See original Pixar drawings at Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York Robert Kondo, Remy in the Kitchen, "Ratatouille," 2007 (Disney/Pixar/Smithsonian)
See original Pixar drawings at Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York
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New York City has a new destination for animation aficionados: the Process Lab of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
 
The lab, housed in Andrew Carnegie's grand old office suite, is the museum's interactive space where visitors of all ages can participate in the design process, visually, digitally and manually.
 
The lab just opened "Pixar: the Design of Story," (on view through Aug. 7, 2016) a show that examines the chemistry of an animated picture. It tracks the arduous five-year process required to make a full-length film at Pixar Animation Studios, from initial idea through development of stories, characters, mood, music, color scripts and settings.
 
The walls are mounted with rarely seen original hand-drawn pencil-and-ink "concept" sketches -- most Pixar directors started out as animators -- architectural drawings, paintings, clay sculptures and digitally created images of such popular Pixar characters as Sadness from "Inside Out", cowboy Woody from "Toy Story" and the redheaded archer Merida from "Brave."
 
"Our films are not about stories but about storytelling," says Elyse Klaidman, the longtime director of Pixar University (the in-house school for employees) and the Archives at Pixar Animation Studios in California. "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, 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."
 
Consider "Inside Out", the 2015 Pixar film that depicts the inside of an 11-year-old girl's brain, as it is alternatively dominated by conflicting emotions.
 
"It's about what happens to the brain of a little girl as she transitions to middle school," Klaidman says.
 
In fact, the story for "Inside Out" came from Pixar director Pete Docter, who was struck by the emotional changes he saw his daughter experiencing as she went from carefree little girl to withdrawn preteen. He decided to make a film that would show the girl's "outside" life at school and home while illustrating the turmoil inside her brain, especially her emotions: joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger.
 
Each is given its own color and personality.
 
So 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. In "Inside Out", emotions are full-blown characters.
 
"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 collaboration in drawings of Toy Story's Woody as first conceived, as 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: On an 84-inch touch-screen table, one can access 650 examples of Pixar artwork and compare each one to works in the museum's collection. (For example, looking at the decor of a modern house in a Pixar film, you could drag an image of an Eames chair to it, 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."
 
Why Pixar?
 
"We look at the design processes of different industries and this time it's film. Pixar came to mind because the films are so highly designed," says McCarty.
 
To further that idea, Pixar and the Cooper Hewitt have produced a children's "work book" to accompany the exhibition. "Design of Story: A Pixar Design Activity Book" (Chronicle Books) has pages encouraging children to draw their own stories, expanding on various Pixar themes.
 
A different room in the lab serves as a theater to show "Luxo Jr." -- a groundbreaking short film directed by John Lasseter in 1986. It was the first three-dimensional computer-animated film and the first to receive an Academy Award nomination. It is a short story about a desk lamp (Dad) and his rambunctious son, a mini desk lamp, on a play date that has its ups and downs. (The mini is crestfallen as he bounces on a ball and squashes it, but he recovers when he finds an even bigger ball. Dad merely shakes his head, knowing what's coming next.)
 
The film was so important to Pixar's foundation that the lamp became the studio's logo.
 
Lasseter, who had been fired from Disney's animation studio, created it to showcase computer technology and 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 but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs . . . The release of 'Luxo Jr.' . . . reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community."
 
And how.
 
Seeing the film, the original lamp sketches, the storyboards, even Lasseter's list of lamp-bouncing "actions" on a yellow legal pad lets visitors fully understand Pixar's design processes, 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 in New York City.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do the digital animations begin as sketches drawn by hand?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (28)
  • austinw-day
    10/26/2015 - 12:01 p.m.

    As animators work on films or series, a character or setting can change to please a certain aesthetic. A character that looks good at first, but the story and other characters interfere with the original design. One way around that is to change the character's design slightly then work around that plot problem. Look at Batman for an example, over the years (from his beginnings in the comic books, to his TV shows, to currently his movies and animated series) his looks differ almost each and every time due to the story and setting that Batman is place in.

  • briannec-ste
    10/26/2015 - 04:30 p.m.

    I would love to go see the museum with all things Pixar. When I was growing up all these movies were ones I watched. This museum is almost like the one in Washington D.C. with the Warner Bros.

  • lucib-bag
    10/26/2015 - 09:10 p.m.

    My favorite Pixar movie is " Rataoulli " and my favorite short film is "Lava". I have seen Insideout and I love it I think it has a lot of comity and is a great family movie. Yes I would spend five years on a movie but, it would have to be my passion because five years is A LOT!

  • ians-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 11:17 a.m.

    The animations begin as sketches drawn by because Pixar likes to think of the movie making process as storytelling not just creating a story. This also helps them a more enjoyable character for the audience.

  • teddyp-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 11:29 a.m.

    The sketches drawn as animations showed more detail and showed the idea of architectural work that expressed feelings and emotions. The characters were more appealing and expressed the thoughts of who they were? And how do they change? Through these sketches, stories have a deep meaning and they come to life with action and powerful emotions. The sketches let visitors fully understand the design and form of things.

  • fitzk-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 11:30 a.m.

    These movies and films start as ideas in the animator's/writer's/director's head, and a lot of times whenever these people have an idea in their head they write or draw them down and continue from there.

  • isaiahg-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 11:31 a.m.

    I think that digital animations begin as sketches drawn by hand because they must start as something and drawing them by hand is the best way to start because it gives you the most flex of what you can do with the character.

  • anniem2-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 12:28 p.m.

    The digital animations begin as sketches drawn by hand because that way it gives the illustrators the freedom to brainstorm before coming up with an idea. It also allows them to mess up and still be able to do it over again because it is just the rough draft.

  • sydneyw-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 12:41 p.m.

    They began as sketches drawn by hand because the sketch artist need to read the story line and get a fell for the story and then the animators will take the drawings and put them in the computer and animate them so they can move and talk and dance or do what ever the directer wants the characters to do.

  • nolann-mcc
    10/29/2015 - 12:45 p.m.

    The animations are started by hand because the computers would need some form of drawing to replicate and reproduce in order to make a full length animated movie.

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