Visitors observe the rendering area at the Pixar exhibit.© "la Caixa" Foundation

Pixar’s animated films, in eight key steps



21 segundos de lectura

The Science Behind Pixar exhibition, which can be seen until September at CaixaForum Madrid, offers a unique insight into the creation of the films in the Pixar universe. Through real examples of how Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up!, Coco, Finding Nemo, Brave and many others were made, visitors can learn about each of the eight steps in the creative process behind these animated films.

Exhibition sections:

  1. Introduction. The exhibition begins with a 5-minute introductory video in which Pixar’s technical director, Fran Kalal, and the story artist Alex Woo take us on a tour of Pixar’s offices as they describe the steps of the pipeline process that turns initial sketches into the final film. Along the way we meet some of the people involved in each section.
  2. Modelling. Character design starts with artists who create sketches and clay sculptures (maquettes) to make every character just right. Then, a digital modeller creates a virtual 3D model of the character, sometimes digitally scanning the maquette, as can be seen in the exhibition through a video of the creation of Lotso, in Toy Story 3.

    The final model is a digital wireframe structure of points and the edges that connect them, something which can be better understood with the interactive module that shows how mathematical coordinates are used to represent a three-dimensional space in computer animation.​

    Also in this section, we find other interactives that play with shapes and the 2D and 3D world, as well as maquettes of characters like Remy, from Ratatouille, Ira, from Inside Out, or Dante, from Coco; an activity to create a robot similar to those in WALL·E; and explanatory videos of the work of the senior scientists Tony DeRose and Mark Meyer, and the 3D designer Tanja Krampfert.
  3. Rigging. This section is dedicated to the work of the riggers, in charge of generating the sensation of characters’ bone, joint and muscle movements. Each muscle that moves has its own virtual control. A video shows us how Mike Wazowski (Monsters, Inc.) has 7,000 rig controls, the equivalent of a marionette with 7,000 strings.

    Visitors will be able to play by moving characters’ arms and their facial expressions, seeing first-hand for example how a change in the shape of the eyebrows, eyelids or pupils generates a different emotion in the character.

    All of which is accompanied by videos featuring Brian Green, rigging technical director, and Jason Bickerstaff, a character rigger, who will explain their experiences. Did you know that the rigging of some characters requires up to a year’s work?
  4. Surfaces. Appearance, what a story tells, is controlled separately from the shape of the objects and characters. What is it made of? Is it new or old? Is it well looked after or abandoned? After creating a virtual 3D model, a surfacing artist constructs its appearance through computer programs called shaders. They determine the way light scatters off the surface to make it look shiny, transparent and smooth (like glass) or dull and rough (like rust). One of the fun facts visitors will find out is that Rayo McQueen has 14 different paint variants throughout the film, ranging from different amounts of dirt and dust to the completely new paint jobs near the end of the film.

    Using an interactive element, visitors will be able to change the appearance of the cars in Cars, or a sphere in the kitchen of Ratatouille by playing with the colours, textures or brightness. They will also see how one way to change the appearance of a digital model is to wrap it with a 2D texture map.

    And to better understand the maths behind these techniques, they will watch videos by Athena Xenakis, a surfacing artist, and Colin Thompson, a technical director, explaining the mathematical concepts behind how light bounces off an object, or behind the glint in a character’s eyes.

  5. Sets and cameras. Films 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, often inspired in real life. To create the DunBroch castle in Brave, the production team visited and studied a number of castles, which the designers then fully constructed in 3D.

    In this section, we find videos by Eben Ostby, a technical director; Darla K. Anderson, producer of A Bug’s Life; Sylvia Wong, a camera and staging artist, and David Eisenmann, a sets supervisor. They all help us understand how every pebble, tree and building helps turn the storyboards into a believable world that connects with audiences.

    These films use virtual cameras to shape what is shown on screen. The camera artists choose the composition, camera movement and lens type to support the story.

    In one of the most fun sections of the exhibition, visitors can immerse themselves in A Bug’s Life and feel like one of the ants under the trees; change a dormitory in Monsters, Inc.; understand the importance of viewpoints and how the cameras guide us about what we should preferably see, or visualise in a practical way how a field full of grass can be created that looks natural without repeating the same pattern over and over again.
  6. Animation. Animators are the true actors in Pixar animated films. They study how we move in real life, then transfer it to the virtual world. This work is extremely laborious. As visitors will learn in the exhibition, the film in which most animation was produced in one week was Toy Story 2, which managed 5 minutes and 42 seconds in seven days.

    This section includes videos by the animator Rob Jensen; the animator and director Alan Barillaro; the character animator Gini Santos, and the animation software developer Tom Hahn. They explain how animators begin by creating key frames that mark out important positions in a movement. Then, they use a computer program to describe how the object moves in between those key frames so that the resulting animation conveys the desired emotions.

    Visitors can enter this world by making their own stop-motion clip with the iconic jumping lamp from the Pixar logo, or animating the character of Mike in Monsters, Inc., to make him move his arm as if he were saluting.
  7. Simulation. While animators focus on getting the character to move and act, 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 artistic needs and the time it takes to run the simulation.

    One of the fun facts explained in this section of The Science Behind Pixar concerns Merida, the star of Brave, who has more than 1,500 individually hand-sculpted curly red strands that, in turn, generate more than 111,700 total hairs.

    Various audiovisuals featuring Hayley Iben, lead software engineer in Simulation, Samantha Raja, a simulation technical director and David Ryu, global technical director, help visitors understand the challenges inherent in simulating elements like hair, clothing, water, potions and crowds. This experience is complemented by interactives around Finding Nemo, such as one that enables visitors to see the effect of making small changes in the rules of movement in a school of fish, or another in which they can explore one way of simulating water.
  8. 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 colour, position and intensity of each light needs to be programmed to achieve the desired artistic effect.

    Visitors will discover first-hand how to adjust the lighting in a living-room scene in Up! to completely change the mood. They will also hear the experiences in films like Finding Nemo or WALL·E of Sharon Calahan, director of photography, Charu Clark, lighting artist, and Danielle Feinberg, director of photography and lighting.
  9. Rendering. The final step in converting the film into reality in the 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. This is a slow process that consumes a huge amount of digital resources. As visitors will learn from the exhibit, it took almost two weeks to render the most complicated shot on The Incredibles.

    Christophe Hery, a light transport researcher and rendering architect, Yasmin Khan and Susan Fong, rendering supervisors, and Per Chistensen, senior software developer, explain their work while visitors experience how increasing the size of a crowd, for example, can change image quality and rendering time. Another interactive element enables them to see how much detail is visible depending on how close the camera is. 
Latest Update: 07 May 2024 | 11:13