The day Toy Story 2 was mistakenly deleted from Pixar’s servers

Fortunately, the film was saved by a woman who is now working on Buzz Lightyear!

While Pixar will release a spin-off film from its initial saga this year, Toy Storydedicated to the astronaut who served as a model for Buzz Lightyeara history dating back to 1998 during the manufacture of Toy Story 2 resurfaced. The Next Web publishes a long interview with Oren Jacob, one of the film’s technical team leaders (and since the head of the ToyTalk company), which details how much of the film was mistakenly deleted from the servers from the studio. Luckily one of the employees, Galyn Susman, had a copy of most of the files at home!

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When files disappear by the thousands
“The first time I noticed this disappearance, I was working on Woody, he begins. With Larry Cutler, we were trying to fix a problem with the character’s hat. We looked at our working folder, it contained 40 files. When he threw back an eye, there were only four left. We saw entire sequences begin to disappear before our eyes, saying to ourselves: ‘Oh my God !’ I grabbed the phone to shout: ‘Unplug the machine!’

Delivering numerous technical details, the person concerned explains that at the time, some of the Pixar employees were finalizing 1001 Pawswhile another created Toy Story 2. The team dedicated to this sequel included approximately 150 animators, modelers and artists specializing in the lighting of animated films, while that occupied by A Bug’s Life numbered almost twice as many: around 250 people. This is explained by the close deadline of the film, supposed to be released in the fall of 1998, while the new adventures of Woody and Buzz were expected a year later. A deadline that is difficult to meet, however, following the disappearance of thousands of files in the middle of the production of this suite. Completely animated scenes lost part of their files before the eyes of the technical teams, which made them unusable. This prompted executives to simply cut servers, which normally never happens in a company of this size. “At the time, the animators, everyone working on the film must have said to themselves: ‘Oh, the machines don’t work anymore? Alright, well let’s have lunch.’ (laughs)” Except that when they were able to be reignited a few hours later, there was only 10% of all the work done on Toy Story 2. 90% of the film had been erased.

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Corrupt backups

How could such a mistake happen? “When 400 people work on the same server and they all have significant access to all the data, it can come from any branch. It becomes difficult to control the damage. Pixar, that was back then a very open Unix environment, you could change file types with a ‘slash’, wander around the server and even log into Ed Catmull’s or Steve Jobs’ computer if you wanted to. not directly on the films, but we could have”, assures Jacob. He clarified that no one was punished for this huge mistake, the bosses of the studio focusing instead on how to recover the files, then in a second step to learn from them and make their servers more secure. Finding a backup plan then became the priority for Jacob’s team, who recalls that at the time, data was backed up on 4GB tapes. Backups which were however not made regularly enough to find all the lost data. The problem is that while testing them, they discovered that files were missing from these “backups” or that these were recorded in lower quality than expected. “We lost at least a week of work”the person then said to himself, before realizing that the multiple error messages seen during their last work sessions were in fact hiding more important problems: “When we compared the remaining shots to our saves, we quickly saw that they were incomplete. We didn’t understand how we could have obtained these renders with multiple missing files, but they were.” An animator working on a 420 version of an image could end up at version 20, having to redo most of the work lost in this huge mistake. “All that work was permanently lost, it couldn’t be properly restored.”

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A $10 million Volvo

It was then that Gaylen Susman, also responsible for supervising the technical aspects of Toy Story 2, offered to bring back a storage computer, which was in her home as she had been working from home since the birth of her baby. The last backup was a fortnight ago, but at least all the files there were complete and undamaged like the ones that had just been recovered. Jacob and Susman then embarked on a “rescue mission” of this data, told with humor by Oren.

“We got in his Volvo to go to Richmont to pick up this machine. We installed it in the back with the belt and blankets so as not to damage it. I drove very slowly with the lights on. distress hoping that it would attract the attention of the police to escort us. We didn’t meet any cops, it didn’t help us at all. (laughs) At that time, the Volvo was costing around 100 million dollars, there was all the efforts of our teams in this machine. Eight people were waiting for us in the parking lot, we took it out as if it were the coffin of a pharaoh.

He goes on to explain how everyone was holding their breath while plugging it in, fearing that by plugging it into the server it might crash and lose its data, but luckily everything worked and the team was able to recover much of the data. .

A crazy weekend

The technicians then had to work day and night over a long weekend to recover everything. They had about 100,000 files to check! “From Friday to Monday morning, we worked non-stop, taking turns and sleeping in sleeping bags. There were a dozen of us doing that.” An exceptional case in the history of Pixar, which brought Jacob and his colleagues closer: “What I remember best are the cookies, lemonade, pizzas and flowers that were sent to us. Someone had even hired a masseuse on Sundays to help us! People who worked in a health center The emergency also brought us blankets.”

All these efforts have made it possible to restore most of Toy Story 2, and the bosses of the studio did not embark on a “witch hunt” to find out who was responsible for all this mess, he says. On the other hand, the film as we know it was largely rewritten AFTER this mishap, which means that a good part of this work had to be thrown away to start on new bases. Because at Christmas 1998, once 1001 Paws released, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft saw the film’s progress and did not like the result. So they took advantage of the Christmas holidays to rewrite it. When the animation team returned in January, they pitched the new movie to them, keeping only the characters and some of the background (Andy’s room, for example, or Al’s toy store), but transforming most of the sequences and even adding characters, like the dog Buster. A new work of titans for the technical teams: the release of Toy Story 2 being maintained in November 1999, they had less than a year to create the film that we know today. Still according to Jacob: “We had to save Buzz and Woody, save the saga, save the film, save the company. It was a hell of a bet!”

Toy Story 2 eventually hit the big time, grossing nearly $500 million worldwide. Two decades later, Jacob thinks “Lucky” to have been able to participate in such an experience, even if it was exhausting at the time: “To go through all of this without blinking for 60 hours straight and still look presentable was impossible. But all of a sudden we were brought food, or a blanket, or someone put you under the shower and you said to yourself: ‘Wow! How did all this happen?’ We lived it without really thinking about it, and the memory I have of this experience is the friendship that was formed during this crazy weekend. What we’ve been through together has brought us closer.” For Susman too, it was a springboard, since she remained faithful to this saga, and to her studio, and today works as a producer on Buzz Lightning, which will be released on June 22 at the cinema. Here is its trailer:

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