40 Things We Learned About Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 4’
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Pixar’s Toy Story 4 is a return to familiar ground that is fully realized with groundbreaking animation and riveting storytelling. The heart of these films is the relationships that people have with their toys, and a toy’s purpose in life to give kids joy. And in Toy Story 4, it questions what makes a toy a toy? It’s the kind of film that will see one new toy go through an existential crisis and a dear friend reunite with a lost love who presents the idea of paradise for a toy.

For the past few weeks, we have shown you what it was like to visit Pixar, shown the technological advances, and shared a roundtable discussion with Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen.

Now we are sharing some of the things that we have learned about Toy Story 4. Check out the 40 things we learned about the highly anticipated animated sequel including the development of a story, how a virtual camera works, designing sets and characters, and more, below.


The director, the writer, the editor, the story supervisor, and a team of story artists gather together to discuss where they could take the sequel. They are the essential core to Pixar, who believes that story comes first before anything else. So five years ago, they looked back to Bo Peep. They wanted to tell the story of how she went from a baby lamp attachment to a lost toy.

1 – As story supervisor, Valerie LaPointe is responsible for overseeing the story, concept, and characters with a small group that consists of herself, the editor, director Josh Cooley, and writers Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton. Their job is to figure out the movie and what kind of story it is that they want to tell. LaPointe works with eight to 10 story artists on creative contributions like gag ideas or story points. Those things in addition to drawing the entire film.

2 – Bo Peep will go from being a supporting character to the main character. She is the driving force in the changes that we see in Woody’s character.

3 – In figuring out who her character was, they looked to what kind of toy she is, which is a baby lamp. The story department then discussed the idea that if she is a baby lamp, she may be given up quicker. So they wanted to look into what happened during the years that Bo Peep and Woody weren’t together. Exactly how crazy did her life get? Was she thrown away or sold? And how terrible it could have gotten?

4 – The team also looked into how a new owner or setting would shape her character and outlook on life. While the team debated about if she was tired of the toy life or if she wanted to be a toy again, they said her character evolution depended on two things:

  • What is the fun and most unexpected place you can take a toy like Bo Peep
  • What realization do we want her and Woody to have at the end of the film? What kind of change do they have on each other?

So They decided on having Bo go from a lamp to being a lost toy.

5 – In a prologue scene, Woody is the leader in Andy’s room, while Bo is the leader in Molly’s room. The two will swiftly go into action should any toy need to be rescued. This will help establish and remind us of that confidence and voice of reason that we saw from Bo Peep in the first two films.

6 – Because a baby lamp doesn’t have a long toy life span, Bo Peep decides that now that she has served her purpose, she will go on living as a “lost toy.” She didn’t want to sit on a shelf and wait for life to happen. The first film firmly established that being a “lost toy” was a bad thing, so in order to see this as a positive, they use Bo as the character to sell that perspective to the audience.

7 – Since becoming a lost toy, Bo has developed a go with the flow mentality to life and knows the realities of the world, more so than Woody. But she is not overly motherly. Additionally, she is rougher because she’s been through more than Woody, and she does whatever it takes to get the job done. While she is tough, she is still very caring, and she shows that by tending to her sheep and her best friend Giggle McDimples.

8 – Bo is now an adventurous type of person who takes chances and is unpredictable. She also doesn’t play by toy rules or go into default toy mode, which means when a kid picks her up and plays with her as a toy, she will choose what pose she will be locked into, which gives her the ability to choose what kind of toy she wants to be.

9 – One page from the script is broken down into 20 or 30 sequences. Starting there, an artist will draw out that scene and then do a “handoff” where artists, writers, directors, and managers go into one room where they discuss their ideas, give feedback, and ask questions.

10 – The artist then takes those pages and notes and they start thinking about it. This is what LaPointe calls “thinking on paper.”

Character Designs

With new and growing technologies adding depth and realism to animation, it was important for Pixar to remember that the main story here was about toys. So this required a certain amount of research to see how some of these toys are made and how they can move. Additionally, they needed to remember that since this is a story about toys, that the toys had to look like plastic and not human.

11 – In order to give Bo Peep an updated look, artists looked back to the two films, concept designs, and more.

12 – The character team also took research trips to LA where they learned about how dolls are made, including porcelain fabrication. They also looked at different kinds of dolls like prototypes and collector dolls. Additionally, they looked at clothing, hair, and shapes.

