In 1989, six years before the release of Toy Story was the release of the Pixar short Knick Knack. John Lasseter noted that after the completion of the short Tin Toy, the team really wanted to focus and do a cartoon. A cartoon made of geometric shapes and no human characters - basically something that the computer could do really well.
This is one of John Lasseter's favorite shorts because of how "cartoony" it is. When the team was working on Tin Toy, the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released into theaters. Once John saw Roger Rabbit he was immediately inspired to create a 'Chuck Jones' type of cartoon - which became Knick Knack
Did you know that Knick Knack was originally made in Stereo 3D? The team found themselves being interested in 3D photography at the time (it was the 80's), so they did two eye views - one right and one left, which John said worked really well.
Vice President of Software at Pixar, Eben Ostby created the Sunny Florida Knick Knack.
The particle system that Bill Reeves created for Andre and Wally B was used for the flakes of snow within the globe. There was also a new tool that was used in Knick Knack, it was a simple fluid simulation with blowers to make the snowflakes float around, though John noted that this was no easy task.
The team had to re-tweak every single shot numerous times before it was perfected. They also ran into some issues when the system brokedown and sent the snowflakes flying around the screen at lighting speed.
The scene where Knick (the snowman) is falling, John noted that the team watched the computer monitor that was set with 3D imagery in excitement of the rendered short. Wearing their 3D glasses they were in awe of how the snowflakes as well as how the fishbowl rocks just floated around Knick.
It was Pixarian Deirdre Warin who came up with the idea of the mermaid in the fishbowl. The idea came together at a story meeting for Knick Knack - an idea that really makes the short!
You can notice a hidden Knick in the Pixar Shorts: A Short History. As you can see from this screenshot it is in the background of the Ed Catmull commentary. I wonder if this came from the Pixar Studio Store? You can also see one of the birds from the For the Birds short - It looks like the 'Neurotic' bird, if you ask me.
Pixar Post - Julie