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"Toy Story 3," which has been raking in money at the box office, is the first film in the "Toy Story" franchise to be screened in 3-D . But it isn't the first "first" for its main characters, Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

The bickering buddies were part of another watershed moment in 1995, when Toy Story became the first feature-length computer-animated movie.

The entire movie was created with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). This marked a huge departure from the longtime industry animation standard of animated films being made from hand-drawn pictures.

The of the "Toy Story" movie franchise not only launched Pixar as a creative powerhouse, but it also marked the arrival of an entirely new way of making animated movies.

CGI, which was first used as a visual effects tool in the 1973 live-action film "Westworld," has now become the dominant tool in animation. Because of the speed and limitless possibilities provided by modern-day computing power, computer animation is credited with revolutionizing live-action visual effects. And with animated movies, it has expanded the potential of the medium to the point that the impossible has became possible.

How CGI became the standard

Before CGI came along, animated films were hand-drawn masterworks. Walt Disney basically invented the animated movie genre, and with his legendary group of animators his Nine Old Men turned out classics such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, " "Lady and the Tramp" and "Pinocchio."

And when feature-film animation experienced its rebirth in 1989, it was thanks to "The Little Mermaid" and its hand-drawn, two-dimensional imagery. But then, "Toy Story" came along six years later and essentially put a stake through the heart of traditional animation. Now, 3-D computer-generated animation is standard issue. The summer of 2010 will have "Toy Story 3" and "Shrek Forever After" as examples.

There are still those who believe in the power and effectiveness of traditional, 2-D animation. Perhaps ironically, the loudest voice belongs to John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animated Studios.

An avowed fan of old-school animation, he spearheaded the 2009 release of "The Princess and the Frog," a film that marked a return to the classic Disney style of animation. But while the film was a solid critical and commercial success, it didn't come close to reaching the level of acclaim and box-office appeal that Pixar's CGI-created "Up" enjoyed that year.

We can thank the "Toy Story" crew for setting the bar so high.

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