For fans of the original Toy Story and its 1999 sequel, the return of Bo Peep, Woody's girlfriend, in Toy Story 4 is one of the new movie’s many, many highlights. (Hello, Ducky and Bunny!) But the new Bo Peep (again voiced by Annie Potts) isn’t the same porcelain figurine we knew before — she’s no longer a pristine shepherdess, but a battered, battle-ready explorer. Once a supporting character, Bo Peep is now a lead.
As the character designer and rigger, Mara MacMahon is one of the several Pixar animators (more of that later) tasked with Bo’s makeover, which they had to start from scratch. “The technology we had back then was really different from what we have now,” MacMahon tells 8 DAYS.SG “So we are able to realise Bo in new levels of details that we haven’t before.”
In Singapore recently for the first-ever Pixar Animations Studios Drawing Workshop, a special programme in the Children’s Festival by Gardens by the Bay, MacMahon remembers watching the first Toy Story when she was “six or eight”. “When I found out I get to be picking up [after colleague Tanja Krampfert worked on the modelling side], I was really excited, honestly.” All in all, she spent a year working on Bo.
As character designer, MacMahon's job is to create a bunch of images of the character that complements its quirks and traits in the story. In other words, she has to figure out how the character is going to look like. What does a rigger do, then? Her job is to translate the art department’s designs into a 3D sculpture and add controls for the animation department to manipulate the character’s movements, from facial expressions to shifting joints.
“Think of us as creating the strings for a puppet and the animator would then take the puppet and pose them,” says MacMahon who joined Pixar in 2016 and has worked on Cars 3, the Oscar-winning short Bao, and Purl, a workplace satirical short released on Pixar’s YouTube channel.
Here, MacMahon shares some stories on how she and her Pixar-mates brought Bo Peep to life.