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Of Toys and Trash

If you've seen the Disney/Pixar film, "Toy Story 3" (and if you haven't, you should), you know that the waste industry figures prominently in several key scenes. Absorbed in the animated action, it's easy to forget that those sounds of rumbling garbage trucks, groaning compactors and whirring trash shredders had to come from somewhere.

"Somewhere" turns out to be Redwood Empire Disposal of Santa Rosa, Calif. Pixar, upon completing animation for the film, turned it over to Skywalker Sound, part of George Lucas' legendary Skywalker Ranch in West Marin, Calif. Seeking the sounds of sanitation, Skywalker's audio technicians took a common sense approach.

"[They] phoned the number on the side of their bin — just the general line that they saw on the Dumpsters at their place," says Steve McCaffrey, Redwood's director of government affairs, who fielded that initial call and worked as a liaison with the production.

In describing the "personalities" of the four trucks he took down to Skywalker Ranch, McCaffrey sounds like he's casting for another Pixar property, "Cars":

"The Labrie split-body truck is the young kid truck. The AmRep front-end loader is the hard-working custodial truck. The [White] debris box truck is a construction worker. And, of course, the Heil rear loader is the grumpy old man."

After a full day of recording as the trucks raised and lowered equipment and collected, dumped, and compacted various materials, the Skywalker crew asked McCaffrey if he knew of any waste facilities where they might obtain the rest of the sounds they needed. That led to a day of recording at one of Redwood's two MRFs in Santa Rosa. McCaffrey says the techs were especially taken with the facility's baler, taking more than an hour to record all of its different cycles.

In lieu of financial compensation, Redwood's owner, James Ratto, made an unusual request: "He just wanted the trucks in the movie to match his trucks, so that when he brought his grandchildren to the movie, they'd look up and see Grandpa's truck," says McCaffrey. Assistant sound effects editor Frank Clary said he would do his best, but couldn't promise anything since much of the film's animation had already been completed.

Months later, McCaffrey's girlfriend was shopping at Babies"R"Us when she spied a toy truck swathed in Redwood's green and white paint with red reflectors. It was the first hint that the company's wish had been granted, confirmed firsthand when McCaffrey and his family were invited back to Skywalker Ranch for an exclusive premiere of "Toy Story 3."

"We were very concerned when we did this, especially not knowing the plot, that we were going to end up being the villain," says McCaffrey. "So when the movie came out and we saw that we were not the villains, that we were actually portrayed very well, we felt very, very good about the end result."

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