The Sound Design of ‘Toy Story’ is All About Balance

Listen up: when you're building a world from the perspective of toys, sound design is critical.
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Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching an exploration of the sound design of Pixar’s Toy Story.

The Academy Awards for Best Sound Design and Best Sound Mixing have long been a confusing part of the Oscars ceremony. What’s the difference between the two categories? Not a lot of viewers knew.

Bluntly put: a sound mixer is in charge of how you hear a film; a sound editor is in charge of what you hear in a film.

But you’d be forgiven for not being able to suss out the difference for yourself. There’s an un-said trend that “good” sound design and mixing should immerse you to the point that it goes unnoticed.

This can make it difficult to tell design and mixing apart. More importantly, it can obfuscate the films that take a more expressionistic and creative approach to sound-based storytelling.

For a great example of a film that foregrounds sound, we can look at Pixar‘s first feature film, Toy Story. As designed by Gary Rydstrom, the 1995 animated feature’s use of sound endows a sense of personality into each and every character, setting, and isolated emotional moment without distracting us from the dialogue or the core of the film’s narrative.

Moreover, as the video essay below underlines, the Toy Story sound design (which was not nominated in either sound Oscar category) is so successful because it’s a balancing act: between the exaggerated and the realistic; between the small and the gargantuan; and between the literal and the subjective.

Sound in Toy Story impresses a sense of scale that puts us in the cowboy boots of our tiny, plastic protagonists. It’s sound that allows a bull terrier to take on the aspect of a dinosaur. And it’s sound that sells us on the film’s constant perspective switching: between toys, humans, and toys who really want to believe they’re human.

Watch “Listening to Toy Story“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by the Texas-based Royal Ocean Film Society, run by Andrew Saladino. You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account here. If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can give them follow on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.