People might expect a film without real-life actors to be easier to create and direct, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Pixar films, for example, take years to map out — between the storytelling, the world-building, and most importantly, the animation. And that's not even counting the casting process and recording the vocals. If you look at early sketches of every element the team needs to map out one of their animated features, it's clear just how much time and effort goes into each one of them — and all of the bumps that happen along the way.
When it comes to Pixar's new film "Lightyear," a spin-off of beloved "Toy Story" favorite Buzz Lightyear, director and screenwriter Angus MacLane had a blast creating the film alongside producer Galyn Susman. Still, the movie wasn't without its own set of challenges. Looper was invited to an early press day for "Lightyear," where MacLane and Susman dove into the greatest challenges they waded through while making the new feature.
When asked about the challenges and pressures of creating a new film with a beloved iconic character like Buzz Lightyear, MacLane and Susman said, "Everything was a pressure." Susman added, "Buzz is a beloved character, right? People really have an attachment to Buzz. And so you certainly don't want to disappoint. So I think just carrying the weight of not wanting to disappoint the fans, it's a pretty big pressure. And then, of course, COVID presented its own pressures because we didn't know if we would be able to produce a movie where everybody was sitting in their own homes. And so that was a process in and of itself."
People often don't realize how much work, collaboration, and communication need to happen with creating an animated film — especially given the years it takes to finish the project. Susman shed some light on the filming process, however. "Figuring out what were the tools that we were going to be using to be able to communicate. Zoom is great. Zoom drawing, like being able to annotate, that was like, 'Oh, we can do this.'" She added, "And then figuring out all the tools that we could use within that environment because this is a visual medium, and Angus needed to be able to draw on just about everything that he was saying. [...] So there were challenges, and then there were, as we learned, there were advantages too."
MacLane had much to share too. "I agree with all of that. I would say one of the things ... the character is iconic, and so you're playing with a beloved character, but that's why separating a little bit from the 'Toy Story' universe ... [was] so nice." MacLane then added, "We finally previewed the movie, and the feedback [of] Chris [Evans] as Buzz, [audiences] totally buy this conversion of the character. It could have gone so wrong. But the thing for me was because I'd worked with the character for so many years, [I] had my idea of what the character was in my own head."
It's easy to get into your head when you add to a well-established franchise, but it's best to avoid thinking about the what-ifs, as MacLane shared. "Pedigree-wise, I didn't worry about what business do I have working on the movie? It was more like, how do we make sure that the movie is really, really fun and really great? And if you like the movie and you have a great time, then that's going to be the ultimate goal. That to me was always the north star."
"Lightyear" opens exclusively in theaters on June 17.