Pixar movies just sort of happen, right? The head honchos at the Emeryville, California-based film studio take some writers and animators out to Chuck E. Cheese’s, exchange ideas over a spirited game of skee-ball or two, down a few root beers for energy, then go back to “work” (though they really don’t like the “w word”). There they feed their ideas into a giant, smiley-faced computer with the voice of John Ratzenberger, and a few minutes later they have another beloved, feature-length family classic ready to ship out to theaters. That’s basically how it works, correct?
Shockingly, no. It turns out that plenty of hard work and research goes into films like Up, Cars, Ratatouille, Inside Out, and Toy Story. So much so that Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum has an entire exhibit called Pixar: The Design Of Story, devoted to concept art, storyboards, colorscripts, animation thumbnails, and annotated diagrams used by the studio to create movies about talking cars, talking fish, and other talking things that normally wouldn’t be able to talk.
For those who cannot make the trek to Manhattan to see the Pixar exhibit in person, Wired has a lovely slideshow of some of the exhibit’s highlights, accompanied by an article by Margaret Rhodes with the disillusioning but honest title “Perfecting Pixar’s Movies Takes A Crazy Amount Of Research.” Casual animation fans may have never stopped to ponder just how much detail goes into each Pixar production. Remember that house from Up, for instance? Well, it’s based on a real Berkeley residence, and the detail-obsessed nerds at Pixar know virtually everything about it, from the copper patina at the base of its chimney to the ins and outs of its realistic plumbing infrastructure. The artists even know what the house looks like from underneath.
But the Pixar exhibit isn’t all chimneys and plumbing infrastructures, happily. There is some whimsy in there, too, largely in the form of early concept art for various characters. Take, for example, this early vision of Riley and her emotions from 2015’s Inside Out.
And, to balance that out, there are some disturbing sights like this menacing, malformed Woody from Toy Story, back when he looked like a desperado with nothing left to lose and little regard for his own life or those of other toys.
This exhibit provides some valuable insight into the mind-boggling amount of time and effort that go into making some of the most seemingly effortless, fleet-footed entertainment of recent memory. For Pixar fans, this is a golden opportunity to enter their favorite restaurant through the kitchen, so to speak.