When the invitation landed in my inbox to visit Pixar Animation Studios last month, I screamed with joy and replied with a crazy enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ I love Pixar. I love Disney. That email hit my inner 5-year-old and I wanted to run around screaming like Boo does in Monsters Inc, but I didn’t. I’d be getting a sneak look at the opening of Toy Story 4 (The first 17 minutes that were also shown at Cinemacon). I’d get to meet some of the team behind the feature and learn all there was to know about bringing our favorite toys back to life. I was going to Pixar.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel, we were picked up and shuttled over the Bay Bridge to Emeryville where the Pixar Studios are based. Pulling into the gates, it’s quite magical. It was like going to Disneyland for the first time, there’s creative magic in the air. This is where it all happens.
Phones were whipped out for photos with the famous Pixar lamp and ball before we got to walk into the Steve Jobs building and into the atrium. It had to be done. We weren’t tourists, we were in awe.
The first thing that catches your eye as you enter the atrium is the awards cabinet. Oscar after Oscar, Golden Globe after Golden Globe. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Coco, Toy Story, Brave, and Cars – the awards are all here.
— @jazzt (@jazzt) April 4, 2019
It’s truly inspiring to walk into the atrium and see Steve Job’s legacy. The vast open space, the feeling of collaboration between art and technology, all seen in the structure designed by architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. The steel beams lay exposed, and the brick detail is meticulous. Just from a design aspect, your jaw is on the floor. The air is filled with creativity.
The walls are now adorned with Toy Story 4 art and sketches. since the wall art changes based on their current release. After a brief reception, we head into the screening room for a look at Pixar’s latest creation.
Without spoiling plot details, we are introduced to several new characters including Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and we see the return of the much-loved Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
Here I was watching the opening minutes to Toy Story 4 at Pixar. One thing that is evident is just how much technology has changed and the detail in the animation is incredible. I felt pure joy, utter joy. My eyes lit up.
We were treated to a few more clips from the movie and that would be the end of the first day’s agenda. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to walk around the campus, explore more buildings, look at the art, take as many photos as possible and savor the memory and magic of being at Pixar.
And, with that Day One came to a close as we returned to our hotels.
Day Two started bright and early. It was back on the shuttle back to Emeryville and a full day involving all things Toy Story 4.
The morning began with Production Designer Bob Pauley and Global Technology Supervisor Bill Reeves giving us an in-depth look at the evolution of our favorite toys since Toy Story first arrived on our screens in 1995.
Supervising Technical Director Bob Moyer talked to us about the introduction of several new characters including creating Forky – Bonnie’s new toy. The key here was to have Forky look like it was created by a 6-year-old. “Even though he looks simple, his eyes needed to be believable.” Moyer said, adding, “There needed to be enough control [with character expressions] to support the acting choices.”
We were then led to another room to meet animator Claudio De Oliveira who delved deeper into the creation of Bonnie’s new “toy”. Of course, this being Pixar, we were given a chance to express our own creativity and make our own version of the Forky character. Naturally, I grabbed the glitter and created Forky Gaga.
Moyer talked about creating the dummies and the doll Gabby Gabby in the brand new location of the antique mall. After studying ventriloquist dummies, it was decided that they needed to have ill-fitting clothes. Though their faces had limited controls, the dolls still needed to express a creepy quality.
Gabby Gabby is a vintage toy who would have been made around the same time as Woody. She was given a mid-century bangs and pigtails, and the deceptive doll-like innocence of baby-fat creases.
Throughout the day, we gained a wealth of knowledge about the Pixar animation process. Since I’m obsessed with cinematography, I was thrilled that we got to hear from Toy Story 4’s cinematographer, Jean-Claude Kalache. He explained how he uses light to tell his story and positions the cameras where they want the eye to be, jest as he would in a live action film. That’s always the biggest challenge. He used the introduction of the dummies and Gabby Gabby as an example, to talk more about the importance of lighting. When we first meet Gabby Gabby, her lighting is one color, but then the spectrum shifts because her character is not quite as sweet as she first appears to be.
There was so much more to learn about the magic of Toy Story 4, as we explore the depth of creativity that went into new settings like the carnival and the antique mall. The animation in Toy Story 4 will blow you away. Leading up to the release, I’ll be sharing a few more stories and interviews from my visit to Pixar, talking to the talented creatives who re-imagined characters for 2019, and taking you behind the scenes of our favorite toys.
The day could not have been more magical, but there was one last treat. A trip to the Pixar Archives. As we walked into the archives where all the history is preserved – the notes, the sketches, the working titles for Toy Story, the concept art, the 3-D molds and statues that were used to bring all our beloved Pixar favorites to life were right in front of our eyes. Christine, the Senior Manager in archives, hosted the tour and showed us some of the art and techniques that go into an animated feature.
There’s magic and then there’s Pixar magic. I’ve loved their creations as long as I can remember. Their characters and stories. have brought me joy. I’ve laughed with Jack-Jack. I’ve wept countless times over Coco and Finding Nemo. The 36 hours I spent inside the walls of Pixar were not only inspiring – there’s an indelible mark left on your soul hearing the animators, hearing about the collaboration and hearing how it all comes together. Jobs created the Pixar space with collaboration in mind. Sitting down and talking to the individuals, the one thing that is apparent is how collaboration is key at Pixar.
A huge thank you to Pixar for making this trip possible. I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for a life-changing experience. It was a press junket unlike any other.
And then, it was back to LA…. but I couldn’t leave without my Forky Gaga. Yes, I was ready to tackle TSA if they considered Forky Gaga a weapon when it’s abundantly clear, “She’s just a toy!” (a toy with spikes on her head!)
An added bonus was meeting Brian Perry, a long-time friend of this site. It happened.
We did it!!!!! pic.twitter.com/GC5CLdsVuK
— @jazzt (@jazzt) April 4, 2019