Pixar's First Television Special On ABC TONIGHT!...
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By David Yeh
In the world of modern film animation, there is no studio as beloved as the Pixar Animation Studios. Within, you will find the many talented personalities that brought your favorite films like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, and so much more to life. But just as important to Pixar and Disney's brand are the continued adventures of everyone's favorite characters; the short subjects and the sequels.
Tonight, ABC will air Pixar's first television special, Toy Story of Terror, directed by Angus Maclane. But donít be fooled by it airing on television. Maclane has worked on just about every Pixar film since A Bug's Life and earned his first credit on the short, Geri's Game. By the time WALL-E came about, Angus had moved from animation to story and helped develop a story idea for BURN-E, a character that was only seen briefly in WALL-E, but thanks to Maclane, the cameo robot was given his very own short cartoon that accompanied the home video release. Maclane was also the brain behind the brilliant Toy Story short, Small Fry, about Buzz Lightyear switching roles with a Kid's Meal version of himself, finally saw a mini-Buzz Lightyear action figure release at Disney's D23 Expo earlier this summer.
Essentially, the crew working on Toy Story of Terror are the very same that delivered the feature films to the theater. We caught up with Angus to talk a little about Toy Story of Terror and of course about toys and collecting.
Figures: Angus, great to talk to you! Letís start at the beginning of your career with Pixar.
Angus: Geriís Game was the first credit I had. I started working on Toy Story 2 when they were going to make that film direct to video. At the time, 2D animation was really popular and there werenít as many people interested in computer animation. I honestly donít think I could have gotten hired at Disney at the time, so I took a chance from a guy at art school and after an internship there I was hired to do Toy Story 2. I stayed on that for awhile and I did a little bit of A Bugís Life and then Geriís Game, which was the first thing that came out.
Figures: Can you tell us a little about what spawned your interest in animation?
Angus: I was interested in acting and I was interested in drawing. It was a nice combination of the two. I was naturally interested in performing and artwork. Some of it is just the nature of my genes. My uncle on my momís side was a ballet choreographer so he was into movement; my dadís side were marine designers, engineers, architects... so it was a combination of those worlds.
Figures: You went from animating into story into directing...
Angus: BURN-E was the first short I did for Pixar and I did Small Fry. In between I did Kenís Dating Tips which was kind of a bonus feature. That was a great thing to do because it was the first time I did voice directing. For BURN-E I just did one or two of the voices but for Kenís Dating Tips, the first person I ever got to record professionally was Michael Keaton. Iíve been to a few recording sessions but to go ďthis is what I wantĒ or ďthis is what weíre going to doĒ was a steep learning curve, which was great. That learning experience paved my way to feeling comfortable on my work directing Small Fry and then Toy Story of Terror, which was an even bigger leap with a bigger cast.
Figures: Before we get into Toy Story of Terror, letís talk about Small Fry. You came up with a bunch of happy meal toys. When are we going to see more of those come out?
Angus: We love toys. With shorts, thereís not a really big viewership for that so if we did this would that sell? The tooling costs alone, as it was expensive to make all of those characters in the computer, it would be expensive to make those toys in real life. I think with sales from the D23 Exclusive Small Fry, weíll see. I know online thereís a lot of people that demanded a Ghost Burger, which I totally understand. I would love a Ghost Burger too!
Figures: I would love a T-Bone!
Angus: Oh man, a T-BoneÖ I would, yeah. That one, I would love a Condor Man!
Figures: All of them would be really, really fun! Why do you suppose itís so difficult to get more toys out from Small Fry?
Angus: I think thereís more support for longer form content but for something like Toy Story of Terror, that will show every year as a special, weíll wait and see and if itís really popular... weíll try and do something. A lot of these guys can get burned producing a lot of product for a movie that doesnít get a lot of playÖ
Figures: Itís kind of like the opposite of the initial Buzz Lightyear figure, where no store would carry it.
Angus: Yeah. And Iím so glad that they finally made a mini Buzz Lightyear figure from Small Fry at the D23 Expo... because if you canít sell THAT then I donít know!
