Twenty-five years ago, Pixar released “Toy Story” (1995), the first completely computer-animated movie where Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, Rex, Mr. Potato Head, and the rest of the toys came to life in Andy’s bedroom.
Despite being computer-animated, the filmmakers still utilized classic animation techniques by using a quick sequence of still images to appear as continuous movement. The only difference is that “Toy Story” accomplished this result by combining a traditional form of filmmaking with the latest technology at the time.
However, there’s another story about how the beloved cast of toys was animated in a whole new way. In the mid-2000s, the Pixar crew built a giant zoetrope featuring characters from the film. They began by mounting 214 maquettes—each posed in a sequence—on a turntable, and the cumulative effect is magical.
As the table turns and strobe lights flash, the characters come to life. Woody and Bullseye buck past in one direction; Buzz rolls by on a Luxo ball in the other; Jesse the cowgirl from “Toy Story 2” dances inside a lasso; and green army men parachute from the sky as the Little Green Men wave.
The Toy Story 3D Zoetrope isn’t the first of such devices; the first appeared in 1887 when a French scientist animated a series of plaster models of birds in flight. For the “Toy Story” version, each of the 32 maquettes was created using a 3D printer, which converted the films’ visual data into a blueprint for the pose.
The Toy Story 3D Zoetrope was on display for many years at Disney’s California Adventure Park but recently arrived at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where it will be on display when the museum opens in 2021.
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