A Dreamer Walking

Toy Story 3 – Film Study – Color and Lighting

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 25, 2014
Toy Story 3 #1

Many call it the last great Pixar movie. I personally think Toy Story 3 is a fantastic completion of a wonderful trilogy. And, though you could make an argument Toy Story 3 is a little repetitive and less original then the first two movies, I think the film stands out as the most visually bold film of the trilogy. Simply put, Pixar was running on all cylinders when they made this film. From the refined Pixar storytelling skills to the huge advancements in technology Toy Story 3 was able to expand its universe while keeping a firm grasp on what made the first two films so loved by the first generation of Toy Story fans.

Let’s talk about the color pallet used to tell the story of Toy Story 3. Toy Story has had a  distinct pallet from the beginning. The colors are usually extremely saturated and there are few scenes where you see the whole gambit of the color wheel. Instead, each scene usually consists of one to three key colors to establish an atmosphere. The goal isn’t to be subtle with the colors, but rather use color to drive the emotional arc of the movie. With Toy Story 3 the brilliant art director Dice Tsutsumi took the helms of this beloved franchise and gave us a pallet of colors unmatched in animation. He was in charge of creating the color script for the movie, which consists of dozens of impressionistic paintings plotting out the general emotional arc of the movie through the use of color and lighting (check out part of his color script here). Dice Tsutsumi said, “The color script sets the tone of the film: how color and atmosphere and lighting will carry the story and the characters throughout the film”. The color script is started towards the very beginning of pre-production and isn’t finished until lighting for the movie is finalized. I believe Toy Story 3 is the best example I have ever seen of the emotional impact color and lighting has on a film. The actual images you will see here comes from the final film. The director of photography for Toy Story 3 was Kim White and she and her team were responsible for bringing Dice’s paintings to life. Animation is the ultimate collaborative medium. The tragedy, most of the artists go unnoticed. So, though I will mostly reference Dice Tsutsumi and Kim White in this post the results you see are made possible by the countless artists making up the Toy Story 3 team. I am using eleven images from the film. As Dice said in an interview, “One of the things Ralph (the original Toy Story art director) said was to pick ten or fifteen key moments and see if you can describe the color flow of the movie with just those images”. This is my attempt.

Toy Story 3 #3

Most will recognize this shot from the intro of the film. As you can see there is a complementary color scheme at work here, blue and deep orange/brown. Not only does this really make things stick out, it establishes Woody and his owner Andy’s relationship. Andy has always been represented with blue in the Toy Story movies. Woody is a cowboy dressed in a warm color pallet. This terrain is a natural fit for his character. He also has blue jeans which connects him visually to Andy.

The shot here comes from a high stakes adventure taking place in Andy’s imagination. There is a tremendous amount of open space. The creators want to create a world here where you believe anything is possible (I mean COME ON!!! There is a huge FLYING PIG SHIP taking up a chunk of the screen!). We are at the height of Andy and Woody’s relationship reflected vividly through the deep saturated blues and oranges. Throughout the film you see Art Director Dice Tsutsumi save deep colors for solid emotional connections.

Toy Story 3 #5

This is defiantly Andy’s room, reflected by the overwhelming amounts of blue in the image. The moment takes place after Andy has grown up and is about to go to college. The colors are less rich then the last frame and Woody doesn’t seem to belong as much. Woody and the rest of the toys’ marginalization is seen in specific and broad strokes. The Buzz Lightyear poster is mostly covered up in the corner. Woody is the only toy in sight. And, the stars representing Andy’s childhood are almost completely covered by posters and other “grown up stuff”. One other thing I want to point out in this image is the outside colors. The bright more saturated green colors you see from the outside actually look much more inviting than anything we see inside. This green actually represents someone we will meet later on in the film.

Toy Story 3 #9

Wow look at the difference here. This looks like a place where toys belong. Here is the first of several images I will post of the Nursery, where most of the movie takes place. The next few images will express just how much control the Pixar artist have over the power of lighting and creating atmosphere for a scene. Andy’s toys left Andy’s house and found themselves here in Sunnyside Daycare. This is the first time the toys are introduced to this nursery where in just a few minutes kids will come and play with them. Andy’s toys are excited because this will be the first time in years they are played with.

You can’t get much more inviting than this. It’s clear the artists want to create an attractive environment for audience as well as  the toys. Look at the designs of the objects you see in frame. I guarantee you the nice comfy chair and beanbag were strategically placed to help soften the imagery. Round designs are always more inviting than designs with sharp angles. We also see Director of Photography Kim White use soft lights to create an inviting environment. There are no harsh shadows and the nursery almost seems to glow. An analogous color scheme is at work here, ranging from light red to light green. There are no deep colors either, which I see as the creators saying, “Though this is an inviting environment it has little depth”. Unlike with Andy there are no owners in a nursery. As inviting as this might be within minutes the nursery seems to be transformed into a completely different environment.

Toy Story 3 #12

Yes this is the very same place you saw in the last frame. Look, you can see the nice soft chair and beanbag at the top of the frame. However, they don’t look as inviting now for some reason. This moment in the film takes place after the toys have been brutally played with by toddlers who Andy’s toys quickly realize are not old enough to handle them properly. The environment goes from a paradise to a foreign wasteland.

The feeling of uneasiness is only enhanced by the extreme angle director Lee Unkrich’s uses. He places the camera so it looks directly down at the setting. We are not used to seeing images from this kind of position and it helps to established the discomfort of the situation. The toys are meant to look pathetic from way up here; as if the environment has completely overpowered them. Also, check out the lighting. There are no more soft lights in this image. Harsh shadows stream across the frame making for a much more menacing composition. And finally, we get to the color. The shades of red do more than anything in terms of changing the environment to an uninviting place. Red has always been used to represent danger and destruction. This red is providing a small taste of the intensity we will experience at the end of the film.

Toy Story 3 #15

The nursery has gone from an unfriendly environment to an out-and-out prison. This shot is from the same environment as the last two yet looks like a completely different location. This is an example of the power animation has to push lighting to extremes in order to enhance the emotional impact of a scene. The character Andy’s toys once thought was good, Lotso, has shown his true colors and locked Woody’s gang up. Look at the light source here. The shadows are well defined and most of the color is actually sucked out of the picture. There are few round objects in sight and the picture is framed from a straight on angle which helps create a formal mood. It’s as if all the humanity has been sucked out of the Toy Story world and all we have left is an evil pink teddy bear who is determined to stay on top. So where is our hero? Where is WOODY?!

Toy Story 3 #11

There he is! Woody was picked up by a girl from the nursery named Bonnie. Just like the original nursery image, this feels like a inviting environment. Again Kim White uses soft lights to take away the shadows. Here we see a pretty broad analogous color scheme at work with a good amount of green. Wait, didn’t I talk about the color green before? That’s right! This is the character I was talking about earlier. Throughout the movie Bonnie is represented by the color green and her room reflects this. However, Woody can’t stay in a wonderful place like this when his friends are stuck in a daycare prison. He returns to the daycare and helps break Andy’s toys out of Sunnyside. The problem is he doesn’t find himself in any better of a place.

Toy Story 3 #20

Well shoot! This takes place toward the climax of the film and art director Dice Tsutsumi begins to use monochromatic color schemes. Doing this he is able to overwhelm the image with a singular mood. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys find themselves at the dump and director Lee Unkrich pushes the imagery to the max in this sequence. The lights shoot directly into the face of the audience. Unlike in Sunnyside we no longer have the claustrophobic feel of a prison, rather we get a wide angle shot of trash as far as the eye can see. It’s a different kind of hell we find ourselves in. The yellow green gives the environment a sickly look and we are deeply worried for Woody and the rest of the toy’s well-being.

Toy Story 3 #22

Well, things haven’t seemed to get any better. Woody and the rest of the gang are looking into an inferno and there seems to be no way of escape. The screen is completely devoured by red. In fact, the red light source is so strong it has seemingly changed the toys colors to shads of red. This shot represents the most dyer situation in the movie. Director Unkrich doesn’t want anything to get in the way of our connection with the toys here. He uses a shallow focus and makes sure there are no distractions in the background. There is only one light source in this shot and it is completely overpowering. The creators want us to think this might be it for the toys. The sequence is sort of a rebirth for Woody and the rest of the toys. In this moment all of them embrace each other and are ready for the next chapter in their lives.

Toy Story 3 #24

Lets just thank the gods the next chapter wasn’t incineration. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys survive and are taken by Andy to Bonnie’s house. Here we see Andy giving Bonnie his toys. Andy is in his classic blue clothing and the rest of the frame is consumed by Bonnie’s green. We can see the storytellers are embracing Bonnie here by using deep green colors. We see just as vivid of greens as we did blue at the beginning of the movie. The visuals are supporting the idea of the passing of the torch. Andy’s story is done but we have new adventures to look forward to with Bonnie. This is beautiful imagery. It almost feels as if we have been transported into a wonderful memory. For the last time Andy plays with his toys before he leaving. His blue fits wonderfully with Bonnie’s green.

