Not to worry, Toy Story is still around, if only in short form. With Hawaiian Vacation (opening Friday with Cars 2), comes the launch of the new Toy Story Toons brand, coinciding with Pixar's 25th anniversary. The gang of toys comes to the rescue of Ken and Barbie to save their ill-fated excursion plans. Gary Rydstrom (Lifted) tells us all about directing his second short.
Bill Desowitz: How did this come about?
Gary Rydstrom: The first idea was to make a short with the Toy Story characters, so what John Lasseter said to have the story happen after Toy Story 3, which means we got to use some of the new characters. And we realized there are lots of stories you can make with these characters. So we pitched many, many possible ideas and landed on this one. Because we wanted to give all the characters their moments, and this seemed like a good story to hang all the characters on.
BD: What were some of your wilder ideas?
GR: I shouldn't say because there's going to be more and we might want to use them. But I think shorts are a wonderful way to keep these characters alive and not ruin the fact that Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending. There's a lot these characters can do – they're like a comedy gold mine.
BD: What sparked the idea of giving Ken and Barbie their Hawaiian vacation?
GR: We were talking about with couples how it's fun to pull those surprise vacations. And John and his wife have a tradition of doing this. It sounds very romantic, too, to pick up a spouse on a surprise vacation and take care of all the planning. So in talking about Ken and Barbie with [the team] from Toy Story 3, the idea was that Barbie wears the pants in the family and to give Ken the chance to plan the perfect romantic vacation, with the added thrill that this vacation would give him his first kiss with Barbie and screw it up seemed like a good starting point.
BD: Then it's a fast and furious romp with everyone doing their part to make this happen for them.
GR: Yeah, that gave us the excuse to dress up all the characters. How do they help out with this vacation? The other thing I liked about it was the contrast of setting up this fake vacation in the middle of a bedroom in winter, and having it end in the snowy Midwest.
BD: So what was it like honing it down with this breathless pace?
GR: Well, the first challenge was figuring out how many characters you to have in a given moment.
BD: How many did you cram in here?
GR: I thjnk we had close to 15 or more speaking roles. So considering that my last short had no dialogue, I think I made up for it. All the main characters from Andy's toys and Bonnie's toys make it quite a gang -- and then we throw in Ken and Barbie. The other story element was figuring out how to get Ken and Barbie in Bonnie's room from the daycare.
BD: What new animation challenges did this offer?
GR: Well, Angus MacLane, who is the supervising animator, is one of the great Pixar animators and knows Toy Story inside and out, so it was fun to watch him work with his animation crew. He really knows how Woody and Buzz move, especially Buzz. He's a very Buzz-centric animator. So each toy does have its own way of moving. Ken was the most fun and Angus was instrumental in coming up with his cool but stiff movement. There's a shot where Ken has run and jump up to the window and watch Bonnie and her mom drive off. It was a thrill to see how far we could push it. The other thrill was we had this idea of having Buzz do a fire dance with a glow-stick. And the animator studied fire dancing for a very long time to get every nuance. It's a short gag but an animated tour de force.
BD: Plus you get to do more with Bonnie's toys.
GR: I love Pricklepants and Timothy Dalton and something tickled us about having Prickle Pants in various costumes because as a thespian you'd figure he'd dress up and be Olivier. Eric Benson, who's one of our story artists, did a drawing of Pricklepants wearing a coconut bra but using a peanut. It was perfect. I think it would make a great toy to have Prickle Pants in a peanut coconut bra. I like that image. And he also plays the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (Hawaiian State fish), so he's fun to play with. Buttercup makes a good partner for Ham but is too cool to dress up.
BD: You've obviously done sound for the Toy Story movies. What was it like to wrap yourself around all of it?
GR: It was great to work with all the actors because I'd never met Don Rickles or Wally Shawn or Tom Hanks. And it's fun that they come in and know their characters so well. I especially remember Estelle Harris, who does Mrs. Potato Head, having a deep, deep love for her character. In fact, I remember having her yell at Mr. Potato Head and she resisted because she explained she loved him too much to be cruel that way. It's nice to see such ownership of a character and she provided a backstory about how she was alone for a long time and Mr. Potato Head came into her life and her mother thought she'd never get married. But she got Mr. Potato and he's the love of her life. It was very touching.
BD: And this is the love story of Ken and Barbie.
GR: She really takes charge, but we had fun dressing him up. He looks pretty slick in all his Hawaiian outfits, but we went overboard with all of this other outfits. The diving outfit and his adventure outfit are really a bit too much. And he has more costume changes than Cher.
BD: What was most fulfilling and surprising for you?
GR: It was really fulfilling to work with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen and see first-hand what they bring to a role, especially Hanks, who we had to record quickly. For me, Rickles is really a hero and we had to sneak away twice to get some more Rickles times because we had more lines for him to record. What was surprising was that we wanted to make it a gag short, but we also wanted to give it a little story so in a way it's a condensed romantic comedy. I was surprised we could wedge that part of the story in.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.