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 enthusiasts. It is the Process Lab of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
 
The lab is housed in Andrew Carnegie's grand old office suite. The lab 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." It is on view through Aug. 7, 2016. The show examines the chemistry of an animated picture and it tracks the grueling five-year process required to make a full-length film at Pixar Animation Studios. That includes the 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. 

Also included are architectural drawings, paintings and clay sculptures. And there are 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, which 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.  It 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.
 
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. The lab includes 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. That's 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. And it expands 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 it was the first to receive an Academy Award nomination. 

It is a short story about a desk lamp (Dad) and his high-spirited 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 (11)
  • eiljahf-ver
    10/23/2015 - 04:50 p.m.

    They begin as sketches because in case the animators make a mistake in the design it could be fixed easier than if it was on a computer.

  • maxx-ver
    10/26/2015 - 05:51 p.m.

    Wow I was surprised about how some of the movies looked like just from a sketch

  • Steve0620-yyca
    10/27/2015 - 08:42 p.m.

    I think that it is amazing that New York City has a new place for animation enthusiasts in the Process Lab of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Now people can see the characters that come out in Pixar movies and do many other interesting things. There is also a touch screen table where people can see the artworks of the Pixar characters and learn more about them. The place has many special things that people can go and look at. There are many amazing characters in the Pixar movies. I didn't know about the film with a lamp. I thought the lamp was just there for an entertainment but it is really important to Pixar.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    10/28/2015 - 12:32 a.m.

    I think the movie from Pixar are really interesting and very fun. I hope the directors could think some fun movies. For example, "Inside out" all of my friends that it is very fun. I hope I could get to watch it because i didn't watch it yet. But, I know some of it because in the article it kind of told it. I hope I enjoy it and have a wonderful time watching it...
    Is the movie sad? My teacher it was a sad movie that it made him cry. (I think it is a lie) (Maybe not)...
    Again I am asking the directors to make a lot of interesting movies for kids and we will be pleased, and so will you^^~

  • genevieveb-6-bar
    10/29/2015 - 10:26 a.m.

    Digital animations begin as sketches drawn by hand so the animators can see the story unfold before spending time and money to animate the piece. In the article's middle, it states, "The show examines the chemistry of an animated picture and it tracks the grueling five-year process required to make a full-length film at Pixar Animation Studios. That includes the initial idea through development of stories, characters, mood, music, color scripts and settings" (paragraph 3). Since it takes five years to animate a full-length Pixar feature, the animators want to guarantee that they are investing their time in a thoughtful, well written movie. The animators at Pixar Studios have their movies begin as concept art to make sure that the movie will appeal to the public.

    This article captivated me because, in the future, I want to work for either Disney or Pixar. This article game me a peek inside what it is like to be an animator at the studio.

  • maxwellc-3-bar
    10/29/2015 - 09:23 p.m.

    The digital animations begin as sketches by hand because as artists and directors are in the beginning works of making characters in a movie, they need to create them in their own way, and change them over, and over again until they have what they want. Like a Pixar director stated in the article, "Pixar came to mind because the films are so highly designed." Each and every character and item is designed, redesigned, trashed, started over, and repeated because the soul of the company lies within making the perfect story. To do that, the artists start with sketches and provide a base, that can easily be edited upon after. I really like how Pixar's creators wanted it to be all about the design.

  • carlym-4-bar
    10/30/2015 - 12:40 a.m.

    Digital animations begin as sketches drawn by hand because there needs to be a base to what the animations are going to look like. In the article it says, "They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit" This explains how an animator still needs to hand draw the first sketches and how the computers technology enables the drawings to become more three dimensional and come to life.
    I liked this article because I never thought of how animators could look to computers as a risk to their job.

  • nanm-wes
    11/04/2015 - 09:17 a.m.

    They begin it with a sketch because if you start on the computer first you will mess up.That why you draw a sketch first so you can decide if you want the character to have the feature they have.

  • samv-buc
    11/09/2015 - 09:16 a.m.

    I can relate to all of these paintings because, I have seen all of those movies.

  • chloee-hor
    12/06/2015 - 07:33 p.m.

    This article is very informative about how Pixar makes movies, creates the theme and mood. I learned from the story "Inside Out" Pete Doctor got inspiration from his daughters emotions from a care free girl to a withdrawing preteen for the movie. I agree with the statement " Design is the heart and center of everything we do" because if Pixar did not think this then Pixar films would be bland and unentertaining. If we didn't have Pixar films, i wonder how many people would want to go out to watch family movies?

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