November 19, 2015 1:30 PM EST

Animators at Pixar toyed around with a number of different character and plot iterations before settling on the lanky cowboy and sturdy spaceman who anchored the film. And the creative process to that final product was not a smooth progression.

The current President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull, who was a lead developer for Toy Story, says Disney halted Pixar’s work on the movie out of dissatisfaction with the work from its young partner studio.

“The first version [of Toy Story], Woody was quite different and he wasn’t very likable at all. The people at Disney at the time were saying ‘oh this actually…this is pretty bad.’ They essentially shut down production,” Catmull tells TIME. “Even Roy Disney, who was championing it, looked at it and said ‘What in the world is this? This doesn’t make any sense.’”

Catmull calls the phase a “black time” for the fledgling studio, whose existence essentially hung on the success of the movie. To rescue the effort, the creative leadership (who would later come to be known as the Pixar “brain trust”) sequestered themselves in a room to rethink the movie’s concept and characters.

“They weren’t trying to please anybody else; they were trying to make a film that they wanted to see,” Catmull explains.

That redesign paid off, the vaguely alarming elements of the early concept were outgrown—and the charming final version of Woody was a box-office smash.

More Pixar art is currently on view at the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York City.

Read more about how Toy Story came to be: How Toy Story Changed Movie History

Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com.

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