Toy Story 3 Interview: Darla K Anderson

darla300With the maginificent Toy Story 3 out in cinemas this Monday, we caught up with producer Darla K Anderson (A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Cars) to chat about working on such a long project, the pressure of working on a much-loved franchise and how exactly you do get one of the most coveted jobs in the world..

The film’s incredible, the best film of the year so far. You must be relieved!

I am so relieved! I’m relieved because we felt that way about the movie but you never know how everybody else is going to feel about the film and that’s what all my bosses or whomever…they were saying, “How confident are you about this film?” and I’d say “Well, we love it” and you can only hope that the public matches our enthusiasm for the film. But you never know. It’s not a guarantee, you can’t control it and it’s a strange animal when a film goes out in the world and gains momentum or doesn’t.

It must be like one of your children going off to school.

Yes it is! It’s so much like that and for me this film was career highlight and working with the team that I did and so I didn’t want it to end until the very last bit where I started getting quite exhausted and likened it to a teenager – ok, get out of the house! As much as I love you, it’s time for you to go.

How long have you been working on the film because it’s 11 years since Toy Story 2…

We’ve been on it for over 4 years.

So what does the creative process of that involve because things really seemed to come together in the last 18 months or so?

Well we brainstormed out the story in the very very very beginning, we went off to the offsite, this cabin where we cooked up Toy Story with the whole gang that was part of Toy Story. Then Andrew Stanton wrote a treatment out of our ideas from there which had a lot of the ideas which ended up in the film right now. Then Michael Arndt wrote a first draft off that and we spent two and half years banging it out, the story part of it.

And while you’re working on that you’re working on technical R&D and that’s the fun part about producing for me because you have to guess where to put the energy, trying to develop the characters and how to produce so many characters without an outrageous budget. But yeah, an intense two and half years working on the story.

It must be difficult to work on a project so long where you can’t see the end in sight.

Well the thing is, it’s really really hard to do which is why I think there aren’t that many good movies, so four years actually doesn’t seem like that long when you’re working on it.

Why was there such a gap between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3? I would have thought that Pixar would want to capitalise on the success of the second movie? I know there were some problems…

It was about the problems with Disney and the contractual issues with sequels and how do they count and who gets to do them. That was terrible for me. I always feel like this about characters and it’s not just a maternal thing, it’s a paternal thing too – we gave birth to these characters and they’re ours, theyu belong to us and we know them. So yeah it was a very happy day when we got Toy Story 3 back and Lee (Unkrich) and I got to direct and produce it.


You have one of the most coveted jobs in the world. How does one end up getting a job like that?

Well I fell in love with computer animation when I was young. The industry was young and I saw John’s (Lasseter – Chief Creative Officer Of Pixar) films. Actually I think before the first films I saw a commercial for Listerine – little movie genres, like the boxer and Tarzan off of 50s films. And they were really simple but really great narratives and I thought, they’re the only people I know that are doing a story, so I wanted to be part of that, so I flew to San Francisco and knocked on their door till they let me in! It took a year and half and used up all my money.

Many things have happened in animation since the very first film. Toy Story 3 is in 3D – how did the decision to film in 3D affect your creative process

At first we thought that it might be really complicated and the last thing we wanted to do was to detract from the story telling process. And it’s not trivial but it’s not that complicated because we’re already in this dynamic space and we re-rendered Toy Story 1 and 2 and that told us what we need to do with this film. And we changed nothing, in fact we were such purists, there’s areas in Toy Story 1 and 2 where you can see Andy’s floating off the floor a little bit but we felt like we didn’t want to change that.

When I was watching the 3D versions of Toy Story 1 and 2, I noticed the 3D for about 10 minutes and then my mind switched off to that. I didn’t feel like I was being poked in the eye at all.

Yeah, that’s what we wanted to do. I mean, not everyone agrees with me at Pixar. I feel that there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what people like but for us we’re about so much emotional storytelling and pulling people into the films and we don’t want anything to detract from that and try to use the 3D to enhance that.

