated picture and how this marriage proves itself rather forced, another reason to watch Toy Story as a stylistically consistent product of great entertainment. So, the idea that the CG could replace the handmade animation hadn’t even flashed through my head, after all, there were no clear indications that this could happen in a short period of time. At the time I strongly believed Pixar could be the only studio capable of that, a bit like Tim Burton had earned a reputation of dark director (especially) in the puppet motion field. The following year I moved to Los Angeles animating the Prince of Egypt and later The Road to El Dorado. And I fell in love again with the Japanese animation of the seventies, which is why the interest in movies made in CG in me has never really taken root.

If I think of the stylistic experimentation expressed in the twenty years between the forties and the sixties, I think about the works of Fred Moore, Milt Kahl, Mary Blair or Walt Peregoy, real revolutions! Not to mention what happened in Japan. The way I see it, Toy Story marks the beginning of the CG of the last two decades but it’s also its offspring: the movies you see nowadays are the same products, enhanced by the use of new softwares that make surfaces look more real, a standard already known in the eighties when in many illustrations you could see an entire city reflected in the chrome rim of a truck. Only the talented artist, with their traditional background, were able to put life into this technique.

Steve Hulett, screenwriter (The Fox & the Hound) and author of Mouse in Transition: An Insider’s Look at Disney Feature Animation:

What I was doing in ’95?  It was the same thing as now:  I was the Business Representative of The Animation Guild, which was then called The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists. I had heard a lot about Toy Story while walking through the halls of Disney. There were a lot of Disney feature artists and story people working on it, and people at Disney’s said there was this really terrific animated feature that was computer generated, and it was going to blow people’s socks off. Which it did, the instant it was released. I remember thinking: «Wow. This is going to give hand-drawn animation a run for its money.»  But of course it did way more than that.  Over the next few years it turned the feature business inside out and upside down, not only displacing the hand-drawn style that had gone before, but reinvigorating the entire business.  Today, animation is no longer a sleepy little sub-set of the movie business, but a HUGE profit generator which has joined the mainstream. And it all started with Toy Story made by a tiny little studio sitting beside San Francisco Bay in Northern California.  Who could have imagined what the would become because of its creation?  Certainly not ME.

Mike Gabriel, director (Pocahontas):

I remember my first look at the rough story reels for Toy Story about a year before it came out. John had reworked the new take on the story after a disastrous start and felt they had a good thing going now and wanted get a section of the film greenlit onto production. The Disney animation bosses at the time, were very unconvinced that the film was any good yet. They didn’t get this green army man sequence where the Bucket O’ toy Soldiers go to see what new toys are incoming gifts at Andy’s birthday party. They end up meeting Buzz Lightyear when Andy rushes upstairs to knock Woody off the bed and replace his spot with Buzz. Talk about juicy provocative entertainment with huge laughs every step of the way atop a deeply emotional baseline of story dilemma set up. They thought it kind of sucked, or at the very least skewed way too young for a general audience. They were going to prove to John that it didn’t work by showing all of the southern California Disney feature Animation crew and getting our take which was obviously not going to be positive because who would be entertained by toys. This was, at best, tiny tot entertainment. We were Oscar worthy making filmmakers now after our recent Best Picture nominee films with Beauty and The Beast elevating the art form to new heights on their watch. They were not convinced the Pixar story team had corrected his arc and made him sympathetic enough yet. Believe it or not, they fully expected us to not like it. They were in shock when every small off handed line form every single character got a laugh, and by the time it was over after about 8 to ten minutes maybe, we gave the hugest loudest longest applause possible showing clearly we all not only liked the reel we totally flipped for it. WE ALL RAVED to the executives how insanely good the film was going to be. The executives looked stunned and their open mouthed shocked expressions showing once again, in show business, nobody, and I mean nobody, knows nothing. None of us. Well, maybe John Lasseter, he seems to get it right pretty much every time, but only after a lot of very hard story work.