Figures: Other than Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation, there havenít been any toys at retail based on any of the short cartoons. Youíd think with anything Disney anything is marketable.
Angus: I think it is but itís hard to say. Thereís only so much shelf space as they call it, so if we can sell a mini Buzz Lightyear, maybe we can sell a T-Bone, Leader of the Steak Force. You and I think thatís funny, and if we did a Kickstarter campaign it would be huge but itís just one of those things... Weíll have to wait and see.
Figures: How did Toy Story of Terror come about?
Angus: There was some interest either from Disney or ABC that wanted to do a spooky special and they approached me to develop a few things for that. I had a meeting with John [Lasseter] and we talked about what would be the setting and after that we developed it for a while. I also pitched a few things to Andrew [Stanton] and eventually it became what it was.
Figures: Could you elaborate on that process?
Angus: A lot of it is schedule. We have a story team, so for example, early, early on weíd work with a beat board just to figure out the beats of the story. Even at an early stage I wanted Jessie to be the main character and I wanted Combat Carl to be in the movie.
Figures: What was it about those two characters? Jessie and Combat Carl...
Angus: There hasnít been a movie around Jessie and this was a good way to kind of do that. Also with Carl, because it was a way to get into toys that our generation has grown up with. A lot of the toys are represented by the directors and what they grew up with and what theyíre passionate about. Without giving anything away there are a lot of toys in Toy Story of Terror that reflect the toys from 1978 to 1988.
Figures: So Combat Carl is obviously representing the twelve inch G.I.Joe figures?
Angus: Yes, yes, yes.
Figures: Who did you cast to voice Combat Carl?
Angus: Carl Weathers was a natural choice. I felt he had terrific comedic chops from Happy Gilmore and Arrested Development, but he also had a commanding action hero presence. Between Predator and Rocky, I wanted to make the character be basically an 80's action hero, and if you can find a guy that can do that and be funny with it, that was the key. Carl Weathers was just a natural... and it was already named Combat CARL in Toy Story.
Figures: The special airs on ABC, October 16th and will be a half-hour special. Did ABC dictate how long they wanted it to be?
Angus: I think the usual holiday, Christmas classic type special is a half hour long. So being that classic format, it was an interesting challenge and one that I thought was fantastic to try and tackle.
Figures: You showed some scenes at the D23 Expo earlier this summer and it really does look fantastic. The animation isnít typical of television; it really is feature quality animation.
Angus: Yeah, itís the same crew. A lot of our shorts were made in Canada and they do a fantastic job but technically this was made with the same crew. The people that worked on it were instrumental in the previous movies. Iím glad you liked the quality of the animation but a lot of it has to do with the tremendous talent that I had to work with.
[Editorís note: Pixar Canada has since shut down all operations. This interview was conducted prior]
Figures: Even though Toy Story of Terror is a ďHalloweenĒ special, it really isnít a ďHalloweenĒ show. All the other specials are trick-or-treat or costumes; this isnít and it was refreshing to see that itís just another Toy Story adventure. Was that a conscious decision?
Angus: It was a conscious decision so that it could be shown year round. Not all countries celebrate Halloween, naturally. But as much as I love Halloween, to me the idea of making a horror/thriller Toy Story movie was more appealing than showing the Toy Story characters dress up for Halloween.
Figures: It would cheapen it.
Angus: Yeah, it would just... I canít think of a good way to describe it. The toys are there to be played with by the kid, but on their leisure time are they going to dress up and bob for apples? It just doesnít seem right.
Figures: So we know that Combat Carl has a major appearance, is he the only new toy?
Angus: No. Thereís a ton new toys. There are many new toys that Iím very excited about and I will definitely say that Iím a huge action figure fan and really into LEGO... So Iím very excited for the toy forums after the show so that theyíll drum up support for those toys to be eventually made.
Figures: Maybe a Combat Carl with removable hand?
Angus: I would LOVE a Combat Carl with removable hand, but it might be a choking hazard.
Figures: Now that the special is finished, what are you working on now?
Angus: I am working on several exciting projects now that I cannot divulge, but theyíre very exciting and Iím happy to be working at Pixar. Itís never been better.
