Genius of Pixar: a Study of the Computer Animation

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Pixar began in 1984 when John Lasseter decided to leave his animation job with Disney to join George Lucas in his special effects computer group, which was, at that time, called Lucasfilm, Ltd. That same year, Lasseter begins work on his first 3-D short film, titled Andre and Wally B., which premieres at Siggraph soon after. Lucasfilm, Ltd. is purchased by Steve Jobs for $10 million dollars and renamed Pixar. Vice President of Lucasfilm, Ed Catmull, becomes the Chief Technical Officer of Pixar and the short Luxo Jr. premieres. The following year, Luxo Jr. is awarded a Golden Gate award for Computer Generated Imagery at the San Francisco International Film Festival and is nominated for an Academy Award. Tin Toy premieres in 1988 and receives a Golden Globe for best short film the next year, the same year that Knickknack premieres and Red's Dream receives a Golden Gate Award. Between 1989 and 1995 Pixar creates 25 commercials for products such as Listerine, Lifesavers, and IBM, winning awards for many of them. 1995 proves to be a turning point for Pixar, as it releases the first ever fully computer animated feature film, Toy Story, which becomes the highest grossing film of the year making $358 million worldwide. This is also the year Pixar goes public selling shares at $22 each. In the next few years, full length films such as A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and shorts such as Geri's Game and For the Birds are released, all of which are nominated for Academy Awards. And finally, the most recent film released, Monsters Inc, in 2001, has the largest 3-day opening in Disney and Pixar history.

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In order to create a movie, many stages must be passed. First, an idea must be presented to the rest of the crew and production team. Next, a summary of the main idea is written up. This is called a treatment. For some ideas, many treatments must be written up before the one eventually used for the film is chosen. His third step is the storyboards, which are almost like a scene-by-scene comic book version of the movie. Each artist receives a few pages of the script to use as an outline for their part of the storyboard. They must display all the changes in emotion and action. They then pitch their ideas to the director for his final approval. After the drawings are approved, voice recording begins. First, temporary voices are recorded to help make the storyboard come to life. After the story has fully developed, professional actors read their scripts and record their voices. After this is done, an editor adjusts the length of each shot and puts them in sequential order. In the meantime, pastel drawings of all the characters are drawn up which help emphasize lighting and other important things that bring them to life. Props, scenery, and setting are also drawn at this point and then modeled on the computer in 3-D. Sometimes, clay figures are created to make the computer process easier. Each character is given an avar, or hinge, which allows it to move on screen realistically. A virtual camera is used to choreograph all the scenes. This layout crew usually films each scene from many different directions and angles, as in real life movies, to give the editing crew the chance to make the story the best it can be. Subsequently, the animators are brought in. They are used almost like puppeteers because they are in charge of choreographing the expressions and actions of each scene by using the computer controls. Color and shading is then put into effect, so that when the characters move on screen they seem much more realistic. Digital light, which is much like stage lights used in a play, are created by the artists to enhance mood and emotion. Finally, all the data – sets, colors, and character movement – into a single frame. Each frame is about 1/24 of screen time. Pixar uses a program called Renderfarm, which interprets the data and any motion blur. The average frame takes 6 hours to render although some of the more complicated ones can take up to 90 hours. Special effects are added and the photo science department records the rendered frames to film. The producer oversees this entire process, and then, the film is done.

Computer animation has become increasingly popular in the past years mostly due to the fact that it gives the audience a new experience. Not only does Pixar come up with fresh creative story lines, they also have extremely talented artists working for them, making the characters look as life like as possible.

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