Tin Toy, the great leap towards infinity and beyond

In 1988 Pixar released Tin Toy, a short film in which the main character is a new toy. It arrives at a new unknown home. All seems very quiet until a baby comes along and starts breaking everything. The film attempts to make the audience see things through the eyes of Tinny, the toy. So, his perspective is that the baby is a monster and breaks everything he touches. Tinny runs off and hides under the sofa, where it sees that there are other toys hiding like him. What will Tinny do? What will the baby do? Will the baby catch him? Will the toys join forces to defeat the evil baby? You’ll only find out if you watch the film.

But why was this short film so important? John Lasseter, former Pixar director and animator at Walt Disney Studios, had a clear idea of what he wanted. He wanted it to be different from Disney and he didn’t want it to be a musical. In addition, he was set on the idea of moving away from the company’s more traditional style, and he didn’t want to repeat the stereotype of the goodie and the baddie, so frequently adopted by Hollywood in its films. Thus, the Pixar team began to think up a new story that would be different. And they started thinking about toys. It was a resource that still hadn’t been used in the world of cinema and it provided lots of scope.

Tin Toy was the first character to mark a before and after in the world of 3D animation. It was the first character with flexible and realistic arms and knees. They used surfaces to add volume to the character and also used digitally-animated facial controllers. Even so, it was quite a challenge for Pixar to make the character caricaturesque in comparison with the baby appearing in the film. Despite the technology at that time, an attempt was made to give the child a realistic appearance compared to Tinny, the toy. All Pixar’s efforts were worthwhile, as they won the Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Film.

 Furthermore, this gave them a great excuse to explore the idea of ​Tin Toy and make Toy Story, in which it was suggested that, once children leave the house, toys come to life. They were able to apply everything they’d learnt from the short film to Toy Story. This was very important, because it was released in 1995 as the first film made entirely with 3D animation. And it was the most successful one in terms of box office takings. It has been so successful that they’re currently putting the finishing touches to the latest film, Toy Story 4. Both in the short film and in Toy Story they adopt the strategy of making the characters “asleep or lifeless” when they’re with the children and when they’re alone their personalities come to life. To do this, they make them open their eyes with a totally hieratic or lifeless gaze.

Moreover, Pixar has always used elements from its short films and characters and included them in its films. The endearing rosy-cheeked character also appears in Toy Story 2. While the toys are zappingthrough the TV channels, we can see the cameo performed by Tin Toy. Having said all this, 31 years is a long time, technologically speaking. There have been lots of changes in the technology they used back then and that of the present day. At Disney Studios they’re currently working on reducing the number of working hours by applying virtual reality to the animation. Physiques can be applied and the character can be articulated like a toy, making the work much easier. Coordinates were previously used to animate characters, but now the process is much more intuitive and accessible to everyone. The most popular animation program is Autodesk Maya, which provides tools such as drawing on top of the animation to correct poses and creating buttons to facilitate the animators’ work. This tool is also used by our students at ENTI-UB.

There’s no doubt that Pixar marked a before and after in terms of technology, but it also inspired lots of boys and girls, arousing their more creative side as they watched Toy Story.

Elisabet Fonts, professor of 3D Animation for Virtual Actors at ENTI-UB