The moment I always look back on though, whenever I think about Toy Story, is when I got my first look at the end climax chase sequence where Buzz and Woody work together to try and rejoin the rest of the toys in the moving van. I saw it in Jeffrey Katzenberg’s private jet as he and I and John Lasseter were heading back to Los Angeles, after promoting Pocahontas and Toy Story, Disney Pixar’s two releases that year of 1995, to the media and press in Central Park in a huge tent they had erected for the media event. On our way back to L.A. John was excited to show me the end climax chase sequence on video. He was on a higher cloud than Jeffrey’s jet after the media presentation we just did where all the questions were about Toy Story. He showed me the sequence on the small jet’s TV monitor. These were very rough loose story sketch reels but it was clear it was brilliant storytelling with vast entertainment value. It told it’s story so clearly, viscerally, hilariously, unexpectedly, and heart warmingly. John then called the Pixar story team back home from the plane and excitedly told then how much I liked the end reels but mainly how well the press reacted to the army man sequence. I was touched by his emotional connection to those guys. Just then, as the sun started to get low in the sky, as we headed west, Alan Menken broke out his keyboard and started playing Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. It was a magical very quintessential Disney moment only a very lucky guy could have experienced. And I was smart enough to know it as it happened, and fully appreciate the specialness of the moment.

One last Toy Story memory. One day in 1994, as I was directing Pocahontas, John Lasseter and head of story Joe Ranft came into my office and we caught up on how each other’s films were coming along. We all were old pals from our early days together as young twenty-somethings at Disney in the late 70’s early 80s. We talked about how cool the army men were becoming in the reels. I said I used to love burning my Bucket O’ Soldiers little green army men with a magnifying glass when I was a kid. I would take my model paint and use the bright red paint to paint over the melted parts of the soldier and it looked like real wounds. They liked the gruesomeness of that and thought that sounded cool. Next time I saw John, he said “Mike we’re using your magnifying glass idea to light the match in the climactic moment of the story when Woody and Buzz are trying to catch up with the moving van! It saved our ending we were killing ourselves trying to come up with a way to light the match after the car blows out their match! It works awesome!” Now you know where the Buzz Lightyear space helmet magnifying glass idea started. I didn’t come up with it, but I always feel a part of it whenever I get to that part of the film. The best part!

To this day, I still don’t see a single crack in the film’s structure or entertainment value. It is as solid today as it was then. Its technical aspects of course got dated but it doesn’t slow down one iota the powerhouse story telling and earth shaking characters they created. I love the film and never tire a single sequence. It grips you, grabs you and doesn’t let you go every time you catch a glimpse, anytime, anywhere. It is a beloved landmark in film history and it is truly a landmark in film story structure, live action or animated. It is a work of true genius.

Tony Bancroft, director (Mulan) and animator (Aladdin, The Lion King):

I had just finished animating the character Pumbaa in The Lion King.  It was my first opportunity to supervise a character all on my own. The movie came out in 1994 so it must have just came out and so I was probably just beginning to work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame as the supervising animator of the three Gargoyle characters. There was a real excitement for animation at that point at Disney because Lion King was a smash hit that not one of us could predict. It looked like there would be no stop to the 2D animated films we were making. Since Disney was funding the Pixar group to produce their first feature film, there was drawings and visual development art up around the development department for months before animation began in Northern California. I remember going down to the development building on my lunch hours while working on The Lion King to see what was next coming down the pipeline.  When I saw copies of the art for Toy Story hanging on the wall I was confused.  Everyone knew that Disney was working with this new CG company called Pixar but I had not seen much until that moment. But because it was all 2D pencil drawings and paintings at that early stage, we had no idea what to expect from the 3D animation.  As Mike Gabriel says, all of the animators and directors were invited to a special sneak preview of the first sequence completed from Toy Story. We sat down in the Disney Feature Animation theatre just like we had done every week to watch “dailies” from the Lion King but this time what came up on the screen was something new. It was so full and “real” to us. It felt like we were watching a “real” movie- not animation at all. The cinematography, lighting, color, articulation of the characters was like nothing we had never seen before. The animators walked out of the theatre awe-struck.  As we ventured back to our desks to complete our final month of animation on The Lion King, I remember telling my friends that we had just witnessed the end of 2D animation. Toy Story was that kind of phenomenal breakthrough that I thought, “who will want to see our flat films when they can see stuff like that?”. It took about 5 more years after the release of Toy Story but eventually the 2D “traditional animation” division at Disney dissolved into nothing. As excited as I was about the breakthrough in animation that Toy Story represented it was also a sad realization that an era was ending in feature animation at Disney.

