Have you ever wished you could explore the ocean floor with Dory or see the world through the eyes of Buzz Lightyear? Did you ever wonder how much work was involved in giving Merida her unruly mane or Lightning McQueen his sleek finish? If you’ve ever been curious to know which chefs inspired Remy or wanted to build a robot like the ones in Wall-E, Cincinnati Museum Center has the perfect exhibit for you and your entire family.
“The Science Behind Pixar” is a 13,000-square-foot interactive exhibition created by the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with Pixar Animations Studios. The exhibit shows how STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts are used by artists and computer scientists to breathe life into the be- loved characters from Pixar’s award-winning feature films. CMC was one of many museums anxious for an opportunity to host the exhibit.
“It was a bit of a competition,” says Dave Duszynski, president of Mercury Museum Services, a subsidiary of CMC. “Several museums had first priority to display ‘The Science Behind Pixar.’ We finally got the green light in 2016. The only caveat was we wouldn’t have access to it until 2020.”
Duszynski was initially reluctant to make such a large commitment, wondering if Pixar would still be relevant four years down the line. “It’s crazy to think about now. Pixar was relevant then and it’s relevancy has not gone down one iota.”
By the time 2020 rolled around, CMC faced an even larger obstacle — the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID disrupted everything,” Duszynski says. “The Pixar exhibit is extremely high-touch. We didn’t want to risk our visitors’ safety, so we made the decision to send everything back to Boston until things calmed down.”
As it turned out, sending “The Science Behind Pixar” to its creators was a blessing in disguise. The scientists and curators in Boston made several tweaks and adjustments, ensuring the exhibit would be more COVID-friendly moving forward. As an added bonus, they were able to integrate several Pixar titles that hadn’t existed previously.
“Although ‘The Science Behind Pixar’ premiered a year later than planned, we’re the first museum to have the upgraded version,” Duszynski says.
Since opening at CMC on Oct. 22, 2021, “The Science Behind Pixar” has been one of the museum’s most popular attractions.
“One might think this is strictly an exhibit for children because it’s so interactive,” Duszynski says. “But I’ve seen several parents who want to keep playing at a station while their kids are ready to move on. That’s part of what makes the exhibit so much fun — folks of all ages find something engaging.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that “The Science Behind Pixar” was designed by a team known for creating great interactives. The Museum of Science in Boston created every interactive station in triplicate, allowing multiple people to explore the same module simultaneously.
“This is the most interactive exhibit we’ve ever hosted,” Duszynski says. “But because the folks at Boston created so many versions of the same interactive, nobody has to wait too long to join in the fun.”
The exhibit encourages visitors to understand and appreciate the science and technology involved in creating an animated feature. The fact that Pixar has been a cherished part of people’s lives since 1995 allows those concepts to really resonate.
“People love Pixar. They love the characters and the stories,” says Cody Hefner, vice president of marketing and communications. “When they visit ‘The Science Behind Pixar’ and discover how much work goes into creating simulations, computer modeling and manipulating things to replicate real life, they leave with a greater appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship.”
Duszynski agrees. “Animation has gotten so incredibly unique and dynamic. With old-school animation, everything was drawn frame by frame. New digital animation allows the artist to draw a frame, then digitally have a character do whatever they want them to do.”
“The Science Behind Pixar” explores eight steps in the animation process. Visitors can discover how artists created Lightning McQueen’s shiny surface so that it replicates an actual race car. They can learn how rigging allows characters like Woody and Mrs. Incredible to move in ways that fit their characters. They can see how the correct amount of light can imitate life underwater with Nemo and Dory. Guests are also encouraged to test their own skills by adding colorful skins to race cars, or by creating an entire school of fish. With over 50 interactive elements, there is a lot of opportunity for people to actively participate in the filmmaking process.
“The lighting station includes a very emotional scene from the first act of the movie ‘Up,’” Hefner says. “There’s a room with Carl and Ellie Fredricksen’s chairs and lamps, and guests have control over the lamps. It’s amazing how somber the atmosphere becomes when you turn Ellie’s lamp off. There’s no story, characters or dialogue — it’s all in the lighting. That’s the power of Pixar’s science, technology and animation.”
CMC hopes guests, particularly children, will leave with a deeper appreciation for S TEM.
“One of our roles is to help people understand the importance of STEM. ‘The Science Behind Pixar’ is a great way to do that,” Duszynski says. “There are so many fun jobs in the field, especially in areas like animation. Folks can watch vignettes of Pixar employees talking about their day-to-day processes and see the fun they’re having. It makes them feel comfortable with the thought of having a career in a S TEM field.”
Duszynski also notes that, despite what people may believe, careers in STEM are often exciting, team-oriented and a lot of fun.
“Our job as a museum is to ask, ‘Why does this matter?’” Hefner says. “And “The Science Behind Pixar” proves that sometimes why it matters is because it’s fun and enjoyable. It may not be earth-shattering work, but Pixar films matter to a lot of people, and that makes it a really big deal.”
“The Science Behind Pixar” is open now until April 24, 2022.
Want to see “The Science Behind Pixar” for yourself? Find tickets at cincymuseum.org/pixar.