Designing the Antique Mall in ‘Toy Story 4’ – A.I. Spiders & Josh Cooley’s Challenge

Toy Story 4’s Second-Chance Antiques store is one of many new locations the characters find themselves in, but how was it designed?
Toy Story 4 Second Chance Antiques Store Design and layout

At our recent visit to Pixar Animation Studios (April 2019) to learn all about the production of Toy Story 4, one of the sessions that we were completely enamored with, “Outside the (Toy) Box.” In this session, we learned all about the Sets team and how they conceptualized and created the antique store and carnival.

Of the approximately 30 people who crafted the sets in Toy Story 4, we discussed the designs with Stephen Karski (Sets Supervisor), Thomas Jordan (Sets Supervisor), and Rosie Cole (Sets Technical Director).


“The first new world, which gives us a fantastic opportunity to experience a place which we may take for granted as humans, but is captivating from a toy’s perspective, is an antiques mall,” said Stephen Karski.

So, how did the team dive in and start designing such a large space? Remember that everything in an animated film must be created from scratch, so the team dove into three elements first — what are the design, history, and scale of the building that they’re aiming for.

Stephen Karski Toy Story 4 Antique Store Set
Stephen Karski discussing the store’s exterior


To kick off the process, Dan Holland (Sets Art Director), started drawing up rough designs and created a back story that the antique mall was previously a furniture store. These elements influence the layout of the building, highlighting where the support beams would be or where the windows would be placed.

After the team has a general starting point of a style — in this case, art deco — they do a quick pre-visualization (commonly referred to as, pre-vis) layout by mocking up the design in the computer. They add in temporary walls, furniture, and adjust the ceiling height to get the “feel” that they’re going after. They also need to make sure things feel “real” — is there enough room for human characters to walk through the isles and ensure that it looks appealing from a toy and human perspective.

Stephen even went on to discuss how important refining the little details on the exterior are once the general feel of the building is solidified. He shared images of their research trips and noted, “in our free time, we’re the weirdo’s lying on the sidewalk, next to a laundromat, geeking out on the irregularity of tiles — we want to dial in those irregularities.”


Now that the exterior is designed, how do they fill the space? This turned out to be the perfect project for Rosie Cole because her family used to own an antique store — she knew about all the nooks and crannies in these types of stores. She even shared a local television commercial the store used for advertising. It had all the quirks you’d expect from a 1990s-era local TV commercial, with her Uncle jumping on a couch as the camera panned across the store.

Rosie Cole discussing Pixar's Toy Story 4 Antique Store and Carnival design
Rosie Cole shares her inspirations for the antique store’s interior

Rosie noted that 8,000 square foot store had about 10,000 props that needed to be placed (in order to make it look full and authentic). (These 10,000 items ties in with our previous post about the many easter eggs hidden in the film — read more here.) With this many props, the team didn’t have time to refine every one, but, any prop that would be predominately featured or interact with a character (called a “hero prop”) was designed with significantly more detail by the modeling team.

Just like a real antique store, this one is laid out with different areas like a sewing section, a shabby chic area, or even the humorously-titled, “mallard musings” section with paintings and carvings of wooden ducks!

It should also be noted that Gabby Gabby’s home in the store is a large, luxurious art deco cabinet, created to match the overall feel of the building exterior. The cabinet was lovingly referred to as “The Gabinet.” We can’t wait for everyone to see how beautiful the Gabinet is — you can catch a sneak peek of it in the latest trailer (the moment where the shopkeeper locks the cabinet).


Throughout the film, you’ll notice an immense amount of detail in the objects like oxidation, dents, scratches, dirt, dust, rust and even cobwebs in corners. Thomas Jordan said, “Josh challenged us early on to add an extra level of age, history, wear, and details like we’ve never seen before at Pixar because of how important it is to the story.”

Thomas Jordan Toy Story 4 Antique Store Details Session
Thomas Jordan discusses the small details in Toy Story 4’s Antique store

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

Later in the session, we were able to ask a question about the spider webs and we found out that any cobwebs which the characters interact with (like the one Bo Peep pulls out of the way with her shepherd’s crook in the first trailer) had to be hand-created to move and animate as expected — but those in the backgrounds were created with the A.I. spiders — Wow!

You can hear the complete session interview and learn even more about the carnival game booths and carousel which were designed for the film in the upcoming episode (#67) of the Pixar Post Podcast.

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