‘Toy Story’ at 20: How Pixar gambled on computer animation and changed movie history

Twenty years ago, moviegoers witnessed the birth of a new filmmaking technique that would prove as revolutionary as sound and color: computer animation. The movie that brought it to the masses was “Toy Story.”

Produced by what was then a little-known company that operated out of modest offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Toy Story” was Pixar’s first feature film. It was also the first computer-animated film released in theaters. Rather than use hand-drawn images filmed in rapid sequence, “Toy Story” artists worked with computers. Buzz and Woody, the two main characters, were purely digital creations.

But they almost didn’t get created. Before “Toy Story” came out, Pixar was clinging to life. It was a struggling special effects company making commercials for clients such as Listerine and Life Savers.

The company had started experimenting with short films that were computer animated, including “Luxo Jr.,” which was nominated for a 1987 Academy Award, and it’s the origin for Pixar’s iconic hopping lamp. Then, the company’s “Tin Toy” won the 1989 Short Film (Animated) Academy Award. The films were, in a way, the research and development for “Toy Story.”…

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