It’s opening weekend for Incredibles 2, the highly anticipated sequel to Pixar’s amazing tale of a family of superheroes trying to get by in a world that doesn’t want them. Our film critic says it’s another amazing job by the critically acclaimed animation studio, and we’re excited to see it. But whether or not you’ve gotten a chance to see what will surely be a blockbuster with heart to spare, you can get an extra dose of that Pixar magic with the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago’s latest special exhibit, The Science Behind Pixar. The exhibit packs a huge punch, with all of the Pixar magic you’d expect and an immense amount of incredible educational value that’s sure to have a lasting impact on people of any age who want to explore what goes on behind the scenes to produce the movies we’ve come to love. It’s something truly special, and something that we’re sure will inspire a new generation to get into STEM fields and maybe, one day, join Pixar’s team to continue the legacy.
The Science Behind Pixar features two large exhibit galleries, and each is full to the brim. In talking with the museum’s staff, we learned that on average, you should expect to spend at least an hour going through the exhibit, but we could see ourselves spending even more time inside. Where Pixar could have gone with pure brand recognition and entertainment value peppered with scant amounts of science and animation education, they’ve instead exploded their process out, with every step of making the magic ready to explore on its own.
You will, of course, see Sully and Mike, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and WALL-E, but when you do, it will be for a reason, and in pursuit of learning. There are the maquettes and concept art that animation fans will be able to admire, too. But what’s particularly incredible about The Science Behind Pixar is that it feels like a true hands-on learning experience that everyone can get something out of. It’s in depth in a way I can honestly say is rare to find anywhere, even with other museum exhibits.
You’ll first enter into the modelling and rigging sections and learn how a character goes from concept art to 3D cast, and in turn, how that cast gets turned into a 3D model to be used in the film itself. There are multiple rigging stations, where you can explore how arms and legs need to be segmented for different types of characters and their range of motion, and face rigging stations where you can explore how moving eyebrows, eyelids, and even pupil position can change a character’s expression from happy to sad or surprised.
In another corner, you’ll find a “Surfaces” station which lets you design product labels and teaches you what the keys are so that a design works when wrapped around a 3D object. Lighting, too, is explored in depth—you’ll learn about the different types of light as applied to 3D objects, what intensity and color of light do to change moods in a scene and be able to see the results played out at each individual station.
Rendering and animation as acting come into play, as well as effects and camera position—using a stunning practical recreation of one of the main settings from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. If you continue on and find yourself by the adorable life-size model of WALL-E, you’ll be taken through a lesson on depth of field, and how that changes a scene and directs the eye.
What’s incredible is that nothing is dumbed down even a little bit. You’ll see limit complexity stations, discussions of using parabolas to animate grass, and subdivision to change a hand model from blocky to realistic. The technology isn’t merely a cute demonstration either. You’ll actually be in a full virtual modelling environment, or at the controls to design a virtual set. Things are streamlined or simplified only where they need to be for people to get a real feel for how things work, but not so much that it seems like it’s aimed at small children. It’s a direct relation to something I already admired about Pixar–that they never talk down to children, instead addressing them simply as people who are capable of taking on big issues, or in this case, complex concepts, if just given a chance to explore them.
There’s nothing held back or left undiscovered in The Science Behind Pixar. You’ll get a look at the processes and how they flow into each other, the challenges faced by animators and crew in things like animating Merida’s hair in the movie Brave, and hard science and math and how they’re directly applied to the movies we all love.
In our eyes, The Science Behind Pixar echoes the company’s own philosophy and values—telling good stories that reach people, rather than simply making a colorful confection that’s there and gone, and injecting life lessons into our lives in a digestible way. And, though this is a travelling exhibit not developed at MSI Chicago, it echoes the Museum of Science and Industry’s desire to teach in an approachable way while not dumbing down the science and math, and its commitment to being a place where people of all ages can truly learn something. You won’t want to miss this robust, delightful exhibit. For more information on The Science Behind Pixar, expected to run at MSI until January 2019, click here.