Toy Story: The First Computer Animated Feature by Byron Grush

"We're storytellers who happen to use computers. Story and characters come first and that is what drives everything we do," says "Toy Story's" director, John Lasseter. And everything John Lasseter does brings to the animation process that unique story-telling ability that sets his work apart from the crowd and sets standards that make us forget we are watching renderings made on a computer. Lasseter, a former Disney animator, is perhaps known best for the short films he has directed for Pixar, including "Luxo, Jr.", "Red's Dream", the Academy Award winning, "Tin Toy" (which may have part of the inspiration for Toy Story), and "Knick Knack".

Disney and Pixar have teamed up again to produce "Toy Story", the first full-length computer animated feature film. Due to be released in November, 1995, you can get a preview of the film on the Disney world wide web site, In the past, Disney has struggled with the integration of computer animation into its films, attempting too little too soon in "Tron", using the computer for layout in "The Mouse Detectives", or mismatching whole scenes as in "Beauty and the Beast". This time, the success or failure of the film will depend a great deal on how well the look and feel of the computer generated characters reinforce the Disney formula of art, story, music and famous actor's voices.

Borrowing from Raggedy Ann and Andy a little, "Toy Story's" toy characters come to life when people are not present. There is also a hint of the conflict between tradition and new technology as the old favorite toy, a pull-string cowboy doll, is threatened by the arrival of an space-age action figure complete with laser gun. The older toys include Mr. Potato Head and a Slinky Dog, and a Bo Peep figurine lamp. The most intriguing concept in the story revolves around the venture into the outside world that leads the cowboy and his advisory into the world of the "mutant" toys. Here, the application of the computer makes the most sense in its potential to create a surrealistic and bazaar environment.

The old tried and true is in effect, as Disney taps into some box office talent. Tom Hanks is the voice of Woody, the cowboy, while Tim Allen play Buzz Lightyear, the action figure. Somehow, however, I imagine that Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Annie Potts as Bo Peep will probably steal the show. Music for the picture is composed by Randy Newman and will be more integrated into the emotions of the plot, rather than following the standard animated musical style found in other Disney movies, according to Lasseter.

Most of the animators and other staff who worked on "Toy Story", and some reports number them in the 100 to 150 range, were from traditional backgrounds with experience in clay, puppet or hand drawn animation. Pixar wrote some proprietary software, especially for network rending of the complex and time-consuming scenes of the neighborhoods and environments. Expect to see lots of articles about the technology used in this movie. Already there have been a few in Animation Magazine, Computer Graphics World and Cinemafantasitc. The stills I have seen remind me of characters from "Tin Toy" and "Knick Knack", while the lighting and sets seem to have gone to yet another level, allowing some dramatic ambiance usually absent from computer animated films. What I'm hoping for is the subtle and touching movement Lasseter achieved in "Luxo Jr.", which confirmed him in my mind, at least, as the first computer animator able to bring life to what can sometimes be a very cold and mechanical medium.