‘Science Behind Pixar’ exhibit opens at MSI

The Science Behind Pixar features more than 40 interactive elements demonstrating the technology that supports the creativity and artistry of Pixar’s storytellers. – Nicolaus Czarnecki (Courtesy of MSI)

Staff Writer

Among the striking things at The Science Behind Pixar, which opened Thursday at the Museum of Science of Industry (MSI), 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., is an illustration of Mike, the green globular character from the Monsters, Inc., series, as a marionette, a puppet suspended and manipulated by a dozen or so strings.

The video then flashes to a computer-animated Mike, built up from his constituent parts. We learn that his figure has 7,000 rig controls. Then we see the marionette Mike again, slowly enveloped in strings to show the complexity of the work done to digitally animate him. Mike’s partner in the film, Sulley, it turns out, was animated with 25,336 “key” hairs, each of which guide the over 2.3 million blue and purple hairs on his body.

The Science Behind Pixar does not delve into the abject nitty-gritty of computer animation, but it does provide over 40 interactive exhibits that demonstrate the technology supporting Pixar’s singular storytelling. Spanning two galleries, the exhibition is loosely grouped into the eight steps of its filmmaking process: modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets and cameras, animation, simulation, lighting and rendering.

Guests will have the opportunity to take their photo with human-size recreations of many of their favorite Pixar film characters. – Nicolaus Czarnecki (Courtesy of MSI)

Guests can orient cameras on a model of the tree setting of “A Bug’s Life,” angling them from a bug’s-eye view, for instance. There’s an illustration of how animators fashioned believable water in “Finding Nemo,” by modeling the flow of steadily smaller particles. Kids can affect the way light shines through the house from “Up” and increase the flexibility of Elastigirl from “The Incredibles” by giving her virtual skeleton more parts.

“Pixar’s pioneering technology sits at the intersection of art, engineering and science and shows that there are multiple paths to a STEM career,” said David Mosena, President and CEO of MSI. Several interviews with Pixar technicians are included in the exhibition. One of them, character rigger Jason Bickerstaff, whose work determines how characters bend, studied music and taught himself computer graphics. “There’s a very direct correlation between the need to practice as a musician and the need to practice as a computer artist,” he said.

“As an institution dedicated to inspiring the inventive genius in everyone, we are excited to show guests the unexpected ways that the fundamental skills taught in science learning—problem solving, trial and error and interaction—are utilized to bring those beloved characters to live,” said Mosena.

See how models are given a virtual skeleton to enable the animators to add movement. – Michael Malyszko (Courtesy of MSI)

“The Science Behind Pixar is a behind-the-scenes look at how our movies are made,” said Pixar and Disney Animation Studios President Ed Catmull in a statement. “The interactive exhibition gives people the opportunity to learn about the jobs our filmmakers do every day and table similar problems. It’s a great demonstration of how much creativity and imagination is involved in the science, technology, engineering, art and math thinking essential to our filmmaking process.”

Elyse Klaidman, Pixar’s Director of Archives and Exhibitions, said that the exhibition, one of two that are usually on tour around the world (the other is generally at contemporary art museums), took years to develop and is geared towards children and families.

The Science Behind Pixar, which originally ran at the Museum of Science, Boston, will be at MSI through January 9, 2019. Timed-entry tickets, not included in the museum admission price, are $14 for adults and $11 for children.