‘Lightyear’ Designer Teases Pixar Easter Egg and NASA Inspiration

Pixar’s “Lightyear,” an origin story based on the beloved astronaut Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story franchise,” takes the series into new galaxies with a fleet of NASA-inspired spaceships. Chris Evans voices Buzz, a human astronaut who inspired Andy’s favorite toy in the movie that takes place years before the events of the first “Toy Story.” Opening in theaters on June 17, Buzz travels through time and space as he sets out on his first mission out of Star Command — the peacekeeping organization consisting of Space Rangers.

Set art director Greg Peltz spoke with Variety as Pixar unveiled a new trailer for the animated feature, and explained the idea was to draw from the films and retain the work that had been laid out before, but he also wanted create a more defined look for this film. “Ours is very much inspired by the technology and the films of our childhood in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Peltz says, mentioning “2001: A Space Odyssey” and even “Interstellar” as inspiration.

The idea was that the film would be one Andy had seen as a kid. “It’s like his ‘Star Wars.’ I didn’t get to see it in the theaters, but it was still like a big movie for me when I was growing up because it was so huge,” Peltz says. He thought it would be “fun to make something that is like a love letter to that era of moviemaking, in that era of technology.”

Peltz worked with production designer Tim Evatt and cinematographer Jeremy Lasky as he designed ships and vehicles with distinctive silhouettes that would register as cool and cinematic. “We also wanted to achieve a level of detail that will allow those lighters to realize those images. When you’re doing dramatic lighting like that, you need to have that level of fidelity and that realism in the treatment for them to create these amazing images.”

Greg Peltz’s concept art
PIXAR

In designing Star Command, Peltz began by looking at the purpose of the planet. “They’re stranded on this planet, they have all of this equipment on board their colony ship, they are trying to leave the planet, and Buzz is on this mission to figure out the formula for hyperspeed fuel. Star Command ultimately, becomes an enterprise but as both with a scientific and military aspect to it.”

To build that out, Peltz worked on adding hangars for the ships, perimeter walls – to defend themselves from insects, and silos to launch the ships from, as well as an assembly room. But not before looking to their real-world counterparts. “We looked at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA, that huge structure where they build the giant space rockets,” he says.

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NASA inspired Greg Peltz’s set design.
PIXAR

Detail was important to Peltz’s design — he wanted a mechanical reality to the aesthetic of Star Command. “Take the car crawler, it’s a rail vehicle and it has these giant clamps that grasp it and lock it into place. When you’re ready to launch, the steam comes off it, and you see these moving parts,” he explains. That level of detail was essential in enhancing that level of reality to the film.

And while Peltz teases that all the Pixar Easter eggs feature in the film, the one he will give away is where to spot the famous Luxo lamp. “During the first mission, take a look at the stars in the sky. In one of the shots as the ship leaves orbit, take a look at the constellations — you might see the silhouette of the Luxo lamp there.”