We often forget how much work goes into making films. Even more so, we forget how many people are involved in a single project, and how many things can and usually do go wrong. Hell, anyone who’s ever done a science project with 4 people knows full well that anything that can get crossed or go wrong typically does. Now multiply that by 100s of people all working on different parts of the same project, and it’s amazing that we ever get movies at all. Ahead of Pixar’s “Lightyear” releasing this June, the often forgotten “Toy Story 2” deletion fiasco has resurfaced, and boy oh boy is it a wild story.
Any gamer knows that no matter what the game says, you save every single chance you get. This game autosaves? We’ll see. Excel and Word will save as you go? Nice try, Bill Gates. But I’ll save as much as I damn well please. Backing things up has become a number one priority for just about anything we do, but a lot of that has only come from massive trial and errors and antiquated technology was not available in 1998. And this is where our “Toy Story 2” deletion story begins.
Way back in the ancient times of the late 1900s (I don’t care how unsettling that his to hear, it’s sadly true) Pixar was still in its humble beginnings. The animation studio was surely making waves, and was simultaneously working on “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2.” Oren Jacob, the former Chief Technical Officer at Pixar was hard at work on some renderings for the completion of the film, when suddenly all our favorite characters began disappearing.
“The command that had been run was most likely ‘rm -r -f *’, which – roughly speaking – commands the system to begin removing every file below the current directory,” he told The Next Web. “Unfortunately, someone on the system had run the command at the root level of the Toy Story 2 project and the system was recursively tracking down through the file structure and deleting its way out like a worm eating its way out from the core of an apple.”
While this would be a perfect time to freak out, there WAS a back up plan, which consisted of a sort of file tree that updated new files every few days. We know NOW to always check those back ups. But in 1998, they had no reason to suspect that the back up files weren’t actually updating or rendering the way that they were intended, so no one really checked the drives or updated them. So when they when decided to bust out the back up drives, they realized they weren’t transferring any of the new data needed to move forward with the film. This basically meant that months of work on “Toy Story 2” were being deleted before their very eyes. The studio was sent into a frenzy, calling meetings, desperate for any possible solution.
Enter Galyn Susman, proverbial savior of “Toy Story 2.” Susman had actually being working on the film from home due to having a newborn during production. She was receiving updates remotely, which mean whatever commands triggered the deletion at the studio’s hub, may not have corrupted her films on her computer at home. Realizing they had no other option, Jacob and Susman hopped into her “$100 million Volvo” (she drove a Volvo, “Toy Story 2” was a $100 million project that may have just disappeared forever) and rushed to her home to check her files.
Eight people worked in shifts for over 72 hours non stop pouring over her files in hopes to find their needle in a haystack of nightmare scenarios. As it turns out, all that hard work and out of the box thinking paid off, because they were able to find a complete, 2 week old back up that would only set production back by a few days instead setting them back to ground zero. It was a miracle to say the least, and “Toy Story 2” was safe from total annihilation.
Except, there was another twist: The final film was screened to the Pixar bosses and as fate would have it, they hated it. The decided it wasn’t a good film, and quite literally re-pitched an entirely different story that would require a good 90% of the completed version to be scrapped and remade. All that work to save the film from being deleted, and it was almost all for naught because almost everything saved was scrapped. To make matters worse, the film had a hard, unchanging release date. That meant that the animators had less time to remake an entire film that had already been made.
Recounting the story to The Next Media in 2012, Jacob Said:
“Effectively all animation was tossed…Effectively, all layout was tossed. So all camera work would start from scratch. Lighting was in the film a little bit, but that was tossed as well. We had to build new characters. So at that point, Buster showed up. And that character went from being out to being in the screenplay to in the final screen in nine months. That’s a fully animated quadruped… On the fly. And most of the humans in the film and show. All the background extras in the airport at the end…They were all built and assembled then. And all the effects work was added to the film. The opening of the film, which is Buzz playing with the robots, which I spent a lot of my time working on, where Buzz blows up a quarter-million robots with that crystal… that explosion. That was all added in that pitch as well. It started from ground zero…That was probably one of the biggest tests of what Pixar was as a company and a culture we ever went through.”
Against all odds, the new bigger and badder (and almost unmade) “Toy Story 2” managed to be completed and released on the contracted date. The film was lost, restored, scrapped and remade all within 9 months. It went on to gross close to $500 million, garnered massive critical acclaim, and earned countless awards including Academy, Gold Globes, and Annie Awards among many others. It is feature on countless lists of the greatest animated film every made, and holds spots on some of the prestigious AFI lists.
The story of this near-demise resurfaced on Twitter this week, and many have been pointing to the deletion incident as a cautionary tale to always make several back-ups. Obviously, Pixar has greatly improved their back up plans to avoid these near total losses, and who knows what would’ve happened if Susman hadn’t saved the day. “A Mom saving the day….. A tale as old as time,” someone commented, which is probably the best summary of the entire fiasco.
The conclusion? 24 years later, Galyn Susman is the producer of “Lightyear,” and still a Pixar hero.
To infinity and beyond, indeed.