[Editorís note: It gets beyond nerdy from here on out]
Figures: What are you collecting right now?
Angus: Right now Iím collecting Third Party Transformers.
Figures: Did you get Quakewave?
Angus: I have Quakewave, but I have an original Shockwave. I got the Quakewave because Iím collecting the Masterpiece Transformers as well. Iím really into FansProject, Mastermind Creations, and Make Toys. I think they make the best third party stuff. Iím also collecting some classic Transformers, some Headmasters, anything G1 style. Right now itís either LEGO, Robots, and then some Aliens stuff. Thatís what I limited my collection to. What do you collect?
Figures: A little bit of everything. I recently got the Back to the Future LEGO...
Angus: Yeah, I got that. Yeah.
Figures: Some other Star Wars LEGO, mainly Ewoks and Jabba the Hutt stuff...
Angus: Really? Wow... okay. Yeah.
Figures: [laughs] Star Wars Black Series 6 inch...
Angus: They had a bunch of those at Disneyland, did you see them?
Figures: Yeah, thereís a ton of them but theyíre a little more expensive there.
Angus: Theyíre neat but I wasnít a fan of the paint aps. I collected the Gentle Giant Jumbo figures... but itís a size problem.
Figures: Yeah, that, and you donít want to take them out of the box!
Angus: Yeah, well I only bought the ones I had as a kid, which wasnít that many. But I bought the GONK droid and I took that out of the box. I had to have that one on my desk!
Figures: For sure! I also get the Masterpiece Transformers too. Quakewave was my first third party Transformer.
Angus: Yah that one is really high quality. Did you get the extra hands?
Figures: Yeah, I swapped them in.
Angus: Did you get the... what are they, the Reprolabels?
Figures: Yes, I got the clear outline ones since his color is already purple.
Angus: Oh cool, did you apply it? I think their stuff is fantastic but I havenít done it. I have to think about how far to go down that road, about stickering stuff...
Figures: Itís easy when I only have one third party Transformer and Shockwave only needs two stickers as in the cartoon.
Angus: I just got Tigertrack. Have you seen that one?
Figures: Yeah, see thatís too far deep for me since he wasnít in the toon. I only buy the ones that are in the cartoon.
Angus: See, for meÖ Thatís a good cut off, good for you. I like the yellow better than the redÖ
Figures: Really? But thatís Sunstreaker and I would want to wait for that...
Angus: I like Sunstreaker! I like Sunstreaker but that Sideswipe mold is so rad.
Figures: I need to get Sideswipe still and I pre-ordered Prowl. Did you get Soundwave?
Angus: Yup yup, I got Soundwave.
Figures: The Japanese version? I needed the red eyes.
Angus: Itís not so much that but the quality difference between Takara and Hasbro is huge on those. I have the Hasbro Optimus Prime, the new one, and a friend has the Takara one. The tightness of joints, paint applications, thickness of the plastic...
Angus: [laughs] Itís nice to talk to someone about this. How are we doing on time? Are you going to put this on the interview? I mean, you might as well.
Figures: Absolutely, I will.
Angus: Have you seen this... I came across this Gundam LEGO that this guy made, a custom that splits into three bits and can be completely reconfigured.
Figures: I havenít but that sounds cool! Youíre making custom LEGOs now as well...
Angus: Have you seen the Cube Dude stuff I did? Itís a line of LEGO building pattern I designed and LEGO licensed me to do some stuff for Celebration V and some for Comic-Con. Itís a building pattern that anyone can build. Iíve done like 300 of them. I did a Buzz Lightyear that was a giveaway for Toy Fair and I did a set a couple years back. So I do a lot of LEGO art on the side.
Figures: Thatís really cool! And they really are neat. Do they pay you for all this?
Angus: They pay me in LEGO bricks. [laughs]
[At this point Angus and I started showing each other various toys on our cell phones]
Figures: It was great talking, Angus and look forward to seeing Toy Story of Terror on ABC, and more of your CubeDudes!
Angus: Yeah, it was great meeting you, David!
Tune in to the world premiere of Toy Story of Terror on ABC tonight!
And check out Angusí LEGO CubeDudes HERE
- David Yeh