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Toy Story 2: How bad back-ups nearly destroyed the movie

Toy Story 2The Toy Story films may be full of action, but did you know that the most dramatic plot twist occurred not on the screen, but behind the scenes in Pixar’s studios? A bad instruction, coupled with worse back-up procedures, nearly deleted the entire movie.

Back in 1998, where the files used to create Toy Story 2 took up less than 10GB of space (or about a 5% of a modern computer’s hard drive space), a computer technician typed a command to delete a folder.

Unfortunately, the computer wasn’t quite set-up as he expected, and instead of destroying an empty directory, he accidentally instructed the system to delete everything stored on the hard drive.

This isn’t possible on the Windows computer that you’re probably using to read this, because Microsoft’s product has many built-in restrictions to stop users for making this mistake. Pixar, however, were using a UNIX shared system to store their information, so an errant command from someone could cause this kind of damage. And it did.

As luck would have it, when deletion began, members of staff were browsing the folder containing the files related to the film’s hero, Woody. Before their eyes, Woody’s hat, then boots, then body disappeared. The staff sprung into action and stopped the deletion sequence, but not before 70% of the movie was lost.

Out of the frying pan

Like any sensible people, the guys at Pixar had backups of their work, although they had never tested them. It was when they tried to restore these backups, however, that the Pixar team really began to panic.

As they tried to restore the lost parts of the movie, these realised that their backup solution hadn’t had enough space to store their files. Therefore any of the new changes they had been making over the last few months had overridden older files. The backup had essentially been eating itself.

When the process had finished, Pixar realised there wasn’t enough of the film to be considered half of a movie.

Thankfully, one Pixar employee was working from home, and had a version of the movie that she had been editing. From her files, and the ones that they had saved using the backup, they managed to remake the majority of the film – and bring us an award-winning movie.

Learning from Pixar’s mistakes

Aside from being an interesting story, there’s a lot more we can take from Pixar’s example. The first is that technology has moved on a lot since 1998, and you can now store files the size of Toy Story 2 on internet backup solutions (like Norman’s) without any issues, or much cost.

Internet backups can help us in the same way that the working from home employee saved Toy Story 2. By being stored away from your computer, completely separate backups are safe from any issues your system might face. Accidentally delete everything? They’ll be fine. Set fire to your apartment? Relax. Even if a black hole formed under your sofa and sucked in the surrounding ten miles, your files will almost certainly be safe.

The Pixar problem also reminds us to test our backups. If you use a USB stick, try accessing those files on another system. If you use an internet solution, try re-downloading those files. We’re all in the habit of testing our fire alarms, so why do we not do the same with our files?

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