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Thursday, 2 July 2015

'Save Woody and Buzz': When Pixar's Toy Story sequel almost got deleted, thanks to a single line of code

Toy Story 2 (Picture Credits: Pixar)

With Pixar out with the latest film Inside Out, the animation heavyweight always treats us to awesome movies with each passing year. They have come a long way from giving emotions to toys and now their latest venture is a film where emotions have emotions (just guessing what’s up their sleeve for the coming years).

Watching the great work of the artists and the animators since childhood has been really amazing as well as inspiring. Pixar has released 15 films, the first being, Toy Story a major hit with the audience and achieved critical acclaim as well with an Academy Award and 3 nominations.

Toy Story 3 released in 2010 and became the second highest-grossing animated movie. It is only second to Frozen (2013) which grossed $1,279,852,693. Lion King missing out on the $1,000,000,000 club, Frozen and Toy Story 3 being the only computer animated films to gross over $1,000,000,000 in worldwide earnings.

The Toy Story franchise (Picture Credit: Pixar)

Before Pixar released Toy Story 2, Woody was almost deleted twice. It was when they were trying to fix Woody’s hat, they discovered that Woody’s folder which had 40 files now had only 4. It was an erroneous command that had wiped off all the man hours put in.

When the news started making rounds, there was only one question, ‘how did it happen?’ Since Pixar had a considerable number of people working on the project, almost everyone required write permissions to the master files to deliver projects on time. Pixar worked with Unix systems and it was only a matter of a 'slash' to change directories and login to another system (even that of Steve Jobs). It was a single command that had almost deleted Toy Story 2, '/bin/rm -r -f *', which removed all files from a particular location on the system. Since every machine was connected, the command could have been issued from any machine on the network.

Piece by piece Woody had lost his hat, boots and whole scenes had vanished into thin air. They grabbed their backup tapes and started restoring the data. It took a couple days to complete the restoration process. Everything seemed to be working fine, except a few errors here and there.

Now, Pixar was familiar with such lapses. Many of the ants got wiped off the system during the production of 'A Bug’s Life'. These little creatures were restored, thanks to Pixar’s backup tapes. At that time, frequent checks would have to be made to ensure backups were taking place normally.

That’s where the trouble began as the backup drive had been filled to the brim and even the error log (located on the drive itself) was zero bytes in size. It was like a stack of plates; new data was being overwritten on top of the older data. They realized that the backups were busted when they took a closer look at the rendered files from the restoration.

'You almost got annihilated.'(Picture Credits: Pixar)

Luckily, a Pixar employee had recently given birth and was working from home, with the entire copy of the files on her workstation. She rushed back and carefully hauled the machine into her car and put a seat belt around it. They drove at 35 mph with their blinkers on carrying the machine like an 'Egyptian pharaoh'. The car was worth 100 million dollars, with all the team’s efforts in that machine, safely strapped to the backseat like a child.

The team crossed their fingers hoping the drive hadn’t crashed. They quickly copied the two week old backup. They started verifying each file, 100,000s of them. They got all the people they could to run checks and verify as quickly as possible. Pixar finally retrieved the data and made up for lost time instead of wasting it on blaming one another.

A Bug's Life (Picture Credit: Pixar)

But this was not the end. A Bug’s Life had been released and the bosses came around to take a look at Toy Story's sequel. Toy Story 2 was particularly not a good film and the film was re-written, the only constant being the characters and some scenes. They had to re-make the film in 9 months with the release data set in stone. If the project wouldn’t be delivered on time, it would mean a big setback for the company. They went all-in and completed the project on time and grossed $490M, cementing Pixar's stronghold in animated film-making.

Here is the Pixar's success visualized using d3.js, check it out! Did you know it was only once in the NBA, NFL and MLB that the losing team’s player got the MVP award check out 2015 NBA Finals with d3.js interactive visualisations, a two part series. Or read about the remarkable predictions Nikola Tesla and Mendeleev made which actually turned out to be spot-on.

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