Toy Story 3 #26

The movie ends with this shot. I think it is a wonderful salute to Andy’s story. A blue sky filled with clouds is what the very first Toy Story movie. Using the image for his story’s end is only fitting.

Toy Story 3- Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 16, 2010

Review on most of the Toy Story 3 Extra Features I have watched so far. I give them a grade between 1 and 10. The grade is based on how well the videos, podcasts, and documentaries present their information, and what I think of the information they present. I will bold curtain words that I think represent what the videos are about. This is not supposed to be extremely organized, but I do hope you find it useful and have at least an idea of what kind of stuff you are getting into when you purchase these movies or look at these links. if you have any questions or critiques please comment below.

Toy Story 3:

Two Disc Blu-Ray Review:

Cinama Explore/ Commentary: Lee Unkrich and Darla Anderson: 7.5 out of 10: I can tell that Lee was very passionate when making the film and that the movie came from his true vision. I also found some good info on particular scenes and to whether they were easy or hard to do. One of the problems is that Lee tries to pack everything into the commentary, so he does not give enough time (in my opinion) on any given subject. I would have liked to have more insight into his directing process and hear why he did what he did when it came to writing, story boarding, animating, lighting, and more importantly editing (sense that was his upbringing in film) a shot. However, that said the commentary is very informational. Darla talks very little but you also get the feeling she was deep into the passion that made Toy Story 3 what it is. I think the highlights is a more overall idea on the animation process, leaning toward story if anything.

A Western Opening: Story Process: 8 out of 10: This was a 7 minute documentary on how the very opening of Toy Story 3 became what it is in the film. It deals entirely on how they developed the story through out the years. It was surprising how different it started out being, from the end product. You also get some great insight into how they made it a core part of the story as a whole.

Bonnie’s Playtime: Story Roundtable: 9 out of 10: This is a great 6 minute conversation with Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz (story artist), Adrian Molina (story artist), Erik Benson (story artist), and Matt Luhn (story artist), on how they went about figuring out Bonnie as a character and how they figured out how to introduce her to the audience so we immediately love her without knowing the toys are going to be donated to her. This is completely about story and character development. I love some of the conversation that goes on. You get some real insight to how many people it took to crack the character of Bonnie. We get many people’s different points of view, all of them seem to have been interested in one thing and that is making a character as strong as Andy. They go into detail about how they tried to connect Bonnie’s room too Andy’s room, while still making both characters unique. You also get a good look at why they chose the toys they chose for Bonnie. Some GREAT stuff.

Beginnings: Setting The Story in Motion: 10 out of 10: This is PRICELESS!!! A 8 minute clinic on starting a screenplay. It is narrated by Michael Arndt, and gives us a fantastic look at fundamental things to look for if you are having a hard time working a story out. He explains how if you are having a hard time writing a story, the problem almost always has its roots in the beginning of the story. Michael goes through 3 Pixar movies, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and tells us how exactly they are set up to allow the 2nd and 3rd act to really flow. This is a fundamental documentary for anyone interested in screenwriting. The great thing is that Michael even says that the rules he explains are NOT  law, they are just good things to look at if you are having problems.

Life of a Shot: 8 out of 10: A 7 minute look at what went into the huge western opening in Toy Story 3. We saw a little of everything, character animation, effects animation, camera positioning, storyboarding, prop design, color scripting, lighting, and music. For a brief introductory look at what goes into making animation work, watch this feature.

Paths To Pixar: Editorial: 9 out of 10: This is more about advice then how these editors made it to Pixar. It is only 4 minutes and 40 seconds, but has a lot of different views on what goes into good film editing. They explain some of the difference between live action editing and animation editing. I like how they really captured several peoples views on the subject and it seemed to keep on driving forward. You clearly see a beginning middle and end to this documentary.

Toy Story 3: The Gang’s All Here: 8 out of 10: This is a interesting 8 minute look at all the voice actors for the film. ALL these Toy Story 3 extra features are so very well made. It is just fun to hear some of Tom Hank’s ideas on what Toy Story means to him. It is cool to see how so many voice actors are excited about Pixar and how they feel they are becoming imortal when they contribute their voices to one of their films. Also a little insight on Lee Unkrich, and his thoughts on directing the third movie.

Goodbye Andy: 9 out of 10: I dare someone to watch this short documentary and say that the film was not “driven” by Lee Unkrich. Lee, I think, is the most personal in this documentary, explaining what he put into the ending of the film and how important it was to him to complete the Toy Story trilogy. We get some great insight on how the ending of the film was developed from the very first retreat John Lasseter and his core filmmakers had when they started the Toy Story 3 project. They talk a lot about what they needed to do to make the story just right. Lee explains what he thought his job was as the Director.

