Like many of us, Teresa Falcone ’14 has been a fan of Pixar’s Toy Story movies since the franchise’s start. But unlike most of us, Falcone was lucky enough to land a role in creating the beloved animated series’ most recent release, Toy Story 4, which won an Oscar for Best Animated Film.

“I was 9 when the first movie came out and in my 20s when the third movie came out,” Falcone says. “So I really grew up with these movies and it really hit me hard emotionally when Andy gave his toys away [in Toy Story 3] because he was growing up also.”

Since she was a child, Falcone’s love for Toy Story, drawings, cartoons and movies continued to grow, but it wasn’t until she had been performing for local theme parks for 12 years that she realized animation combined all her passions. So in 2011, she began pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in character animation at UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design. Some of her work since then includes Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Smallfoot and Pixar’s Coco.

Falcone shares what it was like to work on the series’ latest installment:

What was it like working on Toy Story 4?

I had a blast working on the movie. It was so fun being immersed in this toy world with these beloved characters. Everyone brought in toys that were special to them and they were used to decorate our “war room,” so it was a really special and nostalgic experience. The whole team, from the animators to the leads and production staff, were always having a good time and spirits seemed high even in crunch.

What are some details in the movie that you worked on?

I was on the Fix Team, which our leads describe as being the last line of defense before the movie goes out into the world. Fixes can include adjusting pops in animation, retiming something, completely reanimating something or even polishing a shot for someone who had to go onto something else. We actually nicknamed ourselves the Swiss Army because, like a Swiss Army knife, we were always ready for anything and we were able to help out wherever they needed us to, beyond typical fixes.

There’s a sequence that takes place inside of a pinball machine in the antiques shop and I actually got to animate Woody in one of those shots. It was so surreal and such a dream come true. I also got to animate some shots of the lady that runs the shop and also some of Bonnie’s parents and the toys in the RV. The awesome part of this role was that I got work in almost all of the sequences in the movie, so I got to do a little bit of everything.

What did it mean for you to work on this one?

I have always been a huge fan of the Toy Story franchise, as I think most people are, but I also had another extra special connection to the movies. I used to work as a performer at Disney World and was good “friends” with Jessie. I loved seeing firsthand what these characters mean to the world, and I constantly had that in my head as I worked. That job is what really made me want to be an animator, and so actually getting to work on this movie with these legacy characters was an absolute dream come true. I had to keep pinching myself. The fact that I was working alongside people that worked on the first three movies made it all the more surreal. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and the second I heard the first notes of “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” play in the theater I cried both times. I just couldn’t believe I was part of it.

What was the biggest challenge of working on the movie?

I think one challenge for me was sometimes unlearning certain things in order to animate a toy, as they obviously move differently than humans do. Each toy is made of something different, so in order to stay true to materials, they each needed to be animated differently. In one shot, I had to animate Buttercup the unicorn doing a kind of army crawl out from under a car seat and then maneuver his way around to the gas pedal. It was very daunting trying to figure out how a four-legged plush doll would do an army crawl. There was also just that pressure of knowing these characters are beloved and you want to do right by them and to the fans as well. It was definitely a fun challenge, though.

What sets this movie apart from the other Toy Story movies?

One really fun part of this movie is all the new characters we introduce. We don’t know them from the other movies but throughout the movie we grow to love them just like the other [characters from the previous movies], and it still feels like a Toy Story movie. We’re diving deeper into what it means to be a toy and we’re seeing for the first time Woody questioning what his purpose is. There’s definitely a theme of self-discovery and helping others realize what their purpose in life is. Woody takes on more of mentor role in this movie and I think that helps him on his own personal journey. You can expect a ton of laughs and tears too!