The sequel to The Incredibles, the 20th film made by Disney Pixar, arrives in theatres on June 15, and fans of the storied animation studio’s work can take in a deep behind-the-scenes dive into all the science and technology that is used to realize the artistry, creativity, and storytelling of the mega-hit films.
The much-anticipated The Science Behind Pixar exhibition at Science World in Vancouver opens on Saturday, May 19 and runs for eight months through January 6, 2019.
It is expected to be one of the most-attended feature exhibitions in the history of Science World.
Spanning 12,000 sq. ft. of floor area in the museum, the exhibition showcases STEM concepts – science, technology, engineering, and math – used by the artists and computer scientists who create Pixar films.
“At Science World, we talk a lot about STEM. And now there’s this exhibit bringing art into this circle, because art is such a big part of these components,” said Jo-Ann Coggan, Director of Community Outreach and Curator of Science Behind Pixar for Science World, during a tour of the exhibition.
“This exhibit is such a good representation of what we now call STEAM – adding art in. When people think of animated movies, they think of art immediately, but there is so much science, math, technology, and engineering that goes into these movies these days.”
Over 40 interactive elements are featured in the exhibition to provide attendees with a unique educational experience of the production pipeline and concepts used by Pixar, including Modelling, Rigging, Surfaces, Sets and Cameras, Animation, Simulation, Lighting, and Rendering.
The first 17 Pixar movies, such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Finding Nemo, and WALL-E, are represented across the exhibition.
“One of the things Science World loves about this exhibit is how hands on and interactive this is. There are multiple stations for everything, and every area there is always something to do, something to touch, something to make, and something to be creative with,” continued Coggan.
The exhibition area begins with a small enclosed theatre area where a short video clip, set in Pixar’s headquarters in California, is continuously screened to provide attendees with a background on the work that goes on behind-the-scenes at Pixar. It sets the tone for the exhibits.
Here is just a select preview of the many interactive exhibits at The Science Behind Pixar at Science World:
This includes large murals, plus human-sized recreations of Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sulley, and WALL-E.
For A Bug’s Life, one of Pixar’s early films, researchers went to great lengths to acquire a bug’s point of view in real-life.
“For our animators and technical artists to understand what it would be like to be so small, how we would perceive a tree like this, they created a special tiny camera on a stick which they film from a bug’s point of view,” said Elyse Klaidman, the Director of Archives and Exhibitions for Pixar Animation Studios.
“We do a lot of research for our films, but it’s not necessary about making it look realistic and perfect, it’s about making a world that feels believable to the characters that are in it.”
And of course, Pixar researchers also do ample globetrotting to gain the inspiration they need to create set concepts.
For instance, the “Marine Life Institute” in Finding Dory is based on the “rescue and rehabilitation centre” models of the Vancouver Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Researchers for the film made visits to both aquariums.
“The drawing happens, then the sculptures, then the transition to the 3-D world, and then the modellers build all of that into the computer,” said Klaidman.
With the set from Up, you have the opportunity to try interior lighting controls.
“What we do with lighting and colour is not only are we telling what time of day it is, but really what we’re telling is the emotions to support the storytelling,” said Klaidman.
Originally from a short film in 1986, this lamp, named Luxo Jr., has since become the official mascot of Pixar.
At this exhibit, attendees can make a stop-motion animation using a replica of Luxo Jr.
“Not only is it iconic, but for me what Pixar does so well is it brings objects that are not human and make them seem human,” said Klaidman.
“By the end of it, you’ve forgot that you’re watching two lamps and a ball, you feel like you’re watching mother and son and there’s emotion going on. And now you can do it yourself. I think there’s going to be long lineups to play with this exhibit.”
Extensive programming goes into simulating realistic movements of elements such as hair, clothing, and water. There are programmers that create motion to make the scenes feel alive and believable.
“Rigging is very interesting, It’s kind of like creating an inner skeleton for these characters… what points do you need to make movable and look realistic,” added Klaidman.
There are 24 frames per second in a Pixar film, and it can take up to 24 hours to render a single frame. So with a 90-minute movie, for instance, animators have 129,600 frames to render.
Klaidman says things will usually go to render at the end of a day, and when animators come back the next day they might have things completed in the render process and ready for further work.
“Even though the technology has gotten so much better over the years, it hasn’t made our process faster because it has made our artists wanted to do more complex things,” she said.
“We have a whole big section of the studio called the render farm where it’s just big massive computers.”
It wouldn’t be a complete Disney Pixar experience without a Disney Pixar gift shop at the exit of the exhibition.
When: May 19, 2018, to January 6, 2019
Where: Science World – 1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver