Learning from PIXAR’s 20 Years of Animation

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Pixar Iris Video snippet from the installation at the MoMA

My first exposure to the world of 3D animation was the Luxo Jr. Movie shown in an Introduction to Computer Science Course lead by Lori Scarlatos now at Brooklyn College, CUNY. This past Monday (Jan. 2) I got the opportunity to check out the Pixar exhibit at the MoMA.

The amount of art – sketches, storyboards, colorscripts, and sculptures – was impressive. There were plenty of items that you might want prints of, all of it original and inspiring.

The idea of a colorscript is to visually communicate the color and often lighting of story, end-to-end. Colorscripts deliver visual emotional detail that informs the animation production. One of interest showed three rows of small monsters rendered in three different color palettes. Each color scheme represented a different part of the monsters you would find in different environments. For example, the blue and gray pallet represented the corporate characters. An interesting tie in here is the emotions that colors impart and connote. Thinking about Donald Norman’s work, Emotional Design, it would seem the proper use of consistent color potentially delivers more emotionally engaging work, even for your next PowerPoint presentation – making the visual part of a presentation be as informative as the speaker, appealing to different channels of perception.

There is also something to be said for the colorscript showing the whole story in small post card sized vignettes. I have seen many user experience and user interface presentations none of which show the entire application, end-to-end all at once. Often you see a rendering of sorts, often termed wireframes along side numerous annotations informing how the screen might be interacted with. What would happen if everyone had a copy of the entire application design on a 30” x 60” poster informing both the key views of the application, the position of relevant activity and interesting characteristics like color treatments, sounds and animation? There is something wonderful about having one effective record of a project that is seen in its entirety – the forest instead of the trees. It reminds me back to a previous posting on what happens when we limit our canvas and force only the necessary information to appear.

One of the interesting interpretations Pixar’s work was a 14 minute loop transitioning from the many irises of the characters. I took a small video clip of the projection to remind myself how we do not always know how something is going to be used, but if we do not create the work, it can never be used or (re)interpreted.

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