To Infinity and Beyond: TWOS presents The Science Behind Pixar

by Zosia Czarnecka

As you enter The Science Behind Pixar Exhibition, you pass the life size cut outs of Sully and Mike and are welcomed by a short film introducing the general creation process at Pixar Studios. The exhibit, now open at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science, showcases the tremendous time, precision, and attention to detail that goes into creating Pixar’s fan-favorite films.

The short introductory clip walks visitors through the general steps from character sketches to set design, rendering, dialogue, and final composition. Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, concludes the film with an invitation to the audience to experience the exhibit as a studio and try to tackle similar problems as the creators at Pixar do. Filling TWOS’s 10 000 square foot exhibition hall, the exhibit showcases over 40 of these interactive features that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The stations are divided into eight distinct sections to explain the entire process of creating a film: Modelling, Rigging, Surfaces, Sets & Cameras, Animation, Simulation, Lighting, and Rendering.

At one station, you can play around with various controls to set Jessie’s – the yodeling cowgirl from Pixar’s beloved Toy Story franchise – expression. Want her to look surprised? Raise her eyebrows. Want her to look tired? Increase her lower eyelid. It’s amazing how much can be changed just with six controls.

At another station, visitors are asked to adjust the texture of an image to match an example. Users can play around with texture, clarity, lustre, and pattern to achieve the desired image – it’s not as easy as you may think!

During my visit, I was joined by Grade 6 students from Ecole Meridian Heights School. A few of them excitedly told me that the exhibit was mind-blowing, as they had never realized how much time and math goes into producing a Pixar movie. Nearly everything relies on math, physics, and computing. In A Bug’s Life, creators were tasked to create fields of grass. Each individual blade of grass was modelled after a basic parabola and adjusted accordingly – by repeating this process millions of times, a field of unique blades was created! The kids were also astounded by the render time for each scene. In producing Up!, creators spent on average an entire week producing just several seconds of animation. The render time for each scene could be anywhere from a few hours to a day!

The beauty of this exhibit is that it reveals some of the magic behind the movies without ruining the viewing experience. If anything, visitors will leave the exhibit appreciating Pixar’s process a thousand times more after realizing the immense precision and time that goes into each movie. I loved hearing the kids realize that “math has a purpose!” and that these movies don’t come out of nowhere, but rather from dedicated teamwork and academic talent. Everyone is bound to leave the exhibit feeling astounded and infinitely more creative – inspired to pay attention to detail and appreciate the visual effects of movies even more.

The Science Behind Pixar Exhibition runs until January 2018. The exhibition is open daily and admission is included in general TWOS ticket prices.

Photography by Zosia Czarnecka.

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