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Design

Peek Inside Pixar’s New All-Access Exhibition

The entire history of the beloved studio gets laid bare at the Cooper Hewitt Museum's 'Pixar: The Design of Story' exhibition.
November 23, 2015, 5:00pm
Ricky Nierva, Riley and Emotions, "Inside Out," 2015. Watercolor and marker on paper. COPYRIGHT:Disney/Pixar

For a hint as to why you’re still collecting your emotions from seeing Inside Out, look to the lamp in Pixar’s logo, bouncing on and deflating a rubber ball. Named Luxo Jr., it’s a key character from the company’s landmark 1986 short film that fully embodies their key design principles: story, believability, and appeal.

Next year, the Emeryville, CA-based company tallies its 30th anniversary, and to celebrate they’ve invited the public to see behind the curtain on everything from Luxo Jr. to their latest, The Good Dinosaur. Currently on view through August 7th, 2016 at New York’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, the exhibition, entitled Pixar: The Design of Story, tackles the lengthy process of putting together their award-winning films from concept to distribution.

This means access: pencil and ink concept sketches, architectural blueprints, paintings, and clay sculptures fill the Cooper-Hewitt’s newest venue, the Process Lab; altogether there are 450 pieces of artwork, viewable on an 84-inch touch-screen table. Page through the early molds from Woody of Toy Story's face, the iconic house from Up, or, in less noticeable terms, the detailed mechanical make-up of Wall-E’s titular character.

The relationship between design and story is symbiotic in Pixar’s case, with, for example, every scene in The Incredibles color-coded for maximum impact. The tales behind chief creative officer John Lasseter and the company’s prized Brain Trust have been catalogued as often as those in Apple or SNL, and the Cooper-Hewitt exhibition provides story and screenplay notes to show how Pixar determinedly progresses a project to its finish line.

Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt, laid out the exhibition’s aim in a release: “With Pixar's two film releases this year, it is the perfect time to go behind the studio's practices and investigate how they arrive at design details, such as Merida's fiery red hair in Brave and the 'mind world' in Inside Out, while also showing how they serve a particular story.”

As Inside Out forges a path to next year’s Oscars as a candidate in not just Best Animated Feature but Best Picture, full stop, it’s worth a moment to fully appreciate the artistry that led Pixar to its current behemoth status. Because after all, they started with a squeaky lamp and a rubber ball, and the rough pencil test to prove they lead with the basics and build from there.

For further information on Pixar: The Design of Story, visit Cooper Hewitt’s website.

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