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Pixar: 25 Years of Animation

Museum Gets Animated

They say you should never notice the cinematography in a good film. If you walk out of the theater thinking, “...the camera shots were quite lovely in such-in-such scene,” there’s a pretty good chance the movie wasn’t that great. The same holds true for the costumes, special effects, and anything else that draws your attention away from the story and out of the imaginary world you paid a hard-earned ten bucks to get lost in.

That’s exactly why Pixar is having an art exhibition. The film studio’s movies are so awesome that when you see a Pixar flick (i.e., Cars, Ratatouille, Toy Story, etc.), you actually watch the movie. The story lines are solid and wonderfully witty, the characters are loveable, the worlds are believable, and the whole thing just sucks you right in. You don’t think about who, or why, or how it was created. You just watch and enjoy.

After a worldwide tour that started in 2005 at New York’s MoMA, PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation recently returned home to the Bay Area at the Oakland Museum of California. This is a newly enhanced presentation from the original MoMA exhibit that includes all of the original art plus new additions from Pixar’s latest films: Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up, and Toy Story 3. It features approximately 600 works, of which OMCA’s senior curator Rene de Guzman proudly admits he has “about 600” favorites.

Although you’d expect to see displays featuring the most advanced digital technology from this leading-edge animation studio, the show highlights the essential role traditional art plays in the Pixar filmmaking process. Thus, oil, acrylic, pastel, charcoal, pencil sketches, three-dimensional sculptures, and digital paintings created by Pixar’s character and concept artists are on display.

In fact, before anyone even begins to touch a computer or move a mouse on a Pixar film, it all begins with artistry. This is one major reason why the stories, characters, and worlds of make-believe are so impeccably believable. With John Lasseter (chief creative officer) at the helm, Pixar’s artists spend years on the story development process exploring iteration after iteration, exactly what the characters will look like, how their personalities will be visually expressed, the look and feel of the worlds they’re creating, etc.

Remember the adorable Remy from Ratatouille? Original drawings of the character, created by Pixar character artist Jason Deamer, are on display. Although Deamer admitted he didn’t really know how to draw a rat when he began the project, after hundreds upon hundreds of drawings he’s pretty much the world’s leading expert on rat illustration today!

Jerome Ranft, Pixar sculptor, created more than thirty different three-dimensional, detailed resin models of the loveable Sullivan from Monsters Inc. A few of the originals are on display, illustrating the progression of Sullivan’s character development over time.

Pixar digital painter and concept artist Paul Topolos, who also has incredible works on display, shared that as a child, his father worked for Xerox so there were always reams of paper lying around the house. For a young boy who loved to draw, it couldn’t have been a better situation.

In addition to traditional art, one of the highlights of the exhibition is the Pixar Zoetrope, which features three-dimensional figurines from Toy Story (each in slightly different positions) on a giant “wheel of life.” As the wheel spins in rapid succession, it creates the illusion of motion with little toy soldiers parachuting off the top and Woody riding a pony.

The other must-see is Artscape, a wide-screen projection featuring many of the two-dimensional Pixar paintings hanging on the walls of the museum. Through the use of sound, lighting, computer, and camera work, the viewer gets the sensation they’re literally stepping into the artwork and exploring all the vivid details of the paintings.

Although the art in PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation was originally created with the sole intention to help tell Pixar stories and not for a museum or gallery setting, the resulting body of work more than holds its own against the great masters.

What else would you expect from a creative team that has made it a tradition to arrive at the Academy Awards in an Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile?

Oakland Museum of California
Now through January 9th