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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pour one out for creepy '90s CGI and watch how Pixar's animation has evolved over the last 24 years

Illustration for article titled Pour one out for creepy '90s CGI and watch how Pixar's animation has evolved over the last 24 years
Screenshot: Insider (YouTube)

Back in the ‘90s, computer animation looked gloriously shitty. Charming and creepy in turn, the robotic homunculi that contemporary animators could summon didn’t seem ready for prime time, but that didn’t stop studios from going ahead with everything from CGI TV shows to the full-length Pixar movie, Toy Story.


Now on its fourth entry, almost 25 years since the first film’s release, computer animated films like the latest Toy Story are almost unrecognizable next to their more primitive, dead-eyed predecessors. A video from Insider shows how we got here, following Pixar’s technological and stylistic evolution over the decades.

The video isn’t centered on Toy Story alone. It mentions that Pixar has “made 21 feature-length films” since 1995 and, through that work, gained valuable experience in animation techniques alongside the advances in technology that have made its movies’ greater visual fidelity possible.

An opening example mentions how the first Toy Story was constrained by factors such as how difficult it was to portray human characters (just look at the evolution of Andy, from goblin creature to real boy, to see for yourself). Over time, as Pixar worked on movies like Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Cars, it figured out out how to tackle not only this issue, but also increased an understanding of complex animation rigging through Sully’s fur, light movement with Nemo’s underwater scenes, and metal surfaces via a bunch of talking automobiles.

Computing power increased over this time as well, allowing Pixar to match a greater understanding of how to model clothes, water, lighting, and human anatomy with the technology needed to render their experiments out into videos in a non-ridiculous amount of time.

By the time Toy Story 4 comes around, Pixar, as Insider’s video puts it, starts to look like it’s using a return to the series as an excuse to “[try] to do a lot of things the original just couldn’t.” The narrator runs down how good the animals (stuffed and real) in Toy Story 4 look, thanks to everything the studio learned with movies like Monsters Inc. and, in another example, how Bo Peep resembles an actual doll after years of mastering lighting surfaces.

For more on how advances in technology have informed the Toy Story series’ visual style, check out our interview with longtime Pixar artists, Bob Pauley and William T. Reeves. When you’re finished, spare a thought for the freakish cartoons of our past. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.


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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.