How Does Pixar Name Its Characters?

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May 21 2014 8:54 AM

How Does Pixar Name Its Characters?

Woody and Buzz from Toy Story

Courtesy of Pixar

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Craig Good, teller of stories, many of which are true:


The same way any other writer might: It's a normal part of the story process.

Some names come easily, such as “Woody Pride.” Many go through many rewrites. After Tinny, the antique one-mand-band windup toy, became a space man, we went through a few names. One stand-in was “Lunar Larry.” I contributed the name “Tempus From Morph” for a short test. It wasn't until a later story session that some folks batting around names tossed out “Buzz,” as a nod to Buzz Aldrin, and someone else (as I recall, nobody remembers exactly who) called out “Lightyear.”

Revisions can happen for many reasons. The protagonist of A Bug's Life was a merge of two characters from an earlier version, “Flick” and “Grub.” The “Flick” name survived, but the “c” was dropped when someone saw how it might look in certain fonts or hand-written in all caps.

In early versions of Monsters, Inc.Sullivan was going to start as a nebbish screwup named “Johnson.” Then someone pointed out that perhaps we already had our quota of character names that could be awkward euphemisms. He became “James P. Sullivan” and also eventually lost the glasses.

“Mustang McQueen” became “Lightning McQueen” when the character became a pure race car not associated with a known model. “Mater” got his name from a character named Mater that John Lasseter met at a NASCAR race.

So the short answer (too late, I know) is that there's no one short answer. I'll bet most people reading this didn't know Woody had a last name, though. Quite understandable, since it's never mentioned in any of the Toy Story movies.

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