From Tin Toy to Toy Story: Pixar's Transistion to Full-Length CGI Features - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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From Tin Toy to Toy Story: Pixar's Transistion to Full-Length CGI Features

You've got a friend in Tinny.
Now fully-owned by Walt Disney Studios and the premiere name in CGI animation, Pixar had very humble beginnings. Starting out in 1974 when New York Institute of Technology's founder, Alexander Schure, established the Computer Graphics Lab and recruited computer scientists who shared his ambitions about creating the world's first computer-animated film; Edwin Catmull and Malcolm Blanchard were the first to be hired and were soon joined by Alvy Ray Smith and David DiFrancesco. It would be 5 years later when the core team became a part of the Lucasfilm computer division, known as the Graphics Group. In 1982, they began working on special-effects film sequences with Industrial Light & Magic, including the Genesis Effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Stained Glass Knight in Young Sherlock Holmes. The following year, John Lasseter first worked with the Lucasfilm team, under the title "interface designer", animating the short film The Adventures of André & Wally B (which would go on to receive a theatrical release accompanying Toy Story eleven years later).

In the next few years, a designer suggested naming a new digital compositing computer the "Picture Maker". Smith suggested that the laser-based device have a catchier name, and came up with "Pixer", which after a meeting was changed to "Pixar". The newly formed company eventually spun-off as a corporation in 1986, with funding from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who became its then majority shareholder. Their first independent work was inspired by a desk lamp owned by the now full-time Pixar associate John Lasseter. The character of Luxo Jr. would of course go on to become the studio's mascot. Pixar then followed this up with Red's Dream, the 1987 four minute short-animation about a unicycle.
Although both shorts and the earlier project The Adventures of André & Wally B had been greated with much industry praise, Pixar weren't exactly a household name or a company that were making many waves among anyone outside of the animated computer graphic world. 1988 would change that, and it couldn't have come at a better time as the company were under serious financial strains. Lasseter pitched the concept for a new short film by storyboard to Pixar owner Steve Jobs, who agreed to finance it despite the company's struggles, which he kept alive with annual investment. The short film, which would run to five minutes would be titled Tin Toy and would see Tinny, a tin one-man band toy, attempting to escape from Billy, a silly infant. The film was to be a test of the company's new PhotoRealistic RenderMan software and proved challenging to the animation team, particularly in the difficult task of realistically animating Billy.

Tin Toy premiered at the SIGGRAPH convention (an annual conference on computer graphics) in August 1988 to a standing ovation from scientists and engineers. Once again, Pixar gained the respect and admiration (no doubt a lot of jealousy too) of their peers. But that wouldn't be enough to save the hemorrhaging company who were now in serious financial trouble. What did go some to way saving them though was a nomination and eventual win at the 1988 Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film. (Luxo Jr. had also been nominated, but went home without the prize, and no-one really remembers the runner-up, do they?) Tin Toy's triumph was far reaching, not only for Pixar's future but as it was the first CGI film to win an Oscar it established computer animation as a legitimate artistic medium outside SIGGRAPH and the animation-festival film circuit.

The success of Tin Toy gained attention from Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who invited Pixar to a pitch meeting for a full-length computer-animated film. Considering the abrupt transition from shorts to feature - a few minutes to an hour and a half - Pixar drafted a proposal to first set out to create a special half-hour CGI animation to see if they could manage a production that was similar to that of an actual film, without the full-length of one.

Driven by that victory at the Oscars, a sequel to Tin Toy called A Tin Toy Christmas was brought to the table at the initial talks with Disney and story-boarded as a half-hour-long television special, potentially to air on Disney owned ABC for the holiday season in the early 1990s. The basic idea was that Tinny was part of a set of toy players who are not successful and remain unsold for years. Separated from other components, Tinny ends up by mistake in a toy shop of our age where he meets several characters, including a soft pink bear named Lotso.
Although considered a very strong pitch, the project was abandoned because no television network could have afford the fees required to finance the half-hour feature - according to Pixar's Pete Docter, the special would have required a sum of eighteen times higher than the standard 30 minute slot budget of the day. But although Disney were uninterested in pursuing this concept, they still wanted to work with Pixar and urged them to produce a feature proposal immediately.

