Monday, July 3, 2017

Must See: The Science of Pixar at the Science Museum of Minnesota

What's vibrant and interactive and great for people of all ages? 


Photo is my own

Why that would be the brand new feature exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMN), of course. SMN always has an incredible array of exhibits, but they have truly outdone themselves with the latest. The Science of Pixar takes patrons straight into the world of your favorite animated movies, from the very beginning with Toy Story all the way through their latest favorites such as Inside Out and Finding Dory. The exhibit has heart, imagination, and so much learning packed into subtle activities that it will absolutely blow you away.

Photo by Michael Malyszko

Guests begin the exhibit by viewing a short 5 minute video that details the brief history of Pixar and overview of what you're about to see. From there, all attendees enter an enormous room with a few dozen stations set up. Each station is a part of a different element of animated film-making such as story and art, rendering, modeling by hand/sculpting, computer/3D electronic modeling, lighting, stop motion animation, creating set pieces, creating movement in cartoon characters, and more.

Photo by Michael Malyszko

Every themed station is set up with a series of activities to help guests learn hands-on how the animation process works. This serves both to make the exhibit itself a whole lot more fun and to keep your eyes from glazing over as you go through each station. The procedure for creating animated movies can be extremely complex, and The Science of Pixar does such a great job of making really detailed processes accessible to a layperson who knows nothing about animation already.

Photo by Michael Malyszko

I would have attended this exhibit regardless but I wanted to take out my nieces and nephews, so they joined me and gave some inside kid perspective on the exhibit. Their ages ranged from 8 to 13, and I can absolutely testify that even across that age spread they really had a great time. Anyone who has spent time around kid stuff knows how difficult it can be to please adults and kids (or even teens and younger children! a few years difference can be enormous) all at once. The total fixation from all of us of all ages is a true testament to The Science of Pixar's entertainment power.

Photo is my own

What sold it for them? Easily the biggest draw were the endless interactive activities that cover every aspect of 3D animation. There were so many hands-on experiences, such as creating basic shapes out of magnetic sculptures, posing Pixar's iconic desk lamp intro through stop-motion, and touchable, full scale models of Pixar characters. What really got them going, however, were interactive touchscreen programs that got into the meat and potatoes of the electronic animation process. These were as simple as coloring lightscapes inside of settings by taking scenes from day to night, and as complicated as building a full 3D character out of basic shapes within the pre-set software. Others included using different Photoshop-style filters to create different effects on shapes; selecting rendering options to choose how fluid or rigid a character's movements were; and putting these elements together step-by-step to see how familiar movies (like a fully stripped scene from Inside Out) were made.

Photo by Michael Malyszko

I cannot stress how brilliant these interactive vignettes were. Even as an adult I was so excited to try (and challenged by!) the process of recreating familiar scenes and sets. It really gives you a good perspective on how difficult it is to make even seemingly simple animated movies and how many thousands of hours go into creating every film we enjoy in only an hour or two's worth of length for the finished product. The kids were totally enthralled by the process of making their mini-cartoon elements, and they were all inspired to learn more about this process in the future. They also picked up a lot of math and science by osmosis as they problem-solved through trying to create each scene.

The Science of Pixar runs at the Science Museum of Minnesota through September 4, and I definitely recommend that you swing by if you have a chance. You can easily spend hours in this exhibit going through all of the short film interviews of Pixar employees and the hands-on interactive exhibit elements. It's educational and super fun all at once, nailing that precarious entertainment balance that Pixar so excels at. If you've ever seen and loved a Pixar movie (and let's be honest, who hasn't?), you will find something to love in this exhibit. And while you're there, check out the Omnitheater film (currently Journey to the South Pacific, an environmentalist undersea feature that enthralled the kiddos with gorgeous cinematography of the creatures under the sea) and the regular museum itself. We were there for over four hours and the kids could have gone all day, so make the most of your admission fee and stay a while! You can find more information and buy tickets by clicking on this link.