The Science Behind Pixar

How did they know what leaves look like from a bug’s perspective? How did they get Elastigirl’s arm to move like that? The grass looks so real! I wonder how long it took to get all the details on those cars just right. Are the fish really swimming around randomly, or is there a hidden pattern?

These are some thoughts that might pop into your head while watching a Disney Pixar film. Well, maybe not at first. Disney and Pixar do an amazing job of getting viewers lost in the characters and stories. But maybe on your second or third viewing, or if you just have a technical eye or an interest in movie making, you’ll start to wonder what goes into creating these masterpieces.


The Museum of Science in Boston really wasn’t on our radar as something to do during our Fourth of July weekend there. But when I saw a billboard advertising a special exhibit called The Science Behind Pixar, I knew we would find a way to add it to our itinerary. Chris is very engineering/science/math minded, while I am always looking for a Disney fix. Looks like a win-win!


One of the most interesting thing I learned about there was the production pipeline. I knew a lot of time and work went into making these films, but it was so cool to see the specific parts of the process. Story and art are obvious pieces of the puzzle, as well as animation and set design. But rigging? What is that? Not only did the exhibit answer my question, it also had a few stations set up where you could practice rigging for yourself. It was fun to take two very different characters, for example robot EVE from Wall-E and flexible Elastigirl from The Incredibles, and compare the way they move.



Light design was fun too. A larger than life Dory from Finding Nemo was set up against an ocean background, and guests took turns adjusting the lights around her to compare a deep, dark ocean with a bright, colorful reef.


Screens set up along the walls showed really cool side by side clips of the same scenes, with one side fully animated and the other side only partly done. We watched a scene from Brave when Merida is riding her horse, one with her hair fully animated- curls bouncing, wind whipping through it- and one with it not yet finished- sticking out rigidly looking like straw. What a big difference! We also saw some fascinating research done in preparation for A Bug’s Life that entailed putting tiny cameras in with real bugs to figure out their unique perspective.


Cars was the movie that helped guests understand perspectives in animation, while the new hit Inside Out presented examples of rendering, which is usually one of the final pieces of the movie making process. I sat down at a computer station and worked for quite a while on set design, using a bedroom from Monsters, Inc. as my raw material. It was a lot more difficult that I thought it would be!

The rest of the museum was decent, not nearly as well done as the Deutsches Museum in Munich and a little too much geared toward children. But the Science Behind Pixar exhibit was worth the entry fee all on its own.


Back out on the streets of Boston, we found these amusing receptacles. They certainly tied in with the rest of our day!

If you are a Disney/Pixar/animation/movie making fan and you find yourself in Boston, this special exhibit is well worth your time. I believe it will only be in Boston until December, at which point the exhibit may travel and set up camp in a new venue for a few months. Keep an eye on it if you are interested!

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