Commentary: Bobby Podesta, Jason Katz, Mike Venturini, Bob Pauley, and Guido Quaron: 8 out of 10: A good commentary. We get to hear about some of the passion that went into making the film. We also hear about many of the obstacles. They talk about the daunting task of working on characters that are considered legends in the animation world. We also see why Pixar is the best animation studio at the moment. It is all about detail and these guys are addicted to making sure every last detail is covered, so that could create the best film imaginable. They all put 110% into all they do. I do think they were a little too interested in talking about fellow artists contributions,  that their own personal journey became a side note on the commentary. I really wanted to hear a little more from Jason Katz, the story supervisor of the film. But a good overall commentary and there was some of that detail and insight given just not as much as I thought they could have given. The main concentration of the commentary is on story and animation. But, there is also a fair amount of talk about how color schemes and set designs pushed the story forward. Pixar is extremely oriented to story, so everything rounded back to that with the commentators.

Overall a very well made Blu ray pack, full of extra features that give you great insight towards story development and the Pixar process. Even though some of their extra feature documentaries are short, they are PACKED with useful information. They get strait to the point in each oneof their documentaries and I like that.

Internet Toy Story 3 material:

The Sound of America: Lee Unkrich Interview: 7 out of 10: A good 30 minute interview talking about many of the themes of the Toy Story trilogy and how and why they appeal to us as an audience.

Creative Screenwriting Magazin Podcast: Michael Arndt Toy Story 3: 9.5 out of 10: Another Priceless interview of screenwriter Michael Arndt. This is Michael talking for an 1 hour and 15 minutes about how he got started as a screenwriter and what he thinks it takes to be a screenwriter. He talks about his philosophy on screenwriting and what he learned going to Pixar. He goes into detail about curtain elements of writing Toy Story 3 and how it is a tremendously collaborative process. He talks about the roots of Pixar philosophy for filmmaking. He explains some the contributions that people like Brad Bird, John Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton, brought to Toy Story 3. I loved all of it. I especially liked when Michael was talking about getting started and what he thinks screenwriting is all about.

Michael Arndt on Creative Screenwriting Podcast!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 13, 2010

I love listening to the many of the interviews on the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. They give you a lot of great tips on how to go about writing a screenplay and just some good insight on film making in general. I really think you should check out THIS podcast of Michael Arndt speaking about his past Toy Story 3 experience. He seems like a very passionate artist who is devoted to creating great stories. The personal story Michael shares on this podcast episode about how he went about becoming a screenwriter is very insightful. Some of his advice I feel is priceless and it is great to see how he learned through out the story making process for Toy Story 3.  I think he has some good things to say about the Pixar studio. It is encouraging to see at least one person in the film industry who thinks there is a studio out there that is driven by the director’s vision. Enjoy the link!

UPDATE: At the moment it seems that the podcast has been taken off line. I will keep the link up just in case it comes back on line some time. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Film Mediums: CG Animation!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 3, 2010

Computer Graphics (CG) animation is a limitless medium for film making. I think CG animation relies more on teamwork then any other medium of film. There are two very different aspects to CG animation, there is the artistic side of and the mathematical side. Great CG animation is the result of the artistic and mathematical sides working together for the purpose of the story.

With CG animation you have more freedom to use lighting, camera, texture, and effects to enhance the story. The more the technology of CG animation develops the more freedom you have to tell the story you want to tell. John Lasseter (president of Disney and Pixar animation) said it this way when talking about CG animation, “The art challenges technology and the technology inspires the art”. With a good CG animation studio every project is a opportunity to do more sophisticated and detailed animation.

It is usually the simple things that cause the most problems in CG animation. For instance, a character touching another character is very difficult. Trying to render long hair poses problems, making something look transparent often creates many difficulties,  and creating realistic clothing that interacts with the body and the world around it creates many problem that all take many highly trained people working hundreds of hours to fix.

Unlike a 2D animator, a CG animator starts with something on the screen.  The model has been created and the controls set by the time it gets to the animator. Every small detail can be controlled by the animator, you often have hundreds of individual controls for the face of a character alone. Before a animator starts on a character it is like a empty shell, lifeless with  nothing expressing who the character is except for the basic outside look (as you can see on the left with the character Mike from Pixar’s  Monsters Inc).

It is the animator who breaths life into the model. The principles of animating in 2D very much apply in CG animation. You have to have a thorough understanding of anatomy and acting. Pacing, overlapping, and squash and stretch are all principles that are shared between 2D and CG animation.