I was reading that you have the world record for the highest average movie gross for a producer. How does that feel? Is it something you’re even aware of?

They didn’t even contact me! My little godson was like “Hey aunty Darla, do you have this much money?” and I had to say, “No honey, that’s not my money” . It feels pretty amazing. It has been at Pixar an unbelievable fairytale ride.

Where do you think that the technology can go after this?

Did you see Day & Night, our short film beforehand?

Yes, it was a great blend of old school and new school animation.

Well, that for me is a great example of…that’s a film that’s kind of better in 3D…well I don’t know better but it’s more interesting to watch because it’s all hand-drawn. We had to get a load of guys in that could do hand drawn stuff again.

Were you involved in Day & Night’s production at all?

No, not at all but at Pixar we’re all smushed together anyway.


I’ve heard about that. Can you shed a little light on how the Pixar office is organised? I was reading the cafeteria is in the middle…

And the loo! That was Steve’s (Jobs – former Chief Executive of Pixar) idea. Before we always had these non-descript office buildings in an industrial park…

The place where magic happens!

Yeah, it did, I know! And that’s what I said to Steve. I said it didn’t matter, we did Toy Story and A Bug’s Life and half of Monsters Inc. there and I was producing Monsters Inc. at the time and Steve was at that time before he went back to Apple, so he was there 40 hours a week and he built our building for us, it was his movie.

Everything in this building is so Steve. There’s no welds, it’s all steel, all bolted, old school. So his thing was, no it’s really important to have this big, giant area where people are forced to go in, they’re forced to go there eat…and what not and you know what he’s right, I think as we’ve gotten bigger especially, I think it’s great to have this atrium where you get to see everybody.

For you as a producer, that must be quite useful, because you get to see your team.

Exactly! And you get so much more done and also these meetings that you have all day long are so structured and it’s really great to just sit in the atrium and be spontaneous.

Pixar has such a formidable reputation when it comes to pushing boundaries with animation. Did you feel a lot of pressure when making Toy Story 3?

You know what’s funny, as a producer, you’re usually unrealistically optimistic but Lee certainly felt a lot of pressure and so did I. I knew how beloved these characters were. As a producer, as a businesswoman, I knew that no matter what we did, I knew that the opening weekend would be pretty big. But you can’t stand on that, that’s not what made Toy Story and Toy Story 2 so beloved – there’s a purity of intention. Quality is the best business plan is what we always say, so we know that people trust us and we got phone calls and emails from people that said “Don’t screw this up!” – just from random strangers.

We felt it, overtly and internally and after a while you just have to put it aside and get on with it because you can’t control it. And one of the things I noticed for ourselves as film makers which really was a turning point was at one point Lee started thinking that they’re no good trilogies out there – or it’s very hard to think of any off the top of your head. So the first thing he though tof was Lord Of The Rings but he thought that that’s not really fair because it’s one big story just split up. So then he thought, that’s exactly what this is, this is a piece of the whole, this is Andy’s story. And I think that really helped us get too freaked out because it felt then that we weren’t standing on the shoulders of these other two films.

Did you have any trouble with Mattel looking over your shoulder when using Barbie and Ken in the movie?

They were fantastic. They were great – to let us use a mid-eighties Barbie and Ken. All the outfits that Ken wears are real outfits . I think 99% of the outfits are anyway and they were just fantastic. Then we showed them the whole film and they loved it. They gave us complete free reign, but as a partner I wanted to show it to them, so they knew where it was going and they loved it.

One more question: Who’s your favourite Disney villain?

Well I’ll tell you the one that scared me the most when I was a kid was Cruella De Vil. She’s making a jacket out of puppies!

Did you have dogs when you were a kid?

Yes and I still do! Can you imagine Disney doing a film now, about a villain making a pelt out of puppies?! So she was the one that really bent my mind a little bit.