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Animating The Characters
Pixar's Animation Team Reunites with Some Old Friends and Makes Some New Acquaintances

In the world of computer animation and technology, tremendous progress has been made over the past 11 years since the release of "Toy Story 2,” and even more since the debut of "Toy Story” in 1995.

"We had to stay true to the world of ‘Toy Story,' but keep it fresh, get it right, make it entertaining,” says producer Darla K. Anderson. "We had to keep ourselves grounded in the design language and the look and feel of the characters, but recreate them with our current technology. So between the story and the world and the characters and the technology, we had to find this place of telling a compelling new story, but staying in line with this classic feel and timeless space.”

The challenge for director Lee Unkrich, supervising animators Bobby Podesta and Michael Venturini, and the rest of the "Toy Story 3” animation team was to use the new tools and advances available to them but to make sure that Buzz, Woody and the other returning "Toy Story” favorites still felt like they belonged in the same universe as the two previous films.

"We needed all of the classic ‘Toy Story' characters to move and behave the way they did in the earlier films,” explains Unkrich. "But the animators have gotten used to much more sophisticated models than we had back then. For example, with the human characters on ‘Ratatouille,' the animators had exponentially more controls, and were able to create very subtle, nuanced animation. We had to be very careful with ‘Toy Story 3' that we didn't make the characters so fluid and sophisticated in terms of expression and movement that they no longer felt like Woody and Buzz. We wanted them to be what we remembered. It's all about embracing the limitations that we used to have and working within those confines.”

Throughout the production, Unkrich had the good fortune of having veteran Pixar animators who worked on the previous "Toy Story” films mentoring the new animators. "In animation dailies, Angus MacLane, Bobby Podesta, and others would say things like ‘Don't pull Buzz's brow down quite that far because that pulls him off model' or ‘Don't raise Woody's lower eyelids like that because that's not something we do with Woody,'” says Unkrich. "We had this constant set of checks in place to make sure that the characters felt like we remembered them.”

Podesta recalls, "I was the first animator on this film, and I felt like an archeologist. It took a lot of digging to see how this civilization was built and why the original animators did the things they did. We looked under the hood to understand why the characters behaved in certain ways back then, and mashed that together with today's ‘We can do anything' technology. I feel that the choices our animation team made had to be really well informed by what the original intentions were. I interviewed John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Doug Sweetland, Dylan Brown and Angus MacLane, and had them tell me how they approached the original characters from an animation standpoint.

"We found that there was a certain level of simplicity with the characters that actually added a lot of the charm,” continues Podesta. "Part of it was how the models were built and articulated, and part of it concerned the style of animation. The animators on the first two films did some amazing work with very few controls, and their performances are gorgeous and stand up next to anything we're doing today. As animators, we tried to execute our acting choices to match the finessed simplicity that characterizes the best animation from the first two films.”

"You have to be a lot more conscious about how you use the characters,” says animator Jaime Landes. "I'm used to using a lot of controls and tools to cheat and create an illusion. But with the ‘Toy Story' characters

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