Finalising the deal was not an easy task for either party. John Lasseter had history with Disney, he'd worked as a traditional animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation and had tried to get a CGI film off the ground with them previously; his pitches resulted in a hard pass and an eventual firing, which in turn saw him find a new home at Pixar via Steve Jobs. There was no love lost between Lasseter and Katzenberg, with Jobs making it apparent to the Walt Disney Studios chairman that although Disney was happy with Pixar, it was not the other way around. But equally Jobs knew that Pixar was on the verge of bankruptcy and needed the deal with Disney, so as good of an idea as their softer transition into film was, the company faced a choice of agreeing to a full-length feature or failure. That didn't mean they were just going to roll-over though.

Katzenberg insisted that Disney be given the rights to Pixar's proprietary technology for making 3-D animation, RenderMan, but Jobs refused. Jobs then demanded that Pixar would have part ownership of the film and its characters, sharing control of both video rights and sequels, but Katzenberg refused. After lengthy protracted negotiations, Disney and Pixar eventually reached an accord on contract terms in an agreement dated May 3rd 1991, and signed on in early July that year. Eventually, the deal specified that Disney would own the picture and its characters outright, have creative control and pay Pixar about 12.5% of the ticket revenues. Disney also had the option (but not the obligation) to produce and distribute Pixar's next two films and the right to make (with or without Pixar) sequels using the characters in the film. Disney could also kill the film at any time with only a small penalty. These early negotiations became a point of contention between Jobs and Eisner for many years.

Also, rather interestingly, that agreement stated that Pixar would produce a feature film based on Tin Toy with a working title of Toy Story.
The original treatment for Toy Story, drafted by Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter, had little in common with the eventually finished film. It paired Tinny, the one-man band from Tin Toy, with Woody, a ventriloquist's dummy with a pull-string (inspired by a Casper the Friendly Ghost doll that Lasseter had when he was a child), and sent them on a sprawling odyssey. The core idea of Toy Story though was present from that first treatment: that "toys deeply want children to play with them, and that this desire drives their hopes, fears, and actions."

Katzenberg felt the original treatment was problematic and told Lasseter to reshape Toy Story as more of an odd-couple picture, suggesting something similar to classic buddy films such as The Defiant Ones and 48 Hrs., in which two characters with different attitudes are thrown together and have to bond. Lasseter, Stanton, and Docter emerged in early September 1991 with the second treatment, and although the lead characters were still Tinny and the dummy, the outline of the final film was beginning to take shape. The script then went through many changes before the final version with Lasseter eventually deciding that Tinny was "too antiquated". He first changed him into a military action figure and then decided to give him a space theme. Tinny's name changed to Lunar Larry, then Tempus from Morph, and eventually Buzz Lightyear (after astronaut Buzz Aldrin). Character designer Bud Luckey suggested that Woody could be changed to a cowboy ventriloquist dummy. Lasseter liked the contrast between the Western and the science fiction genres, eventually deleting all the ventriloquist dummy aspects but keeping the name Woody to pay homage to the Western actor Woody Strode.
Although there were several more hiccups and plenty more disagreements with Disney during the development process, a final concept and storyboard was approved, with Toy Story eventually arriving in cinemas in November 1995 to huge critical and commercial success. Of course, as you likely remember, the character of Lotso, first put together for that initial pitch with Disney, was resurrected and adapted for the third installment of the Toy Story series as the main villain. And even though along the way he eventually morphed into Buzz Lightyear, Pixar never forgot about Tinny as the little toy one-man band made a cameo in Toy Story 4, appearing when Woody and Bo Peep enter a pinball machine to meet Duke Caboom.

From very humble beginnings to the powerhouse of CGI productions, Pixar achieved their goals not through baby steps but via giant leaps from short five minute animations to feature length films.

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