See original Pixar drawings at Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York
New York City has a new place to go for animation fans. It is the Process Lab of the Cooper Hewitt. It is the Smithsonian Design Museum.
The lab is in Andrew Carnegie's grand old office suite. The lab is the museum's interactive space. Visitors of all ages can take part in the design process. The can taker part visually. They can take part digitally. And they can also take part manually.
The lab just opened "Pixar: the Design of Story." The show looks at the chemistry of an animated picture. It tracks the hard five-year process.
That is how long it takes to make a full-length film at Pixar Animation Studios. That includes the first idea through the growth of stories. The growth includes characters and mood. It includes music and color scripts, It also includes settings.
The walls are mounted with rarely seen original hand-drawn pencil-and-ink "concept" sketches. Most Pixar directors started out as animators.
Also included are architectural drawings and paintings. Clay sculptures are part of the show too.
And there are digitally created images. Those include popular Pixar characters. There is Sadness from "Inside Out". There is cowboy Woody from "Toy Story." And there is the redheaded archer Merida from "Brave".
"Our films are not about stories but about storytelling," says Elyse Klaidman. She is the longtime director of Pixar University and the Archives at Pixar Animation Studios in California. Pixar University is the in-house school for employees.
"It starts with wanting to tell a story. We strive to create appealing characters in a believable world. Who are the characters? How do they change? What do they learn?"
"Our directors come up with ideas they share with [CEO] John Lasseter and our Brain Trust. (That is) a team of directors that decides what story is the one that resonates," Klaidman explains.
"These are people who have this passion to tell stories that make us feel wonderful. Stories that have deep meaning to them. The stories come from life."
Think about "Inside Out." It is the 2015 Pixar film. It shows the inside of an 11-year-old girl's brain. It is filled with many different emotions.
"It is about what happens to the brain of a little girl as she transitions to middle school," Klaidman says.
The story for "Inside Out" came from Pixar director Pete Docter. He was struck by the emotional changes he saw his daughter feeling as she went from carefree little girl to withdrawn preteen.
He decided to make a film. It would show the girl's "outside" life at school and home. At the same time it illustrated the turmoil inside her brain. Especially her emotions.
Those emotions are joy and sadness. They are also disgust and fear. And anger too.
Each is given its own color and personality.
Joy is a sparky yellow "it" girl. Sadness is a shy blue bookworm. Disgust is a green snarky, mean girl. Fear is a purple goofball. Anger is a squat trapezoidal hunk. The emotions are full-blown characters in Inside Out.
"Design is at the heart and center of everything we do," Klaidman says.
In the Cooper Hewitt's lab we see the Pixar process of research and teamwork. The lab includes drawings of Toy Story's Woody as he was first imagined. Then it shows how he evolves. Even as a sculpted clay head.
We see how Pixar's computer programmers "map" the way the long red curls on Merida's head swing as she prepares to shoot an arrow.
We see "Cars" compete. And "The Incredibles" in action.
Then there is the lab's interactive part. That is on an 84-inch touch-screen table. One can access 650 examples of Pixar artwork. They can compare each one to works in the museum's collection.
For example they can look at the decor of a modern house in a Pixar film. Then they can drag an image of an Eames chair to it. After that they will be able to learn all about the chair.
"Our intent in the lab was to create a participatory space that is very much the intersection of education and digital," says curator Cara McCarty.
"The underlying goal is to encourage and inspire our public to start thinking about design. And the world around them. Design is all about connections."
"We look at the design processes of different industries. And this time it is film. Pixar came to mind because the films are so highly designed," says McCarty.
Pixar and the Cooper Hewitt expanded on that idea. They have made a children's "work book." It goes with the show.
It is called "Design of Story: A Pixar Design Activity Book." It has pages inspiring children to draw their own stories. And to expand on many of the Pixar themes.
A different room in the lab serves as a theater. It shows "Luxo Jr". It is a short film directed by John Lasseter in 1986.
It was the first 3D computer-animated film. And it was the first to get an Academy Award nomination.
It is a short story about a desk lamp (Dad) and his lively son. The son is a mini desk lamp. They are on a play date. It has its ups and downs. The mini is sad as he bounces on a ball and squashes it. But he bounces back when he finds an even bigger ball. Dad merely shakes his head. He knows what is coming next.
The film was very important to Pixar's start. They even use the lamp as the studio's logo.
Lassater made it to showcase computer technology. He wanted to prove it could tell stories with universally appealing characters.
"At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer," Edwin Catmull, the president of Pixar, is quoted in the wall text. "They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit."
Instead, the artists saw it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Catmull said the release of "Luxo Jr." reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.
Visitors see the film, the original lamp sketches and the storyboards. They even see Lassater's list of lamp-bouncing "actions" on a yellow legal pad. It lets visitors fully understand Pixar's design processes. And it is done without losing any of the magic.
"Pixar: The Design of Story" is on view through Aug. 7, 2016 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The museum is in New York City.