Gary Trousdale, director (Beauty and the Best, The Hunchback of Notre Dame):

In 1995, I was in the middle of production on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Joe Ranft, who was John Lassiter’s Good Right Hand, was a good friend from college, and he had Kirk Wise and I up to PIXAR to help the crew with gags and jokes on their upcoming Toy Story. It was fairly common in those days before everything went political, that the studios were happy to intermingle and share ideas. So Kirk and I went up to PIXAR for a couple days, saw the story reels (Joe had been telling me about this film for at least a year already), and we sat at a big table and started throwing ideas around. My contribution to Toy Story was the concept that the little space alien toys in the vending machine were in worshipful awe of “The Clawwww!”, kind of like the cargo-cult islanders of the early 20th century. Previous to this, the little aliens had been terrified of the claw, but I pitched the idea that it was an honor and a blessing from the gods to be “chosen” by The Claw. It was great fun, and it was tremendously gratifying to see my idea in the final cut of such a great movie. I still think that it’s a great movie 20 years later. It holds up well. I miss Joe, though. We all do.

Peter Lord, director (Chicken Run, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!):

In 1995, Aardman was nearly twenty years old. We’d had an amazingly successful decade, winning 3 Oscars, producing award-winning independent animation for families and for adults, we made Music videos and did TV commercials and we were right on the brink of breaking into the world of animated feature films. In fact we were right at the start of creating Chicken Run which I directed with Nick Park. I actually knew John Lasseter. We’d met at Annecy a couple of times in the ’90’s and I’d talked with him about his plans to break into feature films too. Everyone had seen Tin Toy and agreed it was great though the baby was kind of hideous. When I saw Toy Story my main thought was “what a great idea!” I mean, everything about it is really well realised – great design, humour, characterisation – but above and beyond all that the central idea – that the Toys come to life when their human owner is absent – is simply a superb notion. It had been done before, yes, but never realised so completely and satisfyingly. It’s so perfect. Of course we sympathise with Woody. Everyone of every age surely knows the feeling of dismay and jealousy when a new person enters your world and threatens to steal away the affections of your friends and loved-ones. Kids know it, when a new brother or sister comes along. Adults know it when someone more attractive or successful comes along. And better still is Buzz’s fabulous delusion that he isn’t a toy. That’s a brilliant storyline. As the first Pixar movie, Toy Story also has the special advantage of a kind of innocence about the way it’s made. Of course it’s incredibly sophisticated, but everything in it was new. For Pixar it was the first time and that give sit an absolutely unrepeatable innocence, purity and energy.

Mark Osborne, director (Kung Fu Panda):

In ‘95, I was an independent animator, having some success with a “Weird Al” Yankovic music video spoof of Jurassic Park (that I co-directed with Scott Nordlund) being nominated for a Grammy. I was trying to figure out my next steps, and I was thinking about doing more short form work. When Toy Story came along, it was clear that the entire game was changing. Not only was that film clearly breaking ground technically, but here was this new technique that was quite engaging and astonishing, much more than anything I had ever seen done with CG and it allowed a kind of storytelling that was something so very new. Previous to that I was unimpressed with CG, it was not something I was interested in, and I found it cold. But with Toy Story, it was clear that something new was happening. I do remember realizing at the time that things would evolve, but I never expected that I personally would ever work in CG. My heart was in stop-motion and I never imagined that the tools would advance to such a degree that I could direct CG and be completely hands off with the technology. Looking back now, it’s still a phenomenal movie, and I think it advanced and evolved animated storytelling just as much as it did animation technology.

