In 1986, a former Disney animator named John Lasseter introduced the newly founded animation studio, Pixar, to the world with a short CGI film called Luxo Jr. The two-minute film, about the adventures of two desk lamps, received a standing ovation at its first screening, a nomination for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards, and heralded a new era of computer-animated filmmaking. Nearly 30 years and 15 feature films later, Pixar is still at the forefront of computer animation—and now a new museum exhibit is celebrating its influential history with a retrospective behind-the-scenes look at its creative process.
The interactive exhibit, called “Pixar: The Design of Story,” opened in New York City this week at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and will run through August 7, 2016—which means out-of-state animation fans have plenty of time to plan their Pixar pilgrimage to the Big Apple.
The exhibit shows how Pixar ideas are slowly transformed into fully realized films—an arduous process that takes an average of five years. Featuring early concept art, clay sculptures, architectural drawings, paintings, and more, the collection is a testament to the amount of work that goes into making a Pixar film.
Curators at the Cooper Hewitt also want to show how the studio's projects fit into the larger history of design and creative aesthetics: "The underlying goal is to encourage and inspire our public to start thinking about design and the world around them. Design is all about connections," Curator Cara McCarty explained to Smithsonian.com. "We look at the design processes of different industries, and this time it’s film. Pixar came to mind because the films are so highly designed."
In order to make the connection between Pixar and the history of design clear, the museum has included a fascinating interactive element in the exhibit: an 84-inch touch screen with hundreds of examples of Pixar artwork, which can be directly compared to works in the museum’s collection. Smithsonian.com explains, “For example, looking at the décor of a modern house in a Pixar film, you could drag an image of an Eames chair to it, to learn all about the chair.”
The exhibit includes works from across the studio's history, featuring both concept art for its latest film Inside Out (2015) and a screening room dedicated to Luxo Jr., which Smithsonian.com notes was "so important to Pixar’s foundation that the lamp became the studio’s logo."