Toy Story: Age 24
Barbara Robertson
August 9, 2019

Toy Story: Age 24

The years from Toy Story to Toy Story 4 have brought magnificent changes.

It's remarkable that Computer Graphics World is able to present a reprint (in PDF form) of the feature story from 1995 about Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story, the first animated feature film created entirely with computer graphics. In fact, we were able to provide you with a step back by publishing the feature stories that appeared in CGW pertaining to all the Toy Story films, culminating in this year’s Toy Story 4. We thought our readers and followers, as students and practitioners of the craft, would appreciate the look back in time and marvel at how far this industry has come.

Technical innovations, orders of magnitude in compute power, and 24 years of experience by artists working with these tools are evidenced in Toy Story 4’s jaw-dropping complexity. It is possible that some artists who worked on Toy Story 4 weren’t born when Disney released the first Toy Story, and that many on the crews of that film – and those watching it – take CGI for granted. It wasn’t always so.

Disney/Pixar’s 1995 film Toy Story marked the culmination of the technology and artistry brought together at the New York Institute of Technology and then Lucasfilm by Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith who went on to establish Pixar Animation Studios in 1986 with 38 other founding employees.

Bill Reeves, who was one of those 38 founding employees, received an Oscar for the short film Tin Toy, has worked on all four Toy Story films, and who was global technical supervisor on Toy Story 4, describes 1995 as the “Stone Age” of computer animation in our feature story.

The 1995 Toy Story had 366 objects, according to the story that year. Four years later, Toy Story 2 had 1,200 models, and in that feature story supervising TD Galyn Susman is quoted as saying, “In Toy Story 2, the complexity is in the geometry.” Animators used a new articulation system called Geppetto, written by senior scientist Tony DeRose and software engineer Dirk VanGelder, and it was digitally color-timed.

In 2010, Toy Story 3 had 300 animated characters and 3,000 models. Modeling supervisor Eben Ostby’s rough guess in that feature story is that the character Al’s source files came to 200MB.

And then we have the 2019 Toy Story 4. This film had 10,000 models in only one location, the antiques store, all hand-built and hand-dressed. Lightbulbs in the equally complex carnival included wattage and lumens data, and turned on automatically. 

In 1995, Reeves helped fake a rainstorm with a few particle effects and matte painting. Toy Story 4 has a flash flood in a gutter with rain, leaves, dirt, sticks, and debris all interacting with toys.

It took 24 years before Woody, replaced, abandoned, and outgrown in the first three films, grew up in the fourth. And, 24 years for films such as Toy Story to become possible. Realistic toys and animals that talk. Just imagine what’s beyond.

Toy Story 1 Toy Story 2 Toy Story 3