It’s a mellow spring evening on the famed campus of Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California. Tucked just next to Oakland across the misty bay from San Francisco for more than 33 years, Pixar has been pushing the boundaries of what digital animation can be. As many staffers clock out for the day, a group of guests gather in front of The Steve Jobs Building. Following the customary photos with the giant-sized Luxo Lamp and Pixar Ball, we’re about to get our first look at just how far the company has come since the 1995 release of its very first animated feature, Toy Story.
To say there’s been a leap would be a massive understatement*.
Sitting back to enjoy the first 20 minutes of Toy Story 4 alongside a reel of hand-picked scenes presented by director Josh Cooley (Riley’s First Date?) and producer Mark Nielsen (Inside Out, Cars 2), we’re among the first studio outsiders to learn the true fate of Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) — a character missing from Toy Story cinematic lore since Toy Story 2 (1999).
Despite having made frequent appearances in Andy’s room during the course of regular play, Bo Peep wasn’t Andy’s toy — she was a porcelain doll that, along with her flock or sheep, belonged to Andy’s sister Molly. They were accessories to an old lamp — a lamp designed for a baby’s room, and one that was ultimately given away.
Sitting down with the team that reimagined Bo Peep, the thought and detail becomes clear. “Bo Peep is a central reason why we made Toy Story 4,” says story supervisor Valerie LaPoint. “We see Bo move from lamp to lost toy.” It’s a familiar journey for many toys as they pass between kids, and sometimes wind up in the hands of collectors — or worse, sitting alone on the shelf of an antique store with their play time a distant memory.
“Bo’s taken control of her own destiny,” says Cooley. “While Woody was watching Andy grow up, Bo gathered dust until she took it upon herself to head out into the world. And when Woody shows up, they can’t believe that they’ve found each other again.”
Story Artist Carrie Hobson says that “Bo Peep breaks her default toy mode as she faces the realities of her new life.” To design her new look, Hobson sketched several new outfit ideas, playing with different combinations of new and old in crafting a character that would become a road warrior of sorts. One original concept had Bo Peep being a very shop-worn and beat-up toy that had repaired herself with action figure parts along the way.
As the design progressed, the team worked toward making sure that she would be athletic, yet feminine, having learned survival skills along the way. Using her shepherd’s hook as a weapon, some inspiration came from a fellow corporate sibling and Bay Area neighbor … Lucasfilm. Starting by studying the moves and form of Daisy Ridley as Rey in the recent Star Wars films, along with the smooth-flowing martial arts of Ray Park, who portrayed Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, the crew would dig deep into how Bo could wield a staff in creative ways.
They explored Olympic javelin events, along with kung fu, Wushu, spear throwing, and techniques with bo staff, monkey staff, and the work of martial artist Chloe Bruce. While the “new” Bo Peep is fascinating on many levels, she’s still an aging porcelain doll and her look reflects that. This meant research into porcelain fabrication, to incorporate details such as how the glass shrinks 15% during heating, and cracks in the glazing occur. Cracks that are visible on Bo Peep, and while the “action figure parts” idea didn’t pan out, she has been doing some self-repair.
The end result is a character familiar, yet different. Caring, yet strong. One that will inspire kids through great storytelling on screen, and through countless adventures at home as new toys begin hitting retail this month.
*For a deeper look behind-the-scenes of Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story 4 — including the incredible technological advances — check out the next issue of our sister publication, The Pop Insider, available later this month.