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To Infinity and Beyond - 20 Years of 'Toy Story'

23/11/2015 23:00 GMT | Updated 23/11/2016 10:12 GMT

"To infinity and beyond!" It's hard to believe that it's 20 years since Buzz Lightyear first crashed onto our cinema screens and uttered that iconic phrase. But here we are two decades, three films and 279 minutes later, and the words today seem more reflective of Toy Story's lasting influence on film and animation than its space ranger's complete lack of self-awareness.

Before I go on, it's probably best that I lay my cards on the table. I love Toy Story. I love its digital animation, I love its sound mixing, I love its characters and I love the fact it secretly introduces children to Cartesian solipsism (yes, really). But as someone who has spent years working with and teaching some of these techniques, what I really love about it is just how much it has changed the industry.

It's hard to believe it now but back in 1995 the idea of a film that was entirely animated using computers was strange even for those of specifically interested in animation. We'd seen people venture into the field for shorter pieces but a full feature length movie? It was too soon.

The sheer spectacle of what Pixar did was incredible. Here we had characters that occupied the space somewhere between the animated and real worlds, captured in a purgatory that perfectly fitted with the film's themes of the real and imaginary. It felt like I'd stumbled in on a mad scientist who'd just discovered the powers of reanimation and was preparing to present them to the world. "They did it" was the overriding thought. And they did it well.

For many of us interested in illustration, animation and filmmaking this was a real high water mark. These characters were three dimensional (in more ways than one) and the digitised world around them just felt so tangible. I remember that seeing Andy's bed and bedside table was the moment that I realised how truly special this film was going to be. They were real, but not real. Perfectly crafted to look genuine but also to fit into the animated world on screen.

The fact that this visually ground-breaking film came along with an intelligent, funny and heart-warming storyline is behind the longevity the film has had. And to produce two sequels which not only respected the original, but arguably improved on it, is nothing short of phenomenal.

But it is not just the film industry that Toy Story had an impact on. The revolutionary animation techniques have been adopted by computer games developers and artificial intelligence researchers. It's impossible to imagine a world where the likes of Assassin's Creed and Arkham Knight exist without there first having been Toy Story.

It's best to gloss the more geeky details, the motion control coding, the microsystems and the fact that each character had hundreds of individual controls to give them their unique movements. But that is the essence of how Pixar created the world and the feel that they did in the mid-90s.

Since then the characters have become part of our lives and our children's lives over the course of two decades and three films. Woody, Buzz, Bo Beep, Mr Potato Head each character has its own personality, shown through its own range of motion and its own unique relationship with Andy - and us.

In total the three films have been nominated for nine Oscars. That Pixar's latest film, Inside Out, is as short as 10/1 with some bookmakers to be the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, is testament to just how significant the foundations laid 20 years ago have been.

It's time we all celebrated Toy Story, the film that took animation to infinity and beyond.