The Science Behind Pixar exhibit is now at OMSI in Portland, Oregon until September 2, 2019. If you are a Pixar fan or simply enjoy the art of animation, this exhibit is going to blow your mind. I had a chance to see it this summer with our family. I was blown away by just how incredible it is.
The first thing about this exhibit that is so fascinating is that it is a two-story experience. Complete with an introductory film in the beginning that lasts for about 5-minutes. You receive an inside look at Pixar Animation Studios and exactly what goes into the math, science, storytelling, and art of a Pixar film. Spoiler alert, it’s massive!
The Science Behind Pixar
Once you’ve enjoyed the short film, you are led into the exhibit. Doors open into a wonder of hands-on opportunities to experience the magic of Pixar. We literally stayed in just this exhibit of the museum for over 2-hours enjoying all that there was to offer.
One of our favorite hands-on experience was the Rigging which showcases how the models are given a virtual skeleton to enable the animators to add movement. Did you know that Mike Wazowski at 7,000 controls alone? Rigs are virtual motion strings like a marionette. That’s a lot of strings!
We also loved learning about Rendering. It can take one frame in a Pixar film over 24-hours to render. I will never complain about rendering a YouTube video again.
All areas of animation at The Science Behind Pixar include:
“ Modeling. Character design starts with artists who create sketches and clay sculptures called maquettes to get each character just right. Then, a digital modeler creates a virtual 3D model of the character, sometimes digitally scanning the maquette. The final model is a virtual digital wireframe of points and the edges that connect them.
Rigging. Riggers create rigs—the virtual bones, joints, and muscles for models. Rigs specify the relationships between body parts so that bending a knee will raise the foot, but not move the hands. A good rig allows the animators to create poses easily and efficiently. Without the right controls, the model won’t move the way it should. Too much flexibility makes posing the model too time-consuming.
Surfaces. The way something looks tells a story. What is it made of? Is it new or old? Well taken care of or neglected? After a virtual 3D model is created, a surfacing artist constructs its appearance with computer programs called shaders. They determine the way light scatters off the surface so it looks shiny, transparent, and smooth (like glass) or dull and rough (like rust).
Sets & Cameras. Movies need more than just characters. The setting of each scene and the way each image is framed convey the context, story, and emotion. Set designers are architects. They build virtual environments from the ground up. Every pebble, tree, and building helps turn the storyboards into a believable world. Camera artists use virtual cameras to shape what is shown on screen. They choose the composition, camera movement, and lens type to support the story.
Animation. Pixar animators bring a story to life, posing characters to act out each scene. Animators start by creating key frames that mark out important positions in a movement. Then, they use a computer program to describe how the object moves between those key frames so that the resulting animation conveys the desired emotions.
Simulation. While animators focus on acting, simulation programmers create motion that makes scenes feel alive and believable. Some simulations––hair, fur, and clothing––respond to the way a character moves. Other simulations re-create natural phenomena, such as fire or water. Programmers start with the underlying physics, but they balance believability with the artistic needs and the time it takes to run the simulation.
Lighting. Lighting is an essential part of telling a story. Light shows you where to look and enhances the emotional feel of each scene. Pixar’s lighting designers have the additional task of defining virtual lights in the computer. The color, position, and intensity of each light needs to be programmed to achieve the desired artistic effect.
Rendering. The virtual scene is set—the characters are shaded and posed, the lights and camera are in position, and the simulations are ready to run. But no one knows what it looks like until the rendering process turns all that data and programming into an image we can see. Pixar generates low-resolution renders for work in progress and high resolution renders for the final film. “ (“The Science Behind Pixar Is Coming to Portland.” OMSI)
Seeing every single one of these steps in creating a Pixar film is fascinating. I have always had a lot of respect for animated films from many years of reading autobiographies of artists but having a chance to “be a part of it” really put things into perspective. Plus, if you are looking for summer learning, this exhibit is perfect.
You get a chance to see that animation at Pixar outweighs just someone behind a computer screen. Clay models, sets and cameras, 3-D handled objects all help in bringing animation to life. Animation goes outside of just an amazing story. Every way that a character moves or how the light hits on the sheen of a car creates that realism that we as moviegoers crave to relate to.
Some of the other fun things you can experience are the enlarged concept art pieces scattered around the exhibit. Don’t miss out on seeing those. You can also snap photos with life-size character statues of some of your favorite Pixar pals.
The gift shop is filled with Pixar themed merchandise just before you exit. We picked up “The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company” by David A. Price and so far, it is a fascinating read. As I mentioned before, I have a love for learning about the ins and outs of animation and what has gone into creating these entertainment empires.
The kids enjoyed picking out Toy Story 4 themed LEGO sets that are also available. It felt like we were back in one of the Walt Disney World gift shops for a moment. I enjoy it when something like this is closer to home but brings back vacation memories.
If you are in the Pacific Northwest this summer, make The Science Behind Pixar one of your stops. OMSI already offers some incredible hands-on experiences and this exhibit ads so much more. It is relatable with the films and characters we love. Your entire family will have so much more respect for everything it takes to bring them into this world via the big screen.
The Science Behind Pixar is funded through support by Google, members of the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative (SMEC), Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“The Science Behind Pixar Is Coming to Portland.” OMSI, 10 June 2019, omsi.edu/press-releases/the-science-behind-pixar-is-coming-to-portland.