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Buzz Lightyear (concept arts)

Anthony Stacchi, director (The Boxtrolls):

Before Toy Story and A Nightmare Before Christmas I wasn’t much interested in working on feature animation films. I respected them for their amazing craft and the beauty of the art and the character performance, but I wasn’t much interested in the stories.

By 1995 I had been working in animation for 5 years doing commercials and rock video’s for a San Francisco company called Colossal Pictures. At that time Colossal represented Pixar for commercials. I was in the studio the day John Lasseter came to ask folks if they were interested in working on a “computer animated feature” they were beginning. Bob Paulie, Bud Luckey and a bunch of other folks from Colossal went to work on Toy Story after that day… I, of course, have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity and did not. I missed another chance around that time when I decided to direct a bunch of Chili’s commercials rather than work in the story department of A Nightmare Before Christmas for Henry Selick.

For myself and many of of my generation it was these two films that made working on animated features appealing. I believe that all the sophisticated stories, better story telling and brilliant characters that came in later animated features came out of the toy box that everyone at Pixar opened with that film.

Jerry Rees, director (The Brave Little Toaster) and storyboard artist (The Spirit):

When Toy Story was released in 1995, I absolutely loved it. It was close to my heart in several very specific ways. Back in the early 1980s I was a Computer Image Choreographer on the original TRON – storyboarding and shepherding sequences that were pure CGI. When I left the Disney Feature Animation team to work on TRON, many of my friends thought I was giving up “real” art for “push button” art. I told them that computers were not taking over for artists, but rather were amazing tools to be shaped by artists. My friends informed me that even if that were true, real “character animation” in the Disney tradition could never be done with such tools. Toy Story was an important threshold moment, proving that computers and the artists who shaped them had evolved far enough to accomplish wonderful “character animation” in the Disney tradition.

In the mid 1980s I directed The Brave Little Toaster. Many of my friends told me that it was crazy to make an entire animated feature using inanimate objects. A short would be fine, they said, but not a feature. Inanimate objects should be used as sidekicks – as occasional novelty – as side dishes for a meal, but not as the meal itself. Happily, Toaster proved them wrong. Toy Story bravely continued to explore this territory, celebrating how alive any inanimate object can be in the hands of talented storytellers and animators. The film made us all laugh and cry over beloved plastic playthings. By the mid 1990s I was directing theme park attractions for Disney using binaural sound, animatronics, live action, CGI and a myriad of illusions. The main thing I tried to keep in mind while working with so many technologies was that storytelling and character drive everything. When I saw Toy Story I was overjoyed to see that John Lasseter and his team had not been blinded by the novelty of their new tools, but had used storytelling and character to drive everything. This not only proved that we had all paid attention to our Disney veteran mentors, it proved to me that Pixar was now positioned to be the new keeper of the Disney storytelling flame. What a treasure!

Joe Kelly, comic book writer (Deadpool, I Kill Giants) and screenwriter (Ben 10, with Man of Action):

I was going for my graduate degree in screenwriting at NYU. It was my second year of school, I was working for the department to pay my tuition and as luck would have it, I had just started in with the folks at Marvel in a workshop that would lead to my first job.

I don’t know how to answer it without falling back on the cliches. It was groundbreaking. I was surrounded by cynical playwrights and would-be screenwriters at the time – we all fell in love with Toy Story. Looking back, it still holds up for me, but I think in part that’s because I bring all of the subsequent films and 20 years of affection for the characters to that assessment. Even if I look at Toy Story with completely objective eyes, though, all I see is a masterpiece. Put into the context of the time it was created, knowing what tech they had available, it is an incredible achievement.