CG animation can lone itself to subtle action better then traditional 2D animation. You are able to read little things like the movement of the eyes and see how it expresses the characters feelings. With CG animation you have a better ability to create texture so we can tell the difference between something like leather and silk. 2D animation tries to simplify things to their basic shapes, the animator needs to be able to express his or her character through only a few lines and colors. CG animation is not limited like 2D animation, it is allowed to be as detailed as it wants. However, in animated films of all kind you often see that things have been simplified. The artists want you to pay attention to the important parts and they are allowed to throw away the unneeded detail.

It takes many people to finish just one shot in CG animation. You certainly need to have a combination of talent who are able to work well with each other. It all starts with the story and group of artist who create a storyboard showing the key points of the scene. Then there are the people who create the model, the people who create the background, the animator, the lighting artist, the people who are in charge of the cloths on the character, the people who write a program for the elements like water and dust, the shading artist, the editor, and then there is the director who has the vision of the whole film.  The director needs make sure everything blends into and works with each other so it looks like one artist created the whole story.

Click image to see step process

The picture of Carl from Pixar’s Up, is a great example of just a few of the things that go into making one frame of animation come to life. CG animation truly is the combination of math and art creating life on screen. Creating a program that simulates a simple thing like water is a very difficult task that has taken hundreds talented of workers many years to perfect.

There is so much that we can do in CG animation that was considered impossible just a few years ago. If you look at Pixar’s Toy Story franchise you will find that the original Toy Story (1995)  is extremely primitive compared to Toy Story 3 (2010) technology wise. The extent of detail that can go into lighting and movement  is so much greater then 1995 when the first Toy Story movie was made. However, what makes CG animation great is the thing that makes both of the other mediums great. You need to have a story worth telling.

With CG animation you need to have a good story in order to make a good movie. There are stories that very much lends themselves to CG animation. A good example would be Pixar’s UP which was about a old man who chose to go on a grand adventure by tying thousands of balloons to his house and flying away.  In a live action film a audience would most likely not buy into the idea of a house flying away on balloons. With 2D animation you would not be able to create as believable of imagery through texture, lighting, and the ability to move the camera. UP was a story that seemed perfect for CG animation. You were allowed the freedom to let go of what was reality and buy into the feeling of reality. UP created it’s own laws and stayed true to them, we were introduced to characters that registered with us and felt real.


We see artists trying to walk a fine line between the imagination and reality in CG animation. Most CG animated movies are not created for the purpose of making things look completely realistic, they want to create the feeling of reality. Russell from Pixar’s UP is a very good example of getting away from reality to create a more relatable character. On the left you can see that Russell’s basic shape is a oval. He has very rounded features. The  creators were going for a open and pleasing look. There is almost no neck on Russell, the length of Russell’s legs are completely unrealistic. But again, that is not what they were going for. The filmmakers tried to represent who Russell was on the inside through his outward appearance. Unlike Russell’s friend Carl, Russell is a much more open person who is curious (as you could see based on his shape and all the different things he takes with him) and interested in adventure (based on his expression and the kinds of things he has with him).

With CG animation every detail can be used to enhance the story. The filmmakers need to know the principles of both 2D animation and live action. It takes a animator working hundreds of hours moving thousands of controls to create just a few seconds of life. Anything is possible when it comes to how to use the camera, the director needs to have a thorough understanding on camera placement and what framing and movement creates the best effect. You are allowed to exaggerate shapes like you can do in 2D animation and you are allowed to work with sophisticated cinematography like only live action used to be able to do. The CG medium calls for constant advancement in technology, more things are becoming possible every day.

My ambition for CG animation is to create stories that push the medium forward. But, even more important then that, I want to make films that touch on core human values. Even though Toy Story 3 highlights the extent of how much CG animation has grown from the first two Toy Story’s, it is the story that will make a movie timeless. Technology will always be advancing but we all have our own individual stories to tell. The original Toy Story is still very entertaining to watch 15 years after it was created because the characters and story hit on core values that have stayed with human nature for hundreds of years, such as the value of friendship.

I look forward working with the possibilities CG animation brings us.  Buzz Lightyear, from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, has a interesting saying that I think applies very well to the medium of CG animation.  With CG animation we can go “To Infinity and beyond”.

(With CG animation the key is still about the feelings the audience has for the characters and story. In the beginning of this clip Doug Sweetland expresses this point excellently)

(Here are the links to the rest of the posts for this series, Film Mediums, 2D Animation, and Live Action)