The Story of “Toyota Story”

March 6th, 2010 | Posted in MAD Magazine

As promised here is a glimpse of the process behind the art for MAD’s “Toyota Story” parody poster image:

The job was described to me as a fake poster for a “Toy Story” spin-off film, done in a typical Pixar look, with the gag being the toys behind the wheel of a runaway Toyota and several of them being run over and squashed. Naturally the effectiveness of the parody would rely on the artwork looking as genuinely Pixar-like as possible, so I know I had a lot of tight painting ahead of me.

Here is my initial sketch:

Click for a closer look…

Based on the copy saying “…From the Makers of Cars” I went with an anthropomorphic car like from that film, which I thought made sense as it was out of control with a seeming “mind of it’s own” like the actual Toyota’s seem to become when they accelerate for no apparent reason. Since MAD was not specific about the type of Toyota I did some research on my end and found the accident that led to all this fervor happened with a Lexus, but as this was “Toyota Story” it didn’t make sense to draw anything but an actual Toyota vehicle. More research told me that lots of Toyotas as well as Lexus models were also being recalled, so I went with a Corolla thinking it was probably the most recognizable model. I really wanted to show Woody flying out of his seat… but there are no convertible Corollas (at least none being recalled), so I drew the roof flying off as if from the crazy speed. The rest was just chaotic violence and impending violence to poor Bo Peep. Off this went to MAD.

I got quite a bit of feedback and a fair amount of changes on the initial sketch. First, the idea of a living car like “Cars” was not what they had in mind… they wanted the car to be just a car. Beyond that, the consensus was that the focus was being taken away from the car itself and the Toy Story characters were too prominent and the scene too visually busy. Bo Peep, for example, needed to be less front and intrusive. The others also needed to be down sized and downplayed to make the car be the center of attention. Also they didn’t like the idea of the roof flying off the car… I’d need to make it a convertible if I wanted Woody flying off the seat like that. There were a few other minor comments as well. This necessitated another sketch:

Click for a closer look…

I switched to a Camry convertible, which I researched to find was one of the models being recalled, and did a more straightforward drawing of it. I scaled back on the Toy characters and enlarged the car a bit. Color would do the rest of that work for me. This sketch quickly was approved and I moved on to the final art.

Trying to make the characters look like the CGI Pixar characters was going to be a real challenge. I have no idea how they do all that texturing and rendering, so I was going to have to fake it. I used some simple PhotoShop texture filters like “sandstone” and “canvas” to create some textures. Others I just had to paint up the best I could.

Here’s some closeups of a few areas:

The car was especially time consuming. I could have doubled the time I spent on it and still been short of a really realistic effect, but time was short and what I had done was working well enough. When it comes to digital painting, I usually have to cut myself off at some point, because you can always keep zooming in until you are painting the grains of sand on the beach…

All in all an intense but fun project.


  1. genius…absolutely hilarious

  2. Martin says:

    I’m glad you explained some of the procedures involved in creating this piece. I think it’s fantastic.
    Firstly, all credit to the writer. It’s a brilliant idea. Your execution of the final art makes it twice as hilarious. You faithfully recreated the final look of the characters which are perfectly drawn and rendered.
    I don’t think you need to worry about the final painting of the car. It’s perfect.

    Your tutorials are extremely helpful and I’d gladly pay to watch a video of one of your classes. Keep up the good work!

    • Tom says:

      Absolutely the writers deserve the lion’s share of credit on this piece. No specific writer is credited so it must be one of those “editorial” collaborations by the staff in general. I loved the concept and gag.

  3. Steckley says:

    Whoa… Nice work, dude!

  4. Cliff Roth says:

    Great piece!

    I do have a question though, what piece is Buzz holding? It looks like it might be one of the visers but wouldn’t the logo be sideways?

    Anyway, always entertaining and enlightening to view your work.

    • Tom says:

      He’s holding a floor mat, which is something Toyota tried to blame the acceleration problems on at first. Thanks for the kind words!

      • Cliff Roth says:

        Ahh thanks, I definately see that now. At first it looked like a more rigid thing but come to think of it, my Toyota floormat is rather rigid.

  5. julio cesar naranjo says:

    Hi Tom its an amazing work and its really incredible how you figured it on the 3d effect of the entire illustration. I have a question to make, how many time did you spend painting this particular work? Take care.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks, Julio. I spent about 24 hours painting this. Seems like it should have gone a lot quicker, but I actually abandoned some early attempts at capturing the look and feel of the Pixar characters that just weren’t working.

  6. Jodie Bourguet says:

    Love this! You did an amazing job on all the little details!!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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