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28 October 2014
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Finding Nemo
Snap! Animation becomes fine art

Review: Pixar - 20 Years of Animation

If you or your children have ever cheered on Woody in the Toy Story films, or been mesmerised by the detailed, murky depths of Finding Nemo, here's how to uncover the mystery behind the magic, says Shalinee Singh...


Starting out with Luxo Jr - a humble little lamp with a life of its own - Pixar has gone on to create some of the most popular films ever made. 

From Toy Story to Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles and the soon-to-be released Cars, a new exhibition lays bare each small, painstaking step involved in creating the animation company's uncannily lifelike characters. 

Such is the draw (ok, pun intended) that, even on a slightly chilly Easter holiday morning, families are flocking to the Science Museum to get a measure of the careful artistry and creative perspiration that comes with the process.

The exhibition itself is small but perfectly formed, and it takes us (that's me and two chiddlers) at least an hour and a half to take in all the sights and sounds. 

Edna Mode from The Incredibles
Drawings help the characters to evolve

Cosying up alongside detailed depictions of the wind rippling through Mr Incredible's hair are examples of the company's so-called "colourscripts". These visual style and tone-setters are displayed edge to edge with 3D resin models and the quirkier x-rays of well known characters.

Elsewhere, detailed studies of Monsters Inc's Sully and his fur reacting to different conditions (wet, windy, even scary!) complement a series of line-perfect charcoal drawings of the shark-infested ocean depths in Finding Nemo. There's also a chuckle-inducing storyboard about ... the making of storyboards!

All this, in common with so much else in the show, is the work of Pixar's stable of backroom artists and draughtsmen, rendered in a fine-art style and a world away from that stage in the animation process when the super-computers take over.

disbelieving gasps

And as if this isn't enough to keep the kids interested, a side room contains the most talked-about element of the exhibition, a 3D Toy Story zoetrope.

Invented in 1834, this amazing piece of Victoriana gave viewers the opportunity to look through slits as a drum was spun and see a cartoon strip form a moving image. 

Toy Story zoetrope
Toy Story's Woody on the zoetrope

Pixar's technologically advanced version uses strobe lights to re-create the effect as Woody rides his horse, Jesse whirls her lasso and toy soldiers parachute to the ground, accompanied by miniature aliens jumping in and out of mysteriously appearing holes. 

It's a heart-stopping moment of wonderment and there're disbelieving gasps from adults and children alike.

As a digital animation house, Pixar has always been known for pushing the boundaries.  Extensive research and a hugely talented team have ensured they remain a cut above.

Disney, the most established name in animation, has seen the future and acted upon it, buying Pixar for $7.4bn. With the purchase they'll establish an important link between the old and the new: Disney itself on the one hand and on the other, step forward Pixar chief exec and Head of Apple, Steve Jobs.

As to whether Pixar will struggle to keep its sense of individuality, only time will tell.  Meanwhile, as 20 Years of Animation demonstrates only too clearly, we can all continue to be awestruck by the company's triumph of technology and the pleasure it begets.

At the Science Museum, Exhibition Road SW7 until 10 June. Daily 10am - 6pm. Adults £9, children £7. Info: 0870 870 4868

last updated: 05/05/06
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Dave Mac
I AGREE with Alberto - I felt short changed at the end - certainaly lighter in the wallet department. The exhibition disd not meet its hype and was much more "arty" than scientific / technical. the clue was in the mercandising emporium at the end. Shrink wrapped exhibition catalogues at £25 -from when the xhibition (or its forebears) were at The Museum of Modern Art in NY. It felt like a left-overs exhibition from an art gallery. What are you doing the Science Museum??

Lou
I also disagree with Alberto. To dismiss the illustrations and stills as "unispiring" is surely more indicative of a lack of imagination in the viewer, not the artist(s)?! I found the exhibition really interesting. To get to see the process from initital sketches, to mood boards, to 3D models, was really insightful to the creative minds behind Pixar. Plus the zoetrope was fabulous!

Dave
It's a real shame that Alberto feels he should ward people away from this amazing exhibition. The stills in the exhibition really show the evolution of the characters and the range of styles which are used to create the different characters; acrylics, pastels, charcoal (the charcoals of Finding Nemo are incredible), pencil, collages, etc. At £9, it's a bargain, considering it's back off to MOMA after Saturday 15th June. Go and see it before it's over!!

Leila
Can't disagree with Alberto's comments on the exhibitiom more.. no other exhibition brings together the artistry of animation like this one. There are so many examples of how Pixar develop their wonderful stories, characters and worlds and the zoetrope and film bring all of these elements together. Go see!!!

Darron Mould
I met John Lassiter at a show of his work, where he hinted about his first feature-length animated film. This was "Toy Story". John was a funny and confident host, showing his short films from "Luxo Jr" onward. I loved "Toy Story" and even bought myself a toy of the Alien for my 29th birthday. So far, Pixar have not failed to disappoint, as they are always looking for new things to do, both on the screen and behind the scenes. They have a good partner in Disney, although I was a little sceptical in the past. Congratulations to Pixar and I look forward to another excellent feature in "Cars".

Alberto Giordano
I think the article writer gets a little carried away with his prose. The Pixar exhibition bears only a passing resemblance to this clap trap. The exhibition as described reads like two weeks at Disneyland when in actual fact the reality is more like a day in Bognor. The room used is not very big. There is a viewing room leading off it for the pointless montage of Pixar clips presented as a bulliten board and lasting approx 11 mins. Lots of still in the main exhibition. Lots and lots of unispiring stills unfortunately. The experience leaves one feeling fleeced and then sold short. And then.... they have the audacity to put a shop at the end of the exhibition full of Pixar DVD's and merchandise. Av.oid this swindle

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