Launching

This is going to be a weird story but I think Duke Caboom from Toy Story 4 might be based on me

the Untold Tale of Nick the Human Cannonball
Cute little maple leaf icon

Back in 2010, Pixar opened Pixar Canada, their first ever studio outside the States. Out of all the cities, it just so happened to land in my backyard, right here in Vancouver, BC.

Pixar Canada Announcement Video

Now Pixar is my favourite: I’ve been watching their shorts since you had to go to animation festivals to see them, they’re the first of the 3 companies I would drop everything for, and much to my kids’ embarrassment, I’ve cried during every movie.

I might have even cried when I heard they were coming to town. I had to apply. It was a sign.

When they first put up their job postings, this was the official list.

Since “owning lots of Pixar toys” wasn’t relevant experience for any of these jobs, and I knew they were going to get a lot of applications, I decided to take them seriously and literally apply for the position of Human Cannonball.

I grabbed the domain, made a website, crafted a persona, designed postcards, and reached out to my entire network to help create a viral sensation and get Pixar’s attention.

And this part was amazing! My family, friends, and colleagues all pitched in to propel me forward, posting terrible puns and flooding my LinkedIn with recommendations (which I still use to this day).

But I needed to keep the momentum going. Coincidentally, I was due to run with my kids as part of the Vancouver Sun Run, Canada’s biggest 10K race where over 40,000 people would be competing and a bunch more cheering them on.

Now just trust me on this part, but I happened to have a small collection of jumpsuits I had found in thrift stores over the years. One was for a Ghostbuster costume, another was randomly fireproof, and one was this crazy ill-fitting white & red striped flared skydiving outfit.

I was working at Kwantlen University in those days in the Wilson School of Design, and right downstairs was the fashion department. I found this exceedingly nice student who offered to alter the suit and make it actually wearable.

Completely unrelated to his pioneering work on alterations to a Human Cannonball jumpsuit, he went on to be named “Canada’s Breakthrough Designer” and probably does not want to be associated with my story at this point in his fashion career.

But the costume was born, and with the addition of some iron-on transfers it was ready to premiere on race day to the unsuspecting public.
Nick the Human Cannonball at the Vancouver Sun Run
Nick the Human Cannonball posing on playground equipment
Nick the Human Cannonball walking away from the Vancouver Sun Run
I got a lot of stares, a lot of questions, and approximately 3 seconds of screentime in the background of the local news, which I spun into a ridiculous video.
Sun Run coverage on The Express

Fast forward to another set of coincidences: we were planning a family road trip down the coast to California, and I happened to read that Pixar was hosting a benefit for the San Francisco Film Society that, while a little pricey, got you into the studio.

So we shifted around our vacation route to make the timing work out perfectly, and my family was very patient as I continually interrupted the road trip so I could record vignettes of the Human Cannonball marching all the way to Emeryville.

This 2010-era footage has never seen the light of day until now.
Human Cannonball walks to Pixar

I can’t stress enough how nerve-racking it was to set foot on such storied ground in the stupidest outfit imaginable, but in the end it was unforgettable. I got to tour the campus and see Toy Story 3 in Dolby 3D a week before it was released, crying through both sets of glasses.

Nick the Human Cannonball poses at Pixar with Lego Buzz & Woody
Nick the Human Cannonball poses at Pixar with Mike & Sully
Nick the Human Cannonball poses at Pixar with Lotso
Nick the Human Cannonball poses at Pixar on a giant chair

After returning home I was a guest on Canadian radio show Career Buzz and gave an interview about taking career risks that I can’t listen to because I sound so nervous.

And ultimately, I got an interview!

The actual jobs that were available didn’t relate to my graphic design background, and though they asked me to go through the official application process, they felt I wasn’t the right fit for the Production Assistant one I picked.

Though I would have happily delivered coffee to Pixar employees, they were probably right. Someone sent me a shirt.

Pixar Canada t-shirt

Pixar Canada went on to produce some of my favourite short films, like “Small Fry” and “Partysaurus Rex”, but 3 years later they sadly closed their Canadian doors in an effort to “refocus creative and business efforts and resources under one roof”.

It was a weird conclusion to the whole journey, and besides increased traffic to my site and a bunch of new freelance work, there wasn’t that happy ending to make it a great story.

Or so I thought…

Almost 10 years later, Toy Story 4 is here and right out of left field there’s a main character named Duke Caboom wearing a crazy white & red striped flared jumpsuit. And get this, he’s “Canada’s greatest stuntman”.

Duke Caboom TV Spot

The similarities are pretty impossible to ignore, right down to the style of helmet, the emblazoned maple leaf, and the thumbs up poses. Even Duke’s associated Disney merchandise looks like my suit.

What do you think? Did my attempt at viral fame inspire the legend of Duke Caboom?

I’m not looking for credit here; it’s reward enough to have Pixar pay tribute to this Human Cannonball and know that Keanu Reeves is playing me in a major Hollywood blockbuster.

And hey, I’ve got a newly relevant Halloween costume all ready to go.
Cute little maple leaf icon