×

Unkrich felt the weight to continue hit streak

For first pic, former editor revisited Buzz and Woody

When Lee Unkrich graduated from USC film school and became an editor, he couldn’t imagine that his solo directing debut would be a 3D-animated feature that would break B.O. records and generate Oscar buzz.

But 16 years after taking a four-week editing gig at Pixar, Unkrich scored a smash directing “Toy Story 3.”

“I’m the only director at the studio who’s not an animator,” he explains, “but CG films are bound more by the conventions of live-action than traditional animation, and I brought those instincts to the table.”

Beyond editing several Pixar hits, Unkrich co-directed “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

“My co-director credit was a way of legitimizing my role,” he says. “Pixar has a co-director only if a director wants to be shored up. John Lasseter encouraged me not to have a co-director on ‘Toy Story 3’ because I’d never gotten any of the glory,” Unkrich laughs. “Trusting me with these characters was like being handed the keys to John’s expensive sports car.”

Because Unkrich had edited the first two “Toy Story” films, he understood the characters well.

“Tom Hanks knows how to play Woody and Tim Allen knows how to play Buzz Lightyear, but it’s been 11 years since they played those parts,” he says. “It was my job to be the keeper of the flame and guide them back. One of the big challenges was making ‘Toy Story 3’ feel like it belonged with the first two. We didn’t want the characters to change too much and look like they’d had bad plastic surgery. The choices we made were things that we would have done earlier if we’d had the technology.”

Simply staging an outdoor chase was technically daunting in the original “Toy Story,” while the latest film has a climatic scene in a city dump with thousands of moving parts.

“Which is not to say it’s easy,” Unkrich recalls. “I think we have technical directors who feel post-traumatic stress every time they pull out a trash bag.”

Unkrich plans to direct another Pixar film, but for the moment he’s savoring the success of the studio’s 11th-consecutive hit.

“I did feel a lot pressure,” he admits. “So many people said, ‘This is my childhood you’re messing with. Don’t screw it up.’ ”

Directors return to reliable troupe

DIRECTORS
Darren Aronofsky | Danny Boyle | Lisa Cholodenko | David Fincher | Debra Granik | Tom Hooper | Christopher Nolan | David O. Russell | Martin Scorsese | Lee Unkrich
In the mix

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Coronavirus Placeholder COVID19 Variety

    Japan's Toei Closes Tokyo Studio After Coronavirus Infection

    Toei closed its Tokyo studio Tuesday after actor Reo Komiya was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The star of the “Mashin Sentai Kiramager,” a sci-fi/action show broadcast on the TV Asahi network, seventeen-year-old Komiya tested positive for the virus while shooting new episodes at the studio. His condition is not known at the present time. A [...]

  • Aqute Media Takes North America on

    Aqute Media Takes North America on Helen Reddy Biopic 'I Am Woman'

    London-based sales agent WestEnd Films has closed a North American deal with Jeff Sackman and Berry Meyerowitz’s company Aqute Media for “I Am Woman,” the biopic about Australian singer Helen Reddy. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival as the opening film of the Special Presentations section. The film also recently [...]

  • Sundance Film Festival Placeholder

    Sheffield Doc/Fest Rejigs With Fall Programming, Virtual Forums in Lieu of Festival

    The Sheffield Doc/Fest pitching forums, MeetMarket and Alternate Realities Talent Market are to take place virtually in June, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The rest of the June festival is being replaced by a series of programs that will take place on weekends through the fall. The planned programming will include film screenings, talks, panels, [...]

  • Southland Tales

    Streamer Mubi Partners With Prada Foundation on 'Perfect Failures' Film Series

    Specialist streaming service Mubi has teamed up with fashion label Prada’s Fondazione Prada foundation on “Perfect Failures,” a curated selection of movies deemed to have been “widely misunderstood” upon their release. The joint project will launch on both the Mubi platform and the Fondazione Prada’s website on April 5 with U.S. director Richard Kelly’s 2006 flop [...]

  • Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) in

    'Morbius,' 'Ghostbusters' Sequel and More Sony Movies Pushed Back to 2021

    Sony Pictures has pushed back many of its major tentpoles — including “Morbius,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Uncharted” and “Peter Rabbit 2” — to next year, the studio announced on Monday. Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” has moved from July 10, 2020, to March 5, 2021; Jared Leto’s “Morbius” has been pushed back from July 31, 2020, to [...]

  • Anne Hathaway to Star in 'French

    Film News Roundup: Anne Hathaway Stars in 'French Children Don't Throw Food'

    In today’s film news roundup, Anne Hathaway will portray an American journalist in Paris, blockbuster director Michael Bay signs with Sony Pictures, and “Extra Ordinary” and “The Etruscan Smile” are added to arthouse streaming services. CASTING Anne Hathaway is starring in the movie “French Children Don’t Throw Food,” based on Pamela Druckerman’s autobiographical book, “Bringing [...]

  • Empty movie theater

    Cinemark Cuts Employee Wages Temporarily After Coronavirus Closes Theaters

    Cinemark is temporarily reducing wages for all U.S. employees while its theaters remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With these measures, workers salaries will be cut by around 50%. All employees are working reduced hours and will still maintain full benefits. Cinemark’s CEO Mark Zoradi and the board of directors are voluntarily forgoing their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content