What were you doing in March 1997? I was at Pixar Animation Studios in Northern California working on an animation feature motion picture called, “The Sequel.” At least that’s what it was called at the time. I was lucky enough to be invited to the cartoon factory in Point Richmond to be a part of a cool new enterprise. Some might think it fool hardy to leave the premiere animation studio in Burbank for a new untried studio. After all, they had only made one feature film and had a second in development. Though the first film did well, some considered it a fluke. Hardly competition for the professionals in Burbank. Back then, Walt Disney Feature Animation could do no wrong. They were the hit makers of the nineties and every time they came to bat they knocked it out of the park. If you wanted to play with the big boys of animation, Walt Disney Animation was the place to be.
Yet, this fledgling animation studio managed to do quite well with their first movie back in 1995 and it was enough to motivate me to move north. I honestly wanted to work with these guys. Was it their cutting edge technology that caught my attention? Hardly. The tools animators use never mattered that much to me. No, it was their storytelling that caught my attention. It reminded me of an old gentleman I used to work for back in the sixties. He recognized the need for appealing characters and a solid story. Remember, I said, “solid story,” not great story. The story doesn’t have to be great to make the film work. If you’re wondering how I know this, it’s because the old gentleman told me this himself. It’s rare I’m convinced I’m working on something great. More often than not, you really don’t know the outcome of a motion picture. I often tell people we work just as hard on the flops as we do on the smash hits. After all is said and done, it’s the audience that tells you whether you have a hit or a miss and most of the time we have no idea of the final outcome. Yet, this time it was different. When the producer and director pitched the story to us in the third floor story room in Burbank I immediately felt this was a motion picture I had to be a part of. I felt in my gut this movie was going to be a hit and a big one at that. All we had to do was not screw it up.
Perhaps you’ve seen the film. In time, the sequel was given a name and that name was, “Toy Story2.” The animated film was blessed with great characters and a solid story line. I’ll confess the story development process wasn’t the easiest I’ve experienced in my long career. We storyboarded the movie at least three time with many headaches and train wrecks inbetween. In the third year we were blessed with brilliant storyman, Joe Ranft and director, John Lasseter and the story moved through another complete pass. However painful and exhausting, the final result was well worth the ordeal. “Toy Story2” opened in November 1999 to rave reviews and impressive box office. Having done my job, I was ready to pack up and move back to Southern California. However, my old high school pal, Dave Doctor had a son who worked at Pixar Animation Studios. Pete Doctor would be making his feature directing debut on a film called, “Monsters, Inc.” How could I leave Pixar at a time like this? I decided to return to Pixar Animation Studios and get to know Mike Wozowsky, James P. Sullivan and see what these crazy guys were up to. However, that’s a story for another time.