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How Pixar Almost Deleted “Toy Story 2”

As far as Pixar stories go, this one is pretty unbelievable. Pixar’s Oren Jacob and Galyn Susman recall how the studio almost lost the pre-rendered animation data for Toy Story 2 due to an accidental Linux command and faulty backup. The solution recalls a nostalgic time in the company’s history before they had become the industry’s most successful animation studio; it’s unlikely such a resolution would be possible today with the tightened corporate security at Pixar. Then again, I’m sure they have better back-ups, too.

(via Kottke)

  • anonymous

    That would suck if it was a classical 2D film…oh wait, you can’t delete paper.

    • True: though you can certainly burn it, and DEFINITELY burn celluloids. And really, losing the composites of a 2D film would be just as expensive.

    • Jason

      Well yeah you sort of can. I mean back in the day Warner used to just clean and reuse their painted cells instead of save them. All it took was a fire and entire films disappear since film footage is so flammable.

      I get this whole ‘lol traditional is god’ is fun to do but nowadays even 2d is digital now. Digital is still the safest 2d or 3d or 4d or whatever. The argument is dead. Stop using it.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I still prefer tangible physicality over impermanent disposability any day.

      • Very true, on that comment regarding reusing of cels. Eastern animation studios, from Singapore and Thailand to Japan and beyond, did much of the same thing for decades and decades. Sometimes, it wasn’t so much a conscious money-saving method as much as it was the practical nature of the business: they just didn’t have enough materials to go around.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        It certainly makes sense from that standpoint if such materials either didn’t exist or were hard to obtain in those countries. I recall reading up on Korea’s animation history to find out one film that was produced in the early 60’s utilized only a hundred cels that had to be cleaned after every time they shot them as that was all they had to use (also using surplus materials from the US Army).

    • Aren’t the first two animated feature films ever made lost forever due to a studio fire? Now we have The Adventures of Prince Achmed as the earliest film, but it came third.

  • I can imagine how many other companies would have breathed a sigh of relief and then fired her for bringing files out of the office.

    • That’s exactly what I thought when I read this. Although it seems that she had an arrangement with the studio that allowed her to bring the files home –presumably she could get away with it because she was the director ;)

  • Pedro Nakama

    So if it’s made on linux machines and linux is free I guess it’s okay to bootleg their movies.

    • Jo

      The resources to make their films – human-power and electricity and caffeine – are not free ….

  • Funkybat

    I wonder if they found out who entered “RM*” into the server, and *why* they would do that….

    • Jason

      It’s standard in Linux but can be removed. Their Server dude was an idiot who should be fired for allowing users that much power.

      • Gerard de Souza

        I remember it was just as easy to accidentally delete in DOS ( I know nothing about Linux). All it takes is to think you are deleting files from a specific directory then to realize you are in a root directory.

    • joe

      I would guess a disgruntled, newly laid off employee myself, but yeah, they do really gloss over that aspect of the story.

    • Sardonic Tuba

      Rob Minkoff? Ronnie Montrose? Reba McEntire?

  • Patty OC

    That fun romp in the toy store saved because of one anal stay at home mom.

    I agree with Mike – how many other companies would have axed her for saving content outside the office.

    • Hold it

      She works at Pixar? She’s not a stay-at-home mom. Sounds like she would occasionally work from home to spend time with her kids. But it’s still work.

      Stay-at-home mom, at least in my understanding of the term, implies her having no career and/or paying day job. (let alone a job as demanding and requiring as much education and training as one in the animation industry)

      Pretty nice that Pixar gives their employees that option though…

  • Gerard de Souza

    What kind of computer did she have? That must have been one huge computer (Disk space) and multiple hard drives back then. We’re talking the early 90s , right?

    • Jason

      It actually sounds like it was their material/modeling library everything was referencing from and not actual shots. It’d be a few gigs instead of ginormous amounts. Still a crapton of lost work.

    • Mac

      Pre render data is very small. It’s the rendering process, filling in the implications of that data with geometry tessellation and lighting algorithms, that takes those big computers that you can’t keep at home.

  • Anthony D.

    I’ve known about this 2 years ago via the Toy Story 2 DVD re-release. But in a way, I’d consider this post as an early Mother’s Day tribute because it was thanks to a mom that Toy Story 2 was saved! :)

  • purin

    Wow, that is scary!

    Analog or digital, one forgets how transient something like a movie can be.

  • Toonio

    “rm -rf /” the wipe out all life command; Fear the admin, respect the power.

  • Jay

    whew what a story | and to think pixar may not be what it is today without the success of TS2 (the best TS in my opinion). this is a reminder for all students out there to back-up files because yes, doo doo happens.

  • Nic

    I’ve watched a documentary on Toy Story that I’m sure everyone’s seen (Netflix, great i’n’t?) where they talked about how Toy Story 2 was on a tight schedule anyway. They had gotten very far with the story and decided to scrap the whole thing because it just wasn’t working.

    I can only imagine how panicked they must’ve felt over the missing files. But hooray for moms, eh?

  • Jorgen Klubien

    I remember a story where Ollie Johnston’s assistant was going to take home a scene to work on. She put the scene of Orville from The Rescuers on the roof of the car while unlocking her door. Then she drove of with the scene still on the roof… scattering it all over Burbank. Ollie had to do the scene again from scratch, and he wasn’t happy as far as I know. Such was the drama over lost work in the days before CGI animation.

    • Was she fired?

      • Lionel Michaux

        That story is told by Heidi Guedel, its “heroine”, in her book “Animatrix – a female animator”. She wasn’t fired.

        The book is worth reading, as it is probably the best written account of the atmosphere at Disney Animation in the late 70s (as far as I can judge, because I wasn’t there).

  • My very first job out of college was as animator in this teeny-weeny startup studio in Mexico.

    We had just landed our first real contract, and had just returned from a convention, when suddenly disaster fell upon us: Our little studio got robbed and all the computers got stolen, including the very-expensive Silicon Graphics workstation with all our rendered scenes.

    We still had the paper cleanups, since we were using ToonBoom’s Tic-Tac-Toon software, so my boss had to rush to Vancouver to re-scan the scenes. It was a major blow and the company never recovered from it –I guess I wasn’t meant to have a career in Animation after all :(

  • This is such a great story!

  • Scarabim

    ^Oh, come on, Red Pill. “Meant to”? You just got a rotten break. Don’t let thieves rob you of your dream. Seriously, hang in there and keep trying.

    • Thanks, Scarabim.

      I did try for a few years. But no studio wanted to give me the chance to show them what I could do. After a while my father got impatient and coaxed me to seek a job in the field of the career I chose in college (Industrial Design).

      So now I’ve tried to make a name for myself as an interior designer. But I’ve never lost my passion and admiration for the Illusion of Life. Maybe I should try to do some things on my own, now that technology has turned so commonplace —if the day had more than 24 hours, that is ;)

  • Oren Jacob and Loren Carpenter added some more details to the story in this Quora thread:

  • Yeah i heard about this some time ago Oren Jacob actually gave a talk at the vocational school I was going to while in High school several years ago. He mentioned this. He was saying something like “Oh no There goes Buzz and Woody”