Is Toy Story (1995) 2D or 3D?

I grew up loving Cartoon network, Pixar’s & Disney’s feature films and anime. I was also a  science and art lover!! I was always curious thus learn everything i can about how its made. Me and my sister learnt to inspect animation as an art form. Most people I chatted with say they like animations too. Such a pity handful of them hardly know a thing let alone appreciate the brilliance behind it.


“No, the original Toy story is not a 3D animation, it wasn’t invented back then.”

I hear this all the time, and it breaks my heart a little whenever someone say that to my face.

if it_hurts_yours_too = True;

          i know you pain, pass this article to those who need it


          It is not your fault, and this article is for you! I hope you learn a thing or 2.

          4D movie is a scam.

          Also join my time travel tour back to the 60s breaking in Bell lab and Stanford.



Still with me? wonderful!


First of all, let’s temporarily forget what you know about “VR” or “3rd dimension” or “4D cinema”. I blame the society for ridiculing animations, and false advertisement that turn good ideas into gimmicks. There is a high chance they corrupted your perception anyways.


Allow me to reintroduce these concepts in philosophers’ and scientists’ term, without sounding like counting sheeps of course. To decide whether the 1995 classic is 2D or 3D, you must first know what is dimension exactly!!


What is a dimension?


Dimension is a very simple but abstract concept. Simple as we all understand and use it all the time. Abstract since It can be apply to any measurable extent/property beyond physical space.


General folks -use dimension to measure- length,area and volume.

Mathematician -use dimension to measure- imaginary numbers.

Psychologist  -use dimension to measure- personality.



So you see dimension is merely a concept, a tool of the mind that help us human to register measurements.Associating multiple dimensions is a little trickier, but nothing you can’t handle.


Counting dimensions

Before you lays a cereal box, and I now task you to tell me its physical size.

You would probably:

  1. get a ruler,
  2. measure its length, width and height,
  3. multiply them resulting a quantity known as volume


Length, width and height are so similar yet different. Each of them is one unique dimension. you can measure length, width and height;

  1. with Same tools (ruler)
  2. with Same unit (cm/inches)
  3. in Same evironment (physical world we live and breath in)

At the same time,they are different, which is important! They are each separated by 90 degree angles, the same angles that you turn the rulers when you take the measurements. The separating angles provide indepence across dimensions. For instance, two boxes can have the same height, but different width.


Armed with these the three dimensions (length, width and height), Homo Sapiens need nothing more to measure everything from an apple to Mount Everest. So we generally agree our physical Euclidean space can be described completely by these 3 dimensions. Their similarity and difference make them relevant to each other, render them very powerful in a group. Instead of saying length, width, height every time, we group them in a pack with a fancy name 3D.


You can’t see in 3D?

A line is a 1D object; a circle is a 2D object; a cube is a 3D object.

Also, playing 2D Super Mario bros. is fun and solving 4×4 matrix from 4D space is a chore.


You and I are 3-dimensional being, we can traverse and interact in 3D space. Also a perk of being a 3D entity, we understand 2D and 1D pretty well by common sense, while 3.5 college student worldwide scratch their heads about 4D space every millisecond.


Most mammals, fishes, birds and reptiles have sophisticated vision. Sunlight travel all the way to Earth, bounces off the chocolate bar into your eyes. Our eyes are the input devices turning light rays into electric pulses to the brain. Providing us precise knowledge of the chocolate bar’s whereabout in the vast 3D world, grabbing it before your sister does. Or if you are a hungry wolf, kill your prey so you don’t starve to death. Anyway, we seem to have a pretty good vision of 3d world around us that matches our other senses (smell, balance, touches). So we do see in 3D right?


Eh, spoiler alert—No. You can’t see in 3D, cus you don’t need to!! God or evolution say so. You only see the world through 2-D dimensional images. Your 2 eyes are feeding your brain 2 synchronised videos. Our eyes are slightly offset, so your left and right eyes are looking at the world at a different position. This slight difference grants our brain enough visual reference to perceive and reconstruct a 3D understanding of the world around us. This is also known as stereo-scopic 3D.


Now we have established that an individual being cannot see true 3D. Seeing is believing, we perceive our reality to be 3D only because our experience matches our expectation. Our vision can be cheated easily by forced perspective, and stereoscopy. IMAX3D and real3D movies are not 3D display technologies, they are 2d display creating optical illusions called stereoscopy. Drop your hats as creator and target of misleading advertisement. As philosophers, we cannot say something 3D simply base on our unreliable vision!


How to tell 3D animation from 2D?

With our un-reliable perception as audience, the decision must not be made based on our observation. What’s more important is to see in a fresh pair of eyes, the eyes of those who created the animation.


Whether an animation is 2D or 3D, depends on how the animation is made by artist not how it is displayed to audience!! You must first understand how 3D/2D animations are made, If you are really interested like me, you probably know how they are made. The off chance you don’t, I will still cover the bare essential here, really stripped down basics. You should really read more about this. (i might write more articles in the future)


Animation is just many pictures displaying on screen one after the other, usually 24 of them in a second to be precise. The fluid transition between consecutive image give the ilusion of motion. these images are called frames like frames on a roll of film.


2D animation / Traditional Animation, each frame is a drawing/painting. They are composed of 2-dimensional elements. Their making require intensive hand-painting which may include multiple layers.


3D animation, each frame is “rendering”  of Computer graphics. Generated from 2D and or 3D models. Their making simulate light ray interacting within a 3D scene. Seeing,with a virtual camera,the 3d scene is full of 3d objects. It recreate the process of taking a picture in real life to various degree. It harness the computational power to create shading and or complex component.


Some people suggest that 3D animations are less artistic than traditional 2D animation, i strongly disagree. This misunderstanding is simply fear of the innovation, and it got the great John Lasseter fired from Disney, led him to Join Pixar and the rest is history. There are many similarity and difference between them, both are sophisticated art form if you ask me!


Take home message: the Dimension of an animation is determined by the way they were made. Frames of 2D animations are like individual painting. Frames of 3D Animations are created from a virtual 3D scene simulated in a computer.


What about Toy Story movies?

Remember? To answer the question, we must first know how was Toy Story made!! Here is a behind the scene glimpse of the making of Toy Story(1995) and Toy Story 2(1999).


Here is a commentated video clip explaining the key steps of the making of the Toy Story 2. From timestamp 0:54 to 2:37 in this video, you can listen from the masters themselves! Take it away guys!!

Here is a B-roll from the first movie without commentary. These are video recordings of their production process. You have a closer look at the similar techniques mentioned in first video.  They created 3d models in 3D scene, animating the character’s body and face. Creating shading and such.


If you havent figure it out yet, I can tell you Toy Story (1995) is a 3D animation!! In fact it is the first of its kind!! It was the first Computer animated Feature film! Pixar was the pioneer in 3D animation as we know it! They continue to innovate and push the bar technologically and artistically! there are million of fun things to learn!! this is as much as i can do in 1500 words! I hope you learnt something, and don’t fall for those false advertisement about 4-D again!! for your practise, i am writing a quick exercise for you to practice differentiating 2D and 3D animations!! (soon to come Here)

Feel free to drop a comment to raise questions, suggestion on improvements are appreciated.

More fun video to watch!!

Full docuementary about Toy Story