Friday, January 25, 2013

Live Action Toy Story - Our Interview with Jonason Pauley

By now you've probably heard the buzz surrounding the Live Action Toy Story project, where a small group of friends (led by Jonason Pauley and Jesse Perrotta) recreated Toy Story  in its entirety (yes, the full movie) using a combination of real toys, live actors, green screens and stop-motion animation.

Photo of Jesse Perotta & Jonason Pauley from the Live-Action Toy Story Facebook page

Pixar Post had been following the team's progress for close to a year through their YouTube channel and we were ecstatic to see the film finally uploaded this January. With the flurry of media attention surrounding the duo, we were excited that we were able to catch up with Jonason to find out more details surrounding the project as well as some of the "ah-ha" moments during filming.

For our reader's convenience, we have provided the audio interview as well as a transcription of the call. Click the button below to listen to the interview (15 minutes).


After some introductory casual conversation with Jonason, we dug right into the questions.

Question - Pixar Post [PP]
We watched some of the clips that were released while you were filming the project on your YouTube channel and from those clips we never really got a sense of the end quality and dedication to the project until we were able to take a look at the whole thing and kind of...well, the first time you look through it, you find yourself bouncing around the full video. You keep saying, "Oh, I want to check out this scene" or, "I want to check out that scene".

Since you've uploaded the full video on YouTube on January 12, you're around 7.9 million views as of today...you were featured on the homepage of YouTube, you've received some Yahoo! coverage, there were also articles that were either written about you or you had interviews from Huffington Post, ABC News, so-on-and-so-forth...so talk about the whirlwind of attention it has received over the last week or so since you've uploaded it.

Answer - Jonason Pauley [JP]
So, we knew that there were people that wanted to see it already. People that were online that had seen the clips like you said before. So we had these people that wanted to see it, but we had no idea how fast it was going to "go". I've been hearing from all my friends, "I can't believe it, someone else saw this before I did and I actually know you". So their friends were sharing it with them and they were like, "well I know that guy". It was crazy, I had no idea it would go so fast and this morning we were on Good Morning Arizona to do a short little interview. That was fun, its really been crazy - we never expected this much so fast.

[PP] - So, how many interviews and how many conversations have you had about this now?

[JP] - Somewhere around fifteen probably and there are countless more articles but I've only actually talked to...well, that's still quite a few.

[PP] - Yeah, I know. There are a lot of articles out there that they didn't even necessarily contact you, it was more of, "hey, check this out".

You had mentioned that you get a lot of the same questions when we were talking prior to the recording - what's the most typical question that you get asked in regards to this project?

[JP] - We get asked, "How long did it take?'...and it took two-and-a-half years - just about. We get asked, "Why?"...and the answer is, "Why not"? I wanted to watch it myself and we wanted to get experience with filmmaking and things like that - there are plenty of good reasons. And then we hear the same follow up question, "What's next?" and then answer is, "not Toy Story 2"!

Compare of original scene and re-created scene.
Notice the insane amount of detail in positioning as well as the background

[PP] - I've heard you mention in some other interviews that there were moments when you were thinking, "Hey, this may not even come to fruition - we may not even finish this project". What was that tipping point where you guys said to yourselves or each other, "Are we wasting our time here?" or, "Should we not be doing this"? What was that tipping point when you guys questioned the future of the project?

[JP] - You know what, I don't know that there ever was. We started with Andy's room because most of the movie is there and it seemed like a good place to start...at the beginning. So we gathered up the props and bought the wallpaper and things like that - and by that time it's like, "Well, we can't quit now". So, once we started working it was just, "OK, we've got to get out of Andy's room" because it was almost a year in there because we only did it on the weekend or when we had time. So that was exciting finishing that and getting to move on and go outside a little bit. There were points where we were like, "how the heck are we going to do this" and we said, "well, we don't know - but when we get there we'll figure it out".

[PP] - That's a good attitude to take. You guys probably wouldn't have completed it if you guys tried to think of all of it at one time. 

Going along those same lines, if you think about undertaking a project of this size, how did you originally jump in and tackle it to get the accuracy of the shots and angles? What I mean by that is did you do story boards or draw out some shots, how did you break it up into chunks?

[JP] - I wrote out all the different scenes and all the different locations that they take place in. Jesse went and watched the entire movie and paused it at every shot and wrote down every single thing that you see. He has a huge list of every prop and every character with what they're wearing and everything else. So we went through that and gathered stuff up for a month before we even started. While we were filming for the first week, we were using the TV and watching it on the DVD player in the other corner of the room while we were trying to film and it was difficult. But over the summer I had won an iPad from a Disney video contest and we quickly put the movie (the real Toy Story) on there and used that - it was much easier that way.

[PP] - So is that what you guys used when you were in the field as well?

[JP] - Yeah, so we had the real movie on the iPad and then we'd watch it and pause it at every shot, do the shot and move on to the next one.

Again, notice the amazing details of the items in the background 

[PP] - After we had been in contact with you to ask if we could have a conversation, we had mentioned on Twitter that we loved the gas station scene with the semi truck and you had replied to us saying that it was one of your favorite scenes to shoot. So, first question, how did you guys get a semi truck to work with you and then what made shooting those scenes one of your favorites and most memorable?

[JP] - Yeah, that was so much fun. It was one of the first things we did outside of Andy's room, so it was fun for that reason because we were outside. We were filming just as much as we could with just the toys at a gas station that looked nice. And we were like, "we'll just hang out here until a truck comes" and one came to the gas station across the street. So we drove over there, talked to the guy and he was like, "oh, yeah, OK, that sounds like fun". Before he stared pumping the gas he almost ran over Woody's head for us.