  • They also visited antique stores and flea markets.

13 – Incorporating everything that she has learned about porcelain fabrication, they discovered that Bo Peep’s eyelashes are melted onto her face and that she has smooth features.

14 – Modeling a character is done symmetrically because it is easier to rig. Rig means to put a lot of controls into the character so that animation can move her.

15 – No minor detail is overlooked when it comes to character modeling. Everything from what the character’s cheeks and eyes are doing when they smile to how the lips are shaped and the anatomy of a character is factored in.

  • This also includes micro scratches. These small details remind us that these are plastic toys and that they have been through a lot. The stickers on Buzz would be bubbling, puckering, and peeling. Bo has a few small chips and cracks. Basically, it helps convey their history.

16 – Designing the new Bo can be a combination that comes from themselves or the story team.

17 – The whole team of artists worked together on designing Bo using a variety of ideas (personality and character), references, and sketches. In designing this new version of the character, the team avoided treating her like a survivalist because Bo didn’t need food or water, and a tomboy because the team wanted to be sure that she can be athletic without having to be masculine. In the end, they settled on making her new but also recognizable.

18 – Bo is now able to adapt, repair, and reuse elements of her outfit, but not so much as to lose what makes Bo, Bo. This includes turning her dress into a cape or a bag. It combines self-sufficiency and utilitarian approach, but this is still Bo.

19 – Gabby Gabby is also a new character to the Toy Story franchise. One of the challenges of creating this character was building a realistic doll without looking too human. So they looked at curvature and deformations like hard plastics, not flesh and muscles, to achieve that look. Additionally, the character team had to be sure to differentiate the manufactured aspects with some of the details that required handmade work.

  • They also looked at some other details like how the eyeballs sat in eye sockets, how the nylon hair was rooted, how the baby fat creased, and how the head fits into the neck. Attention was also looked into making the hair thicker and more metallic. The iris of the eyes also had a more metallic quality as well.

20 – Forky was much different. He had to look like he was made by a six-year-old. but also an appealing main character who would fit in with the rest of the Toy Story characters. The crew went through a number of different designs by making their own Forky with a different amount of kid-friendly craft materials. “Forky looks deceptively simple, but in fact is made of more material than some of our characters,” said Rob Moyer, the supervising technical director. “Pipe cleaners, glitter glue, googly eyes, popsicle sticks, soft clay, stickers, and crayon markers.”

“Being a main character he had to have enough control to support a huge range of acting choices,” Moyer said. “Choices had to be made about whether he actually needed eyelids, whether fingers had to have actual structure or if they should be treated as an actual extension of the pipe cleaner.”

Sets Designs

Sets supervisors Thomas Jordan and Stephen Karski oversaw the world that Woody and the gang would be living in. Of course, with every new sequel, comes new locations. In Toy Story 4, audiences will be taken to a small town antique mall where Bo Peep has been after she was pawned off at the start of the sequel. This new location allows the toys to move around freely and out of sight from humans.

21 – The sets team built the antique mall like a city. This mall is over 8,000 square feet and is home to over 10,000 items, all of which are arranged by theme. If viewed from above as a map, the rugs act as roads where humans can roam to look at specific items they may want to buy, while alleyways above – like the rafters and the spaces in between items – allow toys to roam freely and out of human sight.

  • This also helped determine the scale. The size of the building was important because it needed to address how big the building was to humans vs how big it was to toys.

22 – In order to convey the time and age of some of the items seen in the antique shop, everything had to be textured to the max. You can see it in some micro scratches on some items, the wear on some rugs, and aging on china platters. They even looked at how silver ages and deteriorates the quality. These only add to the photorealistic qualities of the film.

23 – Original items made specifically for Toy Story 4 will go through a process of building, shaping, coloring, shading, and rendering before being added into the mall. And that is just one item out of 10,000. “Creating a prop can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks,” Jordan said. “So it’s no wonder that our antique store containing over 10,000 items took our team over two years to create for Toy Story 4.”

24 – No small detail is overlooked for settings. For instance, in the Carnival setting, the sets team purposefully inserted pleating in the carpet, which looks like someone went at it with a bad pair of scissors and just stuck it on there to get the job done. Or the wire grid to hold up the prizes, which are not perfectly straight or even and might have a few kinks. Set designers were even inspired by how the prizes were scattered across metal frames in real life carnivals, so they put that in the film, as well. They even looked at how generators were placed so they didn’t get in the way of the crowds. This adds a little bit of authenticity to the scene.

