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How Pixar ‘heroed up’ Buzz Lightyear’s spacesuit

Turns out, a lot of old NASA spacesuits look like onesies, and the designers didn’t want to go that route

Buzz Lightyear touches fingers with his friend Image: Pixar
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Pixar’s Lightyear isn’t another installment in the Toy Story movie series; it’s meant as a gritty science fiction adventure. The movie follows Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) — the sci-fi movie character, not the toy — as he accidentally maroons himself and a whole ship of rangers on a barren planet. Buzz desperately tries to fix the ship and get himself off the planet, which means he goes on various expeditions into space. To craft his space epic, the creative team at Pixar went to the closest thing we have to real-life Space Rangers. At NASA, they talked to actual astronauts and took extensive pictures of all the gadgets and gizmos involved in space exploration.

Fran Kalal, the tailoring and simulation supervisor on Lightyear, ended up closely studying real-world spacesuits. They are, after all, integral parts of any space adventure. Kalal and her team not only designed the intricate spacesuits for the movie’s setting, but also made sure that they worked with the physics.

A grubby Buzz Lightyear, Izzy, and robot cat Sox stand together in Lightyear Image: Pixar

“You’ve got to get them right for the story, because a spacesuit is designed to be a mini spaceship if anything goes wrong,” Kalal tells Polygon. “There’s tons of components to it. There’s life support, there’s lots of structure underneath that we don’t even get to see. And we have never done complicated spacesuits like this before at Pixar. So it was really, really exciting to get to dive into all of that detail, and all those parts working together. […] It was so exciting to get more and more spacesuits and show how they would evolve over time, with the touchpoint of working our way back to the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger costume that we all know and love.”

Creating those successive iterations of the suit as Buzz’s mission evolves was part of the challenge. This is where Kalal’s team looked at the history of space exploration — but also decided to go for something a little more awesome, and a little less accurate to real life.

“In the early days of human space exploration, often when you look at spacesuits, they look a bit like a onesie, because they are,” Kalal laughs. Even if it was accurate, a onesie look just wouldn’t do for a hero like Buzz Lightyear. “One of the things we did early on is like, Well, let’s try a belt on Buzz in his spacesuit. Let’s see how that looks. And it, like, heroed him up right away, in a really cool way. The other thing is, it helped us move toward the Space Ranger costume. So as soon as he was wearing a belt, we were like, OK, great. We have a touchpoint for how we’re going to get to that Space Ranger costume. It makes him look so much more heroic to have that belt on.”

Lightyear hits theaters on June 17.