Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles This is a shot from Pixar's latest movie, "Soul." Even though it's animated, everything about how the fingers float from one key to another to the small details like tendons moving in the hand feels just as real as the reference footage that inspired it. While Pixar has used reference footage since the beginning, it could not have pulled off a scene with movement this nuanced and realistic back in 1995 for "Toy Story." And it took years of technological breakthroughs. So how did Pixar get here? First off, they have an army of animators and riggers. We talked to seven who worked on "Soul" to see how far Pixar has come. Let's start over 26 years ago with the technology built for "Toy Story." Getting a given character to move starts in Pixar's rigging and modeling department. Whenever you're thinking of a character model before it's rigged, it's in a completely neutral pose. There's no expression on the face. The arms and legs are all straight. And so the controls that we put in in rigging lets parts of the body move like you would pose like a doll or a puppet. To get a clearer idea of the basics, let's start with this character model of Woody. The rigging department will add the rig, which is essentially an inner skeleton. Throughout this rig you can see all these controls called animated variables, or avars, which animators use to make different parts of a character move around. This early version of Woody had 596 of those controls, which may seem like a lot, but by 2019's "Toy Story 4," Woody had more than 7,000. To make things a little more complicated, one control point is often connected to other control points. So moving one in the eyebrow will move the wrinkles on the forehead. Adding more controls to these "Toy Story" characters would have let them move with more nuance, but back then, Pixar was making a brand new rig for every single character. That would change with "Toy Story 2." Pixar introduced Geppetto, later updated to Presto, which allowed animators to reuse and adapt rigs for multiple characters. This sped up the animation process and gave animators more control over movements and facial expressions. The new software provided a template of two-legged and four-legged rigs that could be altered depending on the specific needs of a character. According to rigger Jared Fong, the sea lions in "Finding Dory" were actually constructed from dog rigs, with legs folded into flippers. More control with Geppetto also meant more expressive facial movements, as seen in 2003's "Finding Nemo." To really nail the character's emotions, animators used reference footage. Now fish don't have eyebrows or eyelids, but eyebrows are so important for expressing human emotions. So animators decided to add eyebrow-like lumps to characters like Marlin and Dory. And replicating real facial expressions meant connecting more control points with each other. You can see that with Dory. The control points around her mouth are connected with her eyes and her cheeks, giving her a more believable smile. A smize, if you will. After making major strides with toys and sea creatures, the most daunting challenge was yet to come: humans. Mr. Incredible consisted of 426 primary controls, 111 secondary animation controls for more subtle movements, and 1,061 modeling controls for sizing and other adjustments. Thanks to Geppetto, the rigging and modeling team could perfect Mr. Incredible and then reuse his rig for other characters. And to really make his movements realistic they used full-body reference footage. For example, this clip where an animator lifts up this exercise ball was helpful for moments like this, where Mr. Incredible lifts up an Omnidroid. And the team didn't animate just a rigid skeleton. On top of the skeleton was a layer of muscles, which could bulge and flex. And the skin on top of that would need to respond realistically. So Pixar developed a new system called Goo. This allowed the animators to see the skin and muscles react in real time as they worked, allowing for greater flexibility and movement and more control over how humans move. Goo led to breakthroughs in moving more challenging body parts, like the shoulders, which were more primitive in earlier films. The Buzz Lightyear shoulder's a ball and socket. Woody's shoulder is just a stitch line. He's got no shoulders, right? That arm just hinges. Mr. Incredible has a big old strong shoulder. How you get a trapezius muscle there in the shoulder, and how it moves in the pectoral, really complex stuff. The rigs built for "The Incredibles" were designed to let the characters stretch further than the average human. Which was important for Elastigirl, who needed to transform into all shapes and sizes. And just like how superheroes needed to react to forces like gravity, so too did the cars in Pixar's next feature, "Cars." Pixar extended its technological boundaries yet again with a system called ground locking, which made sure the cars always stayed on the same path, regardless of terrain, without animators having to move them frame by frame. We had to have our characters be able to follow the contours of the ground without having to animate them, like up and down if it was like, a rolling hill. So it's going to move along these things. And then we're going to animate on top of that. Because of ground locking, Lightning McQueen could now drive smoothly on a flat road that turns into a very windy path automatically. This may seem like a specific advancement just for the "Cars" movies, but it would be important for some of the most memorable characters in "Soul." By 2007, animators could have up to 150 controls in the human face. So they could give characters a much wider range of emotion. Perfect for a movie like "Ratatouille," which is largely set in the human world. All these intricate controls allowed for the complex array of expressions seen on Chef Skinner. Look at how far Chef Skinner's mouth extends as he's yelling at Linguini. According to supervising animator Mark Walsh, the tech wouldn't have been able to handle such a stretch in "Toy Story" or "Finding Nemo." The groundbreaking muscle work in "The Incredibles" allowed animators to give Linguini more spontaneous movements in the scenes where he's controlled by Remy in the kitchen. By the time "Toy Story 3" came out in 2010, Pixar's animators had gotten such precise control over how characters move, that it's surprising they'd want to take a step backward. But they actually relied on fewer controls to better replicate the trademark toy movements audiences knew and loved. If a character has a limited range of motion in its shoulder, what we'll do is we'll basically lock off some of that range of motion, and then that forces you to animate it in a different way. They still had room to pick and choose what they would keep about the old characters and where to elevate them. For example, they could have put 25 controls in each of Buzz's eyebrows, but decided to keep them simple, like when he had just three per brow in the original, while also giving Spanish Buzz these complicated flamenco-like moves. There was one particularly hard toy to animate: the octopus named Stretch. Despite the innovations in stretchiness from "The Incredibles," making eight tentacles stretch and curl was still a daunting task. We're fighting against the computer.