  • Even the antique store has some age to it, which can be seen in the dust. The sets team was going to save the dust for specific scenes. However, it ended up being so successful, in terms of adding depth and layers, that they put it all over the mall.
  • The team went even as far as to look into how a vintage pinball machine works, and they discovered that there are many different types of metals that were used to put it together. The director of photography wanted to capture how light works within the inside of the pinball machine. He does this by looking at how the crisscrossing wires interact with the lights.
  • And while certain items may be hidden away from human view, it was important to have these hidden items in the film as they could be seen from a toy’s perspective.

25 – There were two main reasons why it was so important to have an emphasis on the smaller details in Toy Story 4:

  • The toys are small. So there is a lot of detail that is seen from a toy’s perspective that you may not see as a human. This will help draw you in from a character’s point of view.
  • This story is about Woody expanding his world and getting out of his comfort zone. So the sets and items are very much like characters themselves and they will help drive the main story forward.

26 – When building sets, the sets teams think about contact points between objects. These are the parts that are the most imperfect and have the best stories to tell. The sets teams look at what materials were used to construct the building, whether or not there are artistic patterns, and how much of the facade is glass, brick, stucco, etc.

27 – They specifically want to dial into any irregularities as they add character to a setting.

28 – Reference photos of real toys interacting in physical spaces helped determine the scale for animators. Anything from a sprinkler box to leaves would help make the toys feel small.

29 – Graphics, labels, tags, and signs on t-shirts, blankets, and buildings help add another level of believability. Graphic passes help shape many of the signs that we see in the film. The different fonts, colors keys, and designs help give audiences a feel of where these characters have been and where they are going.

30 – You may even see some small Easter eggs that are nods to previous movies like Riley’s dad, from up as a conquistador; or the dogs from Up playing poker; or a Chalupa records label from Coco. There isn’t an exact number of how many references there are to previous films. But you will see most of them in the antique store.

Camera Work

31 – Cameras were put on the floor to give a sense of how exciting the world would be if seen from the viewpoint of a toy. This helps determine the preferred scale and how the size of a toy contrasts with its surroundings.

32 – Two main ways scale is determined are pre-viz and reference. Pre-viz (short for pre-visualization) refers to mocking something up. It’s rough and it’s fast, and it allows the camera and sets team to iterate efficiently. Most importantly, it allows them to answer the bigger questions quickly so they can get to the “fun stuff.” Reference is ongoing, often times referring to, in this case, the art deco time period of the antique store’s design.

33 – Camera and staging’s main tool is the virtual camera. “Although it is not physical, it is mathematically true to the physical camera,” Layout supervisor Patrick Lin said. There is a lens that can focus, distort, and add a depth of field. It basically mimics everything that a camera does if it were on a rig, crane, or handheld.

34 – A location scout helps stage and choreograph a scene. The camera team has to also consider how long the sets are so as to be sure that the camera can cover the length of a conversation.

35 – Camera and staging team would use storyboards to determine where the virtual camera would go and where to place the characters and props.

  • For example, trash cans, signs, and wooden blocks are placed strategically throughout the carnival, so that when we see Buzz run through the area and use some of these props as cover, we can believe it’s happening.

36 – They have to be sure about things like the characters arriving at a spot just when the clock chimes or when a gang of creepy dolls pops out. Once the locations of each beat are established, they can move forward with cinematic storytelling.

37 – They do a rough pose and put these characters in a starting position. Then, using the camera, they align and focus what it will see. And just like a physical camera, they position it to an angle that will hide faces during a scene so as to keep a sense of mystery.

38 – Shots may be added so that the audience can understand the story’s intention. Basically, things may be done deliberately so as to help understand some of the character’s goals.

39 – But even the best-looking shots can end up on the cutting room floor, so it is very important that camera and staging pay close attention to how editorial puts together a shot so that nothing is overlapping and there is continuity between said shots.

40 – The first time is with the story and the second time is with camera and staging. “Editorial is the closest partner with camera and staging to figure out the final cut,” Lin said. “For the 110 shots in the shooting script, we have delivered a total of 426 takes to editorial. And only after weeks of back and forth, iterations between us, we widdled it down to the final 90 shots in the film.”

Toy Story 4 hits theaters on June 21, 2019. Click right here for trailers and more.

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