In March 2021, Action On The Side ran a virtual Work Experience for Level 3 Media students. This article has been written as part of that, by Ross E.
This video starts off with talking about how Pixar never neglects any form of detail - for example, Woody’s hat has scratches on it due to age, and Forky’s eyes have glitter glue around them. They even animate tiny tiny things, such as pilling on Bo Peep’s clothes, Buzz’s stick peeling, and the dust in the Antique Store! Pixar put a lot of effort into their film and think about every single angle, which is one of the reasons why they are so successful.
(I watched this video and made notes on it)
Pixar - The Beginning Rough Cut
For all Pixar films, story comes first. While the writers draft the script, story artists work alongside them, making preliminary sketches for each scene in the film. The sketches, known as the Storyboard, give the Pixar team an idea of how the scene will go down.
Editors then cut the Storyboards together into an Animatic (or Story Reel) which is basically a long, detailed flipbook that reflects the pace of each sequence. The Story Reel is animated with rudimentary sound effects, a scratch soundtrack and temporary dialogue that has been pre-recorded by Pixar employees. It serves as a rough draft for the movie, allowing the filmmakers to get an idea of how the story will unfold and hone the sequences before having them animated.
Once the storyline is set, the Art Department and the Production Designers get together to create Concept Art for the Characters and their Environments.
Pixar - Environments and Characters
Meanwhile, Character Artists lay out how each toy in the film will look. This is known as Character Design. For Toy Story 4, a lot of research was needed into the toys themselves - how they are made, how they age and everything in between. The Character Team found their perfect villain on visits to Antique Shops, where they’d often spot vintage dolls lurking in corners.
For example, Gabby Gabby, the main villain of the film, is designed to look as toy-like as possible, even to the point where you might get creeped out by her.
However, when it comes to Ducky and Bunny, they are animated with fur and in a warm and friendly way. Their loud, bright colours and cheap looking friendly plush and sheen finish were designed to look like the sort of toy you’d win at a carnival game. Not the best quality but lovable nonetheless.
The Character Artists also decide on Wardrobe - normally they would steer clear of changing the signature outfit of the biggest stars, such as Woody and Buzz, but they changed Bo Peep’s outfit even though she’s one of the main characters. They did this as they wanted to update her look to reflect her resourcefulness and sense of adventure. Aspects of her character that weren’t really explored in other Toy Story films. So they came up with a convertible costume that allowed Bo to repurpose her outfit on the fly, even turning her dress into a bag or cape if needed.
Another key step in the development of the film is the Colour Scripts. These digital illustrations that look like impressionist paintings depict a single frame in the movie, helping filmmakers start to define the style, lighting scheme and general mood of each shot, and figure out how the colours in each scene will relate to the overall storyline.
Pixar - Starting the Animation
All of the illustrations provide a reference material to the next stage of computer modeling, when the toys and their environments begin to take form in 3D dimensional shapes.
Modelling Artists take the basic shapes of the characters, sets and props and mold them into a 3D mesh, then sculpt and refine these builds until they are satisfied.
In constructing the sets, scale was a chief concern, as the artists wanted to accurately show how diminutive the toys were in their surroundings. To nail down that contrast, they photographed models of the toys by different real-life places, interacting with objects in the real world, using those photos for reference!
Pixar - Further Character Modelling
Characters get “Rigged” with a movable skeleton, which has controls placed around their face, its joints and the rest of the body, like a really advanced digital puppet, making them able to manipulate the characters in precise roles and movement. This makes them act and emote in the way they want them to act.
However, neither the characters or the sets have any surface characteristics, making everything fall flat. This is where surfacing and shading comes in.
Pixar - Surfacing and Shading
Shading Artists’ job is to furnish the 3D models with the kind of textures, finishes and tints they’d have in real life, causing real life charm. Some of this work is done by using Shaders, computer programs that know how to simulate a range of materials, from plastic to fabric, metal to wood.
Clever software provided to be useful for the 10,000 items that filled the Antique Shop, as they were able to shade and animate the items in the film based on three ideas - Fairly New, Moderately Aged and Extremely Aged, which allowed them to focus on the tiny details Pixar loves to add.
Pixar - Layout
Ok wow readers, we have a lot of headings for today’s article -
The characters in the film are set up in front of a virtual camera. Layout Artists, in an animated movie, function similarity to how a camera team would in any live-action movie. Guided by the storyboards, they place the characters appearing in a scene into the appropriate set, organize them in front of the camera and block out their basic camera angles in front of the camera.
The sets might not be completely dressed yet, so more props may be allowed later on. Layout helps Set Dressers decide the best placement of every object seen in the house. Once the scenes have been staged, the animators begin animating the toys.
Pixar - Voice Acting
Now it comes down to the fun bit, the voice acting. The Voice Actors will go in the recording booth and act and voice act as if they were in a normal conversation or everyday life, all while being filmed. They are filmed so that the animators can look back on their faces and see their facial expressions, so they can add that to their respective characters.
Pixar - Animating
Every day, the Animation Department comes together to analyze the seconds of film they’ve just made, talking about the shots and how they can make them even better, even more detailed. It could take them 8 weeks or more to animate a single shot.
The Simulation Team uses computer programmes to lay down the movement of other elements, like fur, weather or clothing. Pixar builds and uses physics-based simulations that govern how the textures should move on screen. The Sim team balances Math and Physics against artistic considerations.
The Lighting was also a massive factor. When Bonnie is in her school, it is at first scary and this is shown by the darkness, but when she creates Forky, the light is shining down on him in almost a heavenly way, as if to show new life. The carnival lighting shows the bright lights, creating a sense of chaos and excitement.
After all of this, rendering gets underway. That probably would take weeks knowing a film the size of Toy Story 4 - but this is when all of the digital data that makes up the motion picture gets translated into actual frames of film. 24 of them for each second of the movie.
Then, it’s up to the Effects Artist to perfect the amount of dust and atmosphere in each image. This depends on the setting however, as the Antique Shop will have a lot of dust in but the carnival won’t. Shading, lighting and effects are all important in this section.
They also gave the air around the Toys a richer texture, to highlight them from the other toys.
After the final frames are rendered, the film is scored and sound mixed. And then, the film is finally ready for viewing. Once again, Pixar makes a fantastic and absolutely deserved masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations.