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kottke.org posts about Toy Story

Pixar’s Fake Real Cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Pixar is always trying to push the envelope of animation and filmmaking, going beyond what they’ve done before. For the studio’s latest release, Toy Story 4, the filmmakers worked to inject as much reality into the animation as possible and to make it feel like a live-action movie shot with real cameras using familiar lenses and standard techniques. In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak shares how they did that:

As I learned when I visited Pixar this summer,1 all of the virtual cameras and lenses they use in their 3D software to “shoot” scenes are based on real cameras and lenses. As the first part of the video shows, when they want two things to be in focus at the same time, they use a lens with a split focus diopter. You can tell that’s what they’re doing because you can see the artifacts on the screen — the blurring, the line marking the diopter transition point — just as you would in a live-action film.

They’re doing a similar thing by capturing the movement of actual cameras and then importing the motion into their software:

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera.

Now, this is a really interesting decision on Pixar’s part! Since their filmmaking is completely animated and digital, they can easily put any number of objects in focus in the same scene or simply erase the evidence that a diopter was used. But no, they keep it in because making something look like it was shot in the real world with real cameras helps the audience believe the action on the screen. Our brains have been conditioned by more than 100 years of cinema to understand the visual language of movies, including how cameras move and lenses capture scenes. Harnessing that visual language helps Pixar’s filmmakers make the presentation of the action on the screen seem familiar rather than unrealistic.

  1. Q: How do you know when someone has recently visited Pixar?

    A: Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

Pixar’s AI Spiders

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

As I mentioned in a post about my west coast roadtrip, one of the things I heard about during my visit to Pixar was their AI spiders. For Toy Story 4, the production team wanted to add some dusty ambiance to the antique store in the form of cobwebs.

Toy Story Cobwebs

Rather than having to painstakingly create the webs by hand as they’d done in the past, technical director Hosuk Chang created a swarm of AI spiders that could weave the webs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

All the animators had to do is tell the spiders where the cobwebs needed to be.

“He guided the spiders to where he wanted them to build cobwebs, and they’d do the job for us. And when you see those cobwebs overlaid on the rest of the scene, it gives the audience the sense that this place has been here for a while.” Without that program, animators would have had to make the webs one strand at a time, which would have taken several months. “You have to tell the spider where the connection points of the cobweb should go,” Jordan says, “but then it does the rest.”

Chang and his colleague David Luoh presented a paper about the spiders (and dust) at SIGGRAPH ‘19 in late July (which is unfortunately behind a paywall).

A Shot-By-Shot Remake of Toy Story 3 by Two Teen Superfans

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

Since 2011, brothers Morgan and Mason McGrew have been working on a shot-by-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. They’ve built sets, borrowed garbage trucks for scenes, and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours shooting stop motion animation of their army of Toy Story dolls & action figures. They’ve made enough progress on the film to release a trailer and it looks great!

For way too many years now, my brother and I (with the support of our awesome family and friends) have been working on a shot-for-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. This project has been an incredible undertaking, and we’ve made the decision to have this complete by 2019. At this time, I’m not quite sure what a release will look like, but I do know that this has to be done by next year. We’re both pursuing college and full-time careers right now, and it’s time to wrap this side-project up.

It looks like the brothers were around 11 and 14 when they began filming. You can check out the project’s Facebook page for information and updates.

See also Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Andy’s mom owned Jessie?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2014

My mind is so tiny these days it doesn’t take much to blow it, so grain of salt and all that. But, this theory that Andy’s mom in Toy Story is Jessie’s original owner is popping my fuse right now.

Several months ago, one of my anonymous Pixar Theory Interns (that’s a thing on a resume) came to me with a crazy proposition: Andy’s mom is Emily, Jessie’s previous owner.

I laughed. I then agreed.

Previously: a grand unified theory of Pixar.

Live action Toy Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2013

Jonason Pauley and Jesse Perrotta reshot all 80 minutes of Toy Story in live action — with a Woody doll, a Mr. Potatohead, human actors, and the like.

The pair say that folks at Pixar gave them their approval (sorta kinda) to post it online.

CHARLIE: Have you spoken to Pixar and what have they said? Followup question: Are there unmarked black sedans with dudes in suits outside your house right now?

JESSE: We just got back from visiting Pixar a few days ago. We weren’t invited inside, but we were allowed to pass out DVD’s of our movie to Pixar employees. We have spoken to one of the lead guys at Pixar on Twitter a little bit, and his attitude was positive towards the whole thing. We never got an official word on if it was okay to put it on Youtube though. And about the sedans… haven’t seen them yet, haha!

JONASON: Jesse pretty much covered it. Some of the Pixar employees that we talked to asked if it was online, so I took that as “it should be online” We put it off for a long time because we wanted to make sure it would be alright.

(via @faketv)

Sheriff Woody Allen

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2011

Sheriff Woody Allen

From artist Lim Heng Swee. Grab a print at Etsy while you can.

Fun fact: Tom Hanks does the voice for Woody in the movies but in most other media, he’s voiced by Tom’s younger brother Jim Hanks.

Toy Story + The Wire mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2010

Woody = McNulty, Buzz = Stringer, and Mr. Potato Head = Bunk. (via stevey)

Toy Story 2 vs Dark Knight

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2008

Anytime is a good time for a well-cut movie trailer mashup: here’s The Dark Knight version of the Toy Story 2 trailer. (via buzzfeed)

Video of a Charlie Rose interview with

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2007

Video of a Charlie Rose interview with Pixar’s John Lasseter and Steve Jobs. This was about a year after Toy Story had been released and a few months before Apple bought Jobs’ NeXT.

Movie trailer mash-up: Toy Story 2 + Requiem for a Dream.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2006

Movie trailer mash-up: Toy Story 2 + Requiem for a Dream.

The new Pixar overlords at Disney Animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2006

The new Pixar overlords at Disney Animation wasted no time in cancelling Toy Story 3. “Sequels should only be made if there is a really great story that demands it, and should be the domain of those who created the original film.” Could this be the end of Disney’s straight-to-video animated crap-o-ramas?

Short article about Pixar on the 10th

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2005

Short article about Pixar on the 10th anniversary of Toy Story. Their work process takes a cue from improv comedy by opening up possibilities with “yes, and…” rather than “no, but…” Gladwell talks about this aspect of improv at length in Blink.