Animation: A film style 20+ years in the making

Zach, Staff Writer

3D Animation has made some major advances in the past 20 years, from simple 3D models to the near-photorealism of modern films. For the lives of most students the changes over time can seem so gradual as to seem almost invisible, but side by side the advances are incredibly clear. 

However, with movies having different stylistic choices and characters, it is incredibly difficult to really see the advances. After all, a well directed and properly stylized shot from an early movie will always look better than a shoddy rushed one created with modern tech. 

Luckily for comparison’s sake, Pixar recently released “Toy Story 4”, the modern continuation of a franchise active around the turn of the century. Specifically the original “Toy Story”, released in 1995, 24 years before the new film released in 2019. Both Pixar films represent some of the highest quality animation of their times, and really show the advances of 3D animation. 

Bo Peep (of Toy Story) and her evolution during the last 24 years

Though many characters seem significantly improved, “Toy Story’s” use of toy characters makes it somewhat less obvious. However, Bo Peep has seen the most major improvements of a constant character, looking both more realistic and more porcelain. 

Not only a better developed model, but the lighting really sells the shine of porcelain. The sharp edges rounded out, details instead of nothing and much more convincing eyes. The difference even within the same character and art style appears striking.  

For an even more pronounced change just look at the difference between the rending of animals between  the movies, toys were specifically chosen because they’re easier to animate but animals show the difference very clearly.  

Pixar’s evolution of animating animals from Toy Story to Toy Story 4

The dog from the original has a somewhat blocky form without proper fur, his teeth thin and creepy, his eyes wide and unnatural. In comparison, the cat from “Toy Story 4” looks almost photorealistic, the cat has very detailed fur that has light refracting through dynamically.

Overall 3D animation has seriously improved in quality over the last 20 years, here’s to seeing what might come out of the next 20 years. Now I’m not the only one who noticed this sort of discrepancy, Insider has a brilliant article about the topic that goes more into detail about specifics of your interest: