On June 17th, ‘Toy Story,’ one of Disney/Pixar’s most beloved family animations, will soon see one of its cherished characters, Buzz Lightyear, venture to infinity and beyond in his very own prequel spin-off story in ‘Lightyear.’
Taking five and a half years to make, Buzz’s world give us a whole new view into the depths of space, from Star Command to spaceships, robots, a lot of robots, cyclops robots also the token adorable robot cat. Not just that, Lightyear is a celebration of movies and sci-fi epics in general but is also inspired by the dark side of nostalgia, and the dangers of living in the past.
Having worked on the character for two decades, writer/director Angus McLane wants to bring the beloved character to life, moving away from his toy persona and making Buzz into a human with a personal touch. During the development of the film, McLane finally realised that Buzz was at odds with his surroundings. Or to put it another way, Buzz always has a disagreement over the nature of reality.
With any space orientated ideas, you would assume research to get the details just right would be high on the agenda. Well, you would be right, the creative and production crew behind the spin-off took one giant leap and made that all-important trip to Nasa to get all the ins and outs on how to make the animation authentically real. The key to the crew’s success lies within taking the key creatives and exposing them to the people, environments, experiences, and all the stuff that will impact the design and the language of the film. Getting insider knowledge from astronauts to a comprehensive multi-day exploration of the Johnson Space Center in Houston was vital. They also saw the original control centre for the Apollo missions, as well as the one being used today to track the ISS. Even spacesuit construction was on the agenda to get exactly the right look.
Another major difference in the latest version of Buzz is the decision to cast actor Chris Evans to voice the space hero dropping the main films Tim Allen from his duties. The team’s major objective was to do the human side of Buzz justice, looking for someone that had a nice rich sound, able to be both dramatic and comedic. And most importantly, he needed to be heroic without coming off as arrogant or dense, so who better than an animation fan and the former Captain America himself. Evans wasn’t just the perfect candidate for the job for his acting abilities alone. Evans is also a self-confessed animation fan he brought an extra layer of passion by even attending animation dailies and giving the team a pep talk.
No Toy Story spin-off would be complete without that emotional pay-off and we get that with Uzo Aduba’s Alicia Hawthorne, Buzz’s commander and long time best friend within the first 20 minutes of the film. However, she is soon replaced by General Cal Burnside, voiced by Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., the master of playing the tough guy who isn’t clearly on the side of the protagonist. However, three more characters come into play to give Buzz a run for his money in the form of Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alicia’s granddaughter, who has a striking resemblance to her grandmother until she’s put in a tough spot. She has spunk, she has the courage, but she’s completely untrained and unproven. Taika Waititi’s Mo, the feather in the wind, is never quite able to commit to any one direction but brings some much-needed levity and Darby is the classic tough curmudgeon with a record. She’s handy, inventive, and extremely salty, a great addition to the team.
Inspired by the look of a 1970s film, taking a departure from the earlier films by using lenses and lighting techniques to give it a more cinematic feel, it has bold lighting, emphasizing the graphic and letting the detail fall away, drawing the viewer into a rich world of a tangible alien landscape. Wanting to move away from the chunk of the previous films, conceptual designer, Calum Watt was brought in to give the animation a fresh new look with high-end technology at his fingertips. With a clear design ethos: a rugged military aerospace design combined with the 1980s consumer electronics aesthetic. And design language informed everything in the film, from the-the ground vehicles to the spaceships, to all the sets, they all got the same treatment.
As mentioned before, one of the major concepts of the film was it had to be cinematic, go big or go home right? Only the best for Buzz. Alongside stylisation, it was vital to construct the images that guide the audience through the film. Through the emphasis of graphic shapes over form, the shots maintain a visual clarity that helps direct the audience’s attention. Space is big in this movie. Filming a movie in space came with its own set of challenges. How do you show speed in what’s essentially a giant void? How do you show relative scale or relative distance? How does space look and feel in Lightyear, as opposed to other films, or actual reality? And so on. The answer was to work as a team, needing to bring all departments together from art, sets, characters, layout, editorial, animation, shading, simulation, tailoring, effects, and lighting to create stunning visuals.
Lightyear hits UK cinemas on June 17th.