[PP] - Laughs

[JP] - It was one of those moments where I was thinking to myself, "How in the world are we going to do this shot without worrying about crushing Woody and the camera"? And then Jesse says, "Oh, we'll do it backwards" and I'm like, "Oh, yes, that's awesome"!

[PP] - Oooooohhhhhh

[JP] - Started next to his head and drove backwards.

[PP] - Holy cow!

[JP] - Yeah, I was really happy with the way that turned out. Watching it the first time I was like, "Oh, that's so good - it's going to work".

[PP] - You know, in another one of your YouTube videos, you did the Rube Goldberg type setup in which you set up an elaborate series of events with DVDs knocking over a clock, which triggered the RC character (from Toy Story) to drive, and so-on and so-on...to eventually complete the simple event of watering the plant. So you went through 48 attempts until the plant was finally watered - and in that movie, much like the Toy Story project that you guys did - where did you find the patience to set and reset many, many times to get things right?

[JP] - Well that was a science homework project so I had to do it....so that was the motivation for that...it had to be finished.

[PP] - Laughs

[JP] - Similarly with the Toy Story movie, once we were telling people that we were doing it...now we have to finish, we can't quit because there's people wanting to see it now. So, it was similar in that way.


[PP] - Did you guys ever work with toys on strings or wires before you started doing the project...or even stop-animation?

[JP] - Yeah, I knew that I wanted to do movies since I was about seven years old and so I would always try and come up with different types of things. I did a lot of stop-motion things with my toys when I was little, so I had a little bit of experience in that. Jesse and his Brother have a puppet show on YouTube called Billy and Chucky so he had experience with puppets a lot - it's one of the things he wanted to do...so he knew what he was doing.

[PP] - With the puppets, some of the scenes had so many characters involved - like the one where they're all coming out of the dirt and confronting Sid - so how did you get so many strings involved?

[JP] - We just had to conceptualize it while we were there. You know the one that I thought would take forever didn't take five minutes - the one where all the toys are circling and coming closer. I thought, "oh this is going to be a nice rest of the day".

[PP] - I would have thought so from looking at it.

[JP] - Yeah, but that shot got completed way faster than almost any of the others there because we just spend more time thinking about it. So it was like, "These strings have got to be pulled from this direction...well no one can be over there, that's in the shot. We'll put this post and wrap this strings around that. So then we pull that from over there and then they'll go that way." It took a little more planning than the others, but it went a lot faster. The one that had the most people helping - the most strings of any shot in the whole movie is when Woody stands up after Sid runs away and all the others celebrate. That had...oh how many people were there...six...seven...eight, nine...almost ten people.

[PP] - Yeah, you can tell, it was a bigger scene that definitely involved, and needed to involve more people. 

[JP] - Usually what we decided was, if there's a lot of toys in the shot, or if they're far away, we'll try and do stop-motion. There's a few nasty shots I'm not happy with, but you know, it was as good as we could do at the time.

[PP] - So what's the scene...talking about when you said in your words, "a nasty shot"...what's a scene that you look at and you go, "gosh, I wish we could redo that one"?

[JP] - Well, I don't want to redo any of it! Laughs.

[PP] - Sure...if you could snap your fingers and it would be done?

[JP] - Yeah, there's some scenes where I wish my editing could have been better - which the only way that could have happened is if we would have planned it better while we were filming. There's some "not great" green screening and some stop-motion didn't really work out very well. But there was no way to tell while we were doing it. It's just things like that...and I am happy with the final product.

[PP] - Oh absolutely, yeah, it's fantastic. Like I said, we never got a sense for the true quality of it all until you see it all together...where it's...done well!

[JP] - I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it.

They even hired a dog actor and rented a moving truck

[PP] - Yeah! So, you were mentioning that you wanted to go into film. What degree are you going towards or what are you working towards right now in school?

[JP] - I'm working on a degree in electronic media and film at Northern Arizona.

[PP] - OK, and for people that might be interested in getting into this - give a little bit more of the background as far as what program you used to edit...what did you use to film it with...did you come up with any kind of steadicam that you were using - how did you do some of those things?

[JP] - Well, I just used what I had and it wasn't much. It was just a basic consumer camcorder. A lot of people were saying, "What, this isn't in HD?" and well...I didn't have HD. So it was just what I had, it was a basic camcorder and then at first I was editing on Adobe Premiere Pro 2 and then that computer had a heart attack and died and we got the newer version of Premiere Pro. There was one scene that Jesse edited because I was overwhelmed with editing stuff towards the end. He edited with Vegas which is a lot more simple than most - but it was what he had.

[PP] - Anything else that you could pass on to people that listen to this that might be interested in getting into film - what's the biggest thing that you learned walking away from this project?

[JP] - For me personally, it was that I shouldn't be afraid to ask people for help or for something that we need because we tried to do this with a zero dollar budget, which obviously didn't happen. But we did get a lot of stuff from our friends and most of the sets are either at my parent's house or a friend's house. It was just a matter of asking people and there were so many times where we needed...like in the car chase at the end, we needed a certain number of cars and hopefully in "these colors". So we'd just go and knock on people's doors and ask, "Hey, could you come out for a couple minutes and help us"? And people we're willing - they were nice about it. That's what I'd say for people who want to do something like this - just go the extra mile and try and do it better than you thought you would have originally.
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Our sincere thanks to Jonason Pauley for taking the time to chat with us regarding their massive project. If you'd like to stay in touch with the Live-Action Toy Story project, you can follower their Facebook page, Twitter page or their YouTube channel.

If you haven't checked out the full 80-minute Live-Action Toy Story, watch it below and be amazed.


Pixar Post - T.J.

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