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Playing with Toys -- Part IV : Coming in for a soft landing on a pile of ... shaving cream ?!

Playing with Toys -- Part IV : Coming in for a soft landing on a pile of ... shaving cream ?!

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Picking up where we left off last week ...

Things were a little bit different when I returned to Pixar Animation Studios in 1998. This was the second year in the development of "Toy Story 2," and it's not surprising to hit a few snags in this wacky process of crafting an animated feature film. Things had started out great. But now the crew was feeling weary as we tried to iron out the kinks in the movie. Problems had immediately caught John Lasseter's watchful eye at the last screening. We knew we couldn't move forward until these issues were addressed.

It was smooth sailing for the first few months on the film. Even the new characters seem to fall into place. Our villain, Al McWhiggen was a terrific character, and the guy who sets our story in motion. We couldn't help but be reminded of another toy collector we knew. Our colleague and friend Scott Shaw! could easily have been the model for Al. We even joked that Al might have tried to hawk the collectable Woody at the San Diego Comic Convention. Actor Wayne Knight was the obvious choice to voice Big Al, and I don't think we ever considered anyone else.

 Pixar storyman Ken Mitchroney made Zurg T-Shirts for the "Toy Story 2" story crew

As usual, there were a lot of late nights. And one evening, I sat having dinner with storyman Ken Mitchroney and technical director Oren Jacob. We discussed how down everyone felt because of the lack of progress on the movie. Our co-director Ash Brannon had taken off for a much-needed vacation, and the crew was beginning to approach burn-out. While taking a break around the pool table one evening, our pal Joe Ranft ambled into the room. Now the tables were turned as I begged Joe to come help us on our film. Joe was well respected as the ace story guy at Pixar even in those early years. Having just completed "A Bug's Life," the last thing Joe wanted was to inherit the problems of another movie.

Our screenings were beginning to look more sophisticated as we incorporated Adobe After Effects into our story reels. Of course, this meant breaking down all the elements so the drawings could be scanned. Naturally, this meant even more work as our days lengthened into evenings. The appearance of a production assistant brandishing a dinner menu meant we wouldn't be going home anytime soon.

Our editors finalized another cut of the movie, and we screened it at the Disney Studios late in 1998. In recent years, I've read that our movie was a horrible disaster and had to be rescued at the last minute. I beg to differ with those assessments. I attended the last meeting with the Disney executives, and they didn't certainly feel they were viewing a lost cause. Most were enthusiastic about having made the right choice in moving "Toy Story 2" from a direct-to-video to a theatrical feature. I think some were already counting the money that this film was sure to make.

 One of the many ways we tried to get the toys into Al McWhiggen's building
Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar

However, I did have concerns about the rescue of Jessie at the climax of the airport chase. In this cut, Woody and Jessie manage to escape from the jetliner that's already airborne and float down to earth. They come to a soft landing on a stream of "foam" (shaving cream grabbed from the luggage) on the airport's runway. Kirk Hanson and I felt this was way too "Air Force One," and stretched credibility even for an animated cartoon. We wanted to keep the rescue on the ground and let Woody & Jessie escape just before the plane takes off. Thankfully, this is what happens in the finished version of the film.

During the holiday season of 1998, everyone took a much-needed break. We would return after the first of the year, hopefully reinvigorated & refreshed. However, I confess I had no idea the surprise what January of 1999 would hold for all of us. John Lasseter decided to hold an "off site" to reveal his plans for "Toy Story 2." I imagine most of you already know what that plan was. "We're starting over," said Pixar's creative chief. "We've already got a good movie. Now, we're going to make a great movie."

It was January of 1999. The same year the movie was scheduled for release. Though it was due in theaters in November, "Toy Story 2" was about to undergo its third complete story pass starting with scene one. A daunting task, to be sure. But -- with "A Bug's Life" out of the way -- Pixar Animation Studios could now throw all of its resources behind the movie. Every artist who could storyboard became a story artist. Current boards would need extensive revisions, and new ones would be have to be generated. Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter now fortified the story team, and Joe Ranft had taken over as head of story.

 Grown men playing with Barbie dolls?
Hey! We had to do our research for the Barbie gags

I remember walking the hallway of our "Frogtown" facility in the summer of 1999. It was difficult to believe, but the job was practically done. Composer Randy Newman was already recording the score for the movie down in Los Angeles. I had just taken a look at the movie's new opening where Buzz Lightyear encounters the evil emperor, Zurg. Because of the advancements in technology, the movie had taken a quantum leap forward. Considering what we had initially envisioned back in 1997, this opening sequence was totally mind blowing.

When a film is wrapped, you forget about all the pain it took to get to the finish line. You forget about the countless revisions, the shuttling back and forth on Southwest Airlines, and all the nights you drove home at three in the morning. When you see the finished film up on the screen, and hear the reaction of the theater audience, you know it's all been worth it.

Unlike most of my Pixar colleagues, I had already worked on a dozen or more animated feature films. Yet, of all the movies I've done, "Toy Story2" remains a favorite. Walt Disney often said he loved WED Enterprises (the theme park unit that he launched) because it reminded him of his studio in the thirties. "There was something new happening all the time," he gushed. Like Walt, I found that same energy & enthusiasm being expended when I arrived at Pixar Animation Studios back in 1997. Not yet corporate driven, or leaden with management, the creative staff was able to thrive.

 You never saw Evil Emperor Zurg in the first movie.
I couldn't wait to start drawing this guy

Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar

"Toy Story 2" delighted audiences in November 1999, and will continue to do so for decades. It remains -- in the opinion of many -- an animated masterpiece. The perfect blend of gee whiz technology, gifted story telling, and delightful characters.

Walt Disney would have been proud.

Did you enjoy this JHM series about "Toy Story 2" 's origins. Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many stories that Floyd Norman has to tell. Many of which you'll find in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at Norman's career in animation.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • *Applause*  Great series, Mr. Norman!  I'm glad that you had such a neat and fun experience!  "Toy Story 2" is a great movie!  Great work!

  • This is why we come to this site - what a great series!  It made me pull out the DVD and watch with my own internal audio commentary. Nice work!

  • Got my Teamzurg shirt! I've worn it on both the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin in Orlando and the Astro Blasters in Anaheim. Always gets a comment or three... A rare item. Even seen one or two for sale on eBay from time to time.

    Credit (as shown on screen) to Ken Mitchroney for his contribution to Zurg's Character Design. Lot's of fun there.

  • Ahhhh.... FloydNormanmedia.com A place to come for interesting, behind the scenes, multi-part stories, that get finished. Why does that sound familiar... like something I once knew in a previous life? ;o)

    Seriously, GREAT article Mr. Norman. Thanks for sharing your stories and I look forward to future installments!

  • Like so many "TS2" is probably my favorite CG film..along with "Monsters Inc."

    Any stories to tell about that one?

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