We need to be humble enough to recognize that unforeseen things can and do happen that are nobody’s fault. A good example of this occurred during the making of Toy Story 2. Earlier, when I described the evolution of that movie, I explained that our decision to overhaul the film so late in the game led to a meltdown of our workforce. This meltdown was the big unexpected event, and our response to it became part of our mythology. But about ten months before the reboot was ordered, in the winter of 1998, we’d been hit with a series of three smaller, random events—the first of which would threaten the future of Pixar. To understand this first event, you need to know that we rely on Unix and Linux machines to store the thousands of computer files that comprise all the shots of any given film. And on those machines, there is a command—/bin/rm -r -f *—that removes everything on the file system as fast as it can. Hearing that, you can probably anticipate what’s coming: Somehow, by accident, someone used this command on the drives where the Toy Story 2 files were kept. Not just some of the files, either. All of the data that made up the pictures, from objects to backgrounds, from lighting to shading, was dumped out of the system. First, Woody’s hat disappeared. Then his boots. Then he disappeared entirely. One by one, the other characters began to vanish, too: Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, Rex. Whole sequences—poof!—were deleted from the drive. Oren Jacobs, one of the lead technical directors on the movie, remembers watching this occur in real time. At first, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Then, he was frantically dialing the phone to reach systems. “Pull out the plug on the Toy Story 2 master machine!” he screamed. When the guy on the other end asked, sensibly, why, Oren screamed louder: “Please, God, just pull it out as fast as you can!” The systems guy moved quickly, but still, two years of work—90 percent of the film—had been erased in a matter of seconds. An hour later, Oren and his boss, Galyn Susman, were in my office, trying to figure out what we would do next. “Don’t worry,” we all reassured each other. “We’ll restore the data from the backup system tonight. We’ll only lose half a day of work.” But then came random event number two: The backup system, we discovered, hadn’t been working correctly. The mechanism we had in place specifically to help us recover from data failures had itself failed. Toy Story 2 was gone and, at this point, the urge to panic was quite real. To reassemble the film would have taken thirty people a solid year. I remember the meeting when, as this devastating reality began to sink in, the company’s leaders gathered in a conference room to discuss our options—of which there seemed to be none. Then, about an hour into our discussion, Galyn Susman, the movie’s supervising technical director, remembered something: “Wait,” she said. “I might have a backup on my home computer.” About six months before, Galyn had had her second baby, which required that she spend more of her time working from home. To make that process more convenient, she’d set up a system that copied the entire film database to her home computer, automatically, once a week. This—our third random event—would be our salvation. Within a minute of her epiphany, Galyn and Oren were in her Volvo, speeding to her home in San Anselmo. They got her computer, wrapped it in blankets, and placed it carefully in the backseat. Then they drove in the slow lane all the way back to the office, where the machine was, as Oren describes it, “carried into Pixar like an Egyptian pharaoh.” Thanks to Galyn’s files, Woody was back—along with the rest of the movie.
Ed Catmull (Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration)