Toy Story 2 Is Not Your Typical Hollywood Sequel
When it comes to advice for people interested in becoming animators Ash Brannon says, "Draw, watch old films, great new ones, and learn as much as you can about the process. Learn to draw, even if you are doing computer animation. The skills you learn by animating by hand are indispensable. Even though you don't have to draw on the computer, you still have to come up with great poses, silhouettes and expressions. It helps so much. If you work with clay instead of drawing, it's not going to hold you back as all the principals are the same -- timing, squash and stretch and so on. You need to learn the classic principles."
Lee Unkrich states, "We are living in a world that is changing rapidly. If somebody wants to eventually become a director in computer animation, I would say that you need to have a more fully rounded film education than just a traditional animation background. That is obviously a vital skill to have, but any animator who wants to direct would be well served to study editing, cinematography, and live-action directing."
I also had the opportunity to talk briefly with Karen Robert Jackson and Helene Plotkin, the film's producers. They worked on the film for over three years, so I asked about their role with the production. Plotkin explains, "We wind up doing a lot of things live-action producers do like dealing with executives, publicity, talent, lawyers, contracts, budgets, schedules and things like that. We hire the crew. We oversee all the managers, coordinators, and the creative leads. We make sure each of the departments runs smoothly and efficiently so we can make the best film possible.
"In animation we are concerned with the cast, sets, props and lighting, but they are built within the computer. You have to make sure everything is built on time, you have to have the talent in place, and you need to know in advance what the characters will look and feel like."
Jackson explains, "A large part of our job [now] is to make sure people are as excited about this film as we are. We have worked so long and hard on this and we believe it is a wonderful film. We want to make sure people see it.
"We have created a film that is true to the original in terms of bringing great characters to the screen, having great relationships between characters, and a great message. It's wonderful entertainment for kid and adults...it's a great story...it's a big production...it's a great film!"
Disney As A Partner
Lee Unkrich declares, "We have a great partnership with Disney, especially with Tom Schumacher who is head of Feature Animation. We regularly show them story reels and animation. They don't interfere, but if they see a problem they will point it out. Usually they are right and we will fix it. The best thing about our relationship with them is that they are a neutral third party. They will look at the things we are doing and point out to us the things that are not working as well as they could. We go away and hopefully come up with great solutions to the problems."
The two producers explain they work closely with Disney. While Pixar was developing images to be used in marketing the feature, Disney was creating the copy. Pixar approves everything that Disney does to promote their films. Plotkin enthuses, "They are terrific partners, very supportive."
Unkrich says, "I think the thing that all three of us [Lasseter, Brannon and Unkrich] can say we are the most proud of is staying true to the heart of the first movie and the first characters. John likes to say the world of Toy Story is like a great sitcom like Cheers or Mary Tyler Moore. It's really true because when we sat down to write the sequel a lot of things really wrote themselves. The characters are so fun and dear to our hearts that dialogue practically spills out of their mouths without us really working very hard on it. We are all very proud that it is really a natural extension of the first film, yet at the same time it doesn't feel like we are rehashing anything from the first film."
When asked about the future he muses, "It's likely that John and I will work together again. I love working with John. I feel I'm working with the Walt Disney of our times."
Karl Cohen is President of ASIFA-San Francisco. His first book, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, is published by McFarland Publishers. He also teaches animation history at San Francisco State University.
Disney As A Partner