The Evolution of Toy Story’s Animation

By Lily Copper
Professional Writing Major, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Toy Story

Toy Story is a beloved movie for many people. It has been a part of our childhood and quoted many times. For the ones who haven’t gotten the chance to see the movie, it is about a cowboy doll named Woody who belongs to a boy named Andy. He is one of Andy’s favorite toys, but when he gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure, Woody feels threatened and doesn’t like how arrogant Buzz is. When Andy and his family move to a new house, Woody and Buzz have to team up to escape the evil neighbor boy Sid who has kidnapped them and get back to Andy.

Just this summer, Pixar came out with the fourth and final Toy Story, making it over two decades since the first one. Watching through each movie, you can see how far animation has come and how far the franchise has come since first the first release, inspiring future animators and digital design students.

Toy Story

The first Toy Story came out in 1995 and was the first film for Pixar to make. This movie had a lot riding on it since it would either raise Pixar to the top of the charts or let them fade on the edges. With it being Pixar’s very first film, they needed to make it big. Pixar had made a short film in 1988 called “Tin Toy,” so the company decided to go off from that and tell a story from a toy’s perspective.

It took a while for the story to come together considering they were working on a major film and not a five-minute short. People couldn’t agree where they wanted it to go and Disney wanted the story to push boundaries, but stay within a limited budget.

The results were astounding for the budget they were handed with and animators were able to truly show their talents. 27 animators worked day and night to bring Buzz and Woody to life and 400 computer models were used to work on the picture. According to Cinema Blend, “Models were made and then articulation and motion controls were coded. This allowed the animators to make the characters move in a variety of different ways, from talking to jumping. From there, every shot was passed on to eight separate divisions.”

To make the animation more “natural-looking” to the viewers, the animators stuck to the limits of live-action animation. The characters and locations would be set and then an animator would compile the scenes and add the details. Lighting, shading, visual effects and other key details polished the movie and brought it to life. Overall it took about 300 computers to make the beloved movie and clearly paid off in the long run.

Toy Story 4

Fast forward a few decades to 2019 and the first Toy Story is still impressive for what they accomplished at the time. Though it looks a little dated, the detail made to the animation is top of the art.

With its fourth movie in the franchise, the budget was not so restricted. The first movie was given thirty million, while the fourth movie got two-hundred million. Toy Story 4 takes place with Woody, Buzz and the gang with their new child Bonnie. Woody doesn’t get as much playing time as he did with Andy and is feeling left out. While at school, Bonnie makes a new toy from a Spork, properly named Forky. When Forky gets lost on a road trip with the family, Woody and the toys have to go after him and bring him home.

The story of Toy Story 4 went through multiple drafts and wasn’t fully completed until later. John Lasseter was set to direct it, but he handed it to first-time director Josh Cooley, and told him to make it his own. In comparison to making the other movies, they had to figure out a timeline to drive the main character’s and add the character Bo Peep, while making sure it was a quality script. In terms of shot composition, lighting, framing and realistic designs, the movie is one of the best films made by Pixar. Advancing technology has allowed the company to push the envelope and excel with each film.

One impressive aspect of the movie that you will notice right away, is how the animators have managed to stay true to the classic characters while making some improvements to the animation itself. Woody and Buzz look more pristine and put together. If you zoom in on certain scenes, you can see just how much detail is put into the characters. Single threads can be seen individually on Woody’s clothes, and scratches from years of use are etched naturally on Buzzes classic suit.

Director Josh Cooley explained the process of redesigning the characters like this, “If we try to use Toy Story 2 Woody, it’s like putting a CD-ROM into a Blu-ray player. It just wouldn’t work.” Therefore with each movie, they had to rebuild the characters and make sure they kept to the original heart of them. After recreating the characters, they would add fuzz and fibers to the toys, as well as double-check previous films for visual consistency.

In the fourth movie, there is also a rainstorm, something that wasn’t possible to do in the first film. They planned to show a rainstorm in the first Toy Story but was limited by technology so compromised with a close-up of a windowsill dripping with water. However, now, with the right technology, they were able to do what they couldn’t back then; coming full-circle.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in animation, learn more about the programs within the College of Fine Arts and Production and check out our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.


  • Ashton, W. (2019, June 27). Toy Story Vs. Toy Story 4: How Pixar’s Animation Has Changed Over The Last 24 Years. Retrieved from
  • Desiderio, K., & Phillips, I. (2019, June 20). How Pixar’s animation has evolved over 24 years, from ‘Toy Story’ to ‘Toy Story 4’. Retrieved from
  • Desowitz, B. (2019, May 29). ‘Toy Story 4’ Creators Tell Us Why It Took So Long to Bring Back Bo Peep. Retrieved from

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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