Pixar's Ralph Eggleston Reflects on the Birth of 'Toy Story,' Meeting Steve Jobs

Walt Disney/Photofest; Pixar/Disney
'Toy Story's' Buzz Lightyear (left) and Parr family from 'The Incredibles.'

The 26-year animation veteran and Oscar winner — who will receive a career achievement honor at the Annie Awards on Saturday — also reveals his surprising favorite 'Inside Out' character.

On Nov. 22, 1995, the animation world began a seminal change with the theatrical debut of Toy Story, the first computer-animated feature, and Ralph Eggleston was there to help make it happen. "I don't think there were too many people at the time who thought we were going to pull this off, much less make a film that focused on exactly the right thing, which was storytelling," he admits.

On Feb. 2, the 26-year Pixar veteran and Oscar-winning director, animator and art director will receive ASIFA-Hollywood's Winsor McCay Award for career achievement at the 46th annual Annie Awards. The late Frank Braxton, the first African-American animator for a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.), and casting director and voice director/actress Andrea Romano are the two other recipients.

"We mostly came from traditional animation," says Eggleston, who joined the company in 1993, of the early Pixar team. "I knew nothing about computers. They were actually writing the software and building the hardware to make Toy Story as we were building the story."

So they developed new ways of working, with collaboration between artists and engineers. "I had to learn how to verbalize art in the drawings [because] the people I was working with had varying degrees of ability to look at a two-dimensional drawing and transfer it into a three-dimensional image."

He put in some long hours along the way, and that's how one morning Eggleston came to meet Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs. "I'd stayed awake all night to finish, and I fell asleep at my desk — because we did that when we were young. I went to take a shower on-site, and when I went back to my office there was a bearded guy with a white T-shirt and shorts. He looked like a homeless guy. It kind of scared me at first, until he introduced himself, and it was Steve Jobs."

Jobs asked if Eggleston could operate a computer for him. "The only place where we could look at color-corrected computer imagery at the time was this one special computer, and not that many people knew how to operate it," he says.

Eggleston, now 53, went on to win an Oscar in 2002 for directing the animated short For the Birds and has worked on many animated features in various capacities, including production designing Wall-E, Inside Out and, most recently, the Oscar-nominated Incredibles 2.

When asked which Pixar character he most identifies with, Eggleston pauses: "I would say Sadness [from Inside Out]. The idea of being happy and crying versus being sad and crying versus being lonely and crying — the film explored that notion extremely delicately and in a really entertaining way."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.