Fans of the Toy Story movies know that Woody and Buzz Lightyear have overcome many obstacles in their adventures. What is not as well known is that one little line of computer code almost wiped them out of existence.
The year was 1998. Pixar was busily at work with the production of Toy Story 2, which was a mere year from its release.
On one fateful day, as the artists worked on perfecting the scenes, someone made a blunder with devastating consequences. An employee accidentally entered the command “/bin/rm -r -f *” on the computer where the film’s master files were kept. The results were immediate and terrifying.
Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull recalled, “First, Woody’s hat disappeared. Then his boots. Then he disappeared entirely. Whole sequences—poof!—were deleted from the drive.”
One of the film’s technical directors, Oren Jacobs, watched it all unfold. He called the I.T. Department and ordered them to “pull out the plug on the Toy Story 2 master machine.”
By the time the error was recognized and stopped, 90 percent of the movie had been deleted. The producers reached for the backup files, and then discovered, to their horror, that the backup system had failed.
With the movie all but destroyed and no backup in place, Catmull said it would take thirty people working a solid year just to get back to where they were before the accidental deletion.
Then, just as everyone was giving up hope, a new possibility came to light. In a plot twist worthy of a Pixar production, someone remembered that Galyn Susman, the supervising technical director, had been working from home, having recently given birth to her second child. In order to do this, once a week, she took an entire copy of the film home with her.
Jacobs said that when Susman remembered her machine at home, “She and I just stood up and walked out, back to her Volvo, drove across the bridge, got the machine, got some blankets, I hugged it with seatbelts, across the back seat. Drove at like 35 with blinking lights on, hoping to get a police escort. No cops saw us, so it didn’t help us.”
At that point, the Volvo had become a $100M machine, as the entirety of the team’s efforts so far on the project were contained therein.
“Eight people met us with a plywood sheet out in the parking lot and, like a sedan carrying the Pharaoh, walked it into the machine room,” said Jacobs.
Fortunately, the files were restored, and Toy Story 2 went on to make $500 million worldwide. All of that was almost lost forever with one little line of computer code.