Toy Story was a huge hit in 1995, but it didn’t start out that way for Pixar. In the 80s Pixar started developing short computer-animated films, one of which, Tin Toy, received an Academy Award in 1988. When they developed this short film into a half-hour holiday special it fell flat. They persisted and in 1991 Pixar signed a deal with Disney to develop three animated full-feature films, with Toy Story being the first.
Toys were a popular animation subject at Pixar so they took the main character from Tin Toy and changed it to be a more relatable action figure, Buzz Lightyear. They came up with a ventriloquist dummy to be the adversary, but this eventually changed to the loveable pull-string cowboy, Woody.
When Pixar presented its first storyboard, Disney executives felt the characters were too cookie-cutter and wholesome. Disney was about to pull the plug when Pixar asked for a grace period of 3 months. At that point, the Pixar leadership and team said “if we’re gonna go down, let’s go down doing what we believe in.” They came back to Disney with revisions and eventually the plot and characters were in place. At that point, things still did not go as planned. The next step, the technical part, proved to be much more difficult than anticipated. Originally Pixar anticipated they would need 8 animators and could finish in 20 months using 53 processors. Instead, it took 5 years using 30 animators and 300 processors.
All of this hard work paid off when Toy Story hit the theaters in 1995. It made over $358 million worldwide and turned Pixar into one of the most successful animation studios in the world.
As a leader, you must dream and work with your team to make those dreams come true. Sometimes you underestimate the project and the amount of work it will take. Other times you underestimate your team’s skills and don’t dream big enough. Either way, you have a decision to make and that is how will you adjust in order to make those dreams come true. As the leader being aware of everything that is happening and knowing when to make those adjustments is part of the job, but determining what direction to go is not always easy.