We caught the Pixar exhibition on its last day at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it. I found it fun and fascinating, if a little short on technical detail. It features several original polymer clay maquettes and many more cast polyurethane models, some marked with grids for scanning purposes.
Besides all the concept art and the intriguing but rather superficial descriptions of process, two things in particular make the exhibition worth attending. One is a giant 3D ‘zoetrope’, lit by a strobe light flashing around 18 times a second, featuring various characters from Toy Story rendered into physical reality by 3D printing. Each repeats its motion at least once every second, although in some cases the repetition in time is obfuscated by duplication in space: A stream of toy soldiers parachute from the zoetrope’s pinnacle, and several green aliens pop up, waddle along and vanish down a hole.
The other particular highlight for me is Artscape, in which a miscellany of 2D concept art (mainly scenery) is animated in planes across an enormous panoramic screen, to a wordless musical soundtrack. It’s beautifully done, and makes you think about the process of turning 2D art into 3D animation.
Another thing that’s new to me is the concept of a colourscript, simple images for a film laid out in chronological orter to help visualise its structure in terms of moods and visual feel.
Pixar’s short films are all well worth seeing, of course, but none of the four on display here are new to me – although it is years since I saw the tragic Red’s Dream, and the pre-Pixar Adventures of Andre and Wally B. is interesting to see, though it is nowhere close to the quality of later work by any standard, obviously being more of a technical showcase (for 1984 technology!) than a storytelling effort.
Predictably, the exhibition renewed my determination to make animated films (collaboration suggestions are invited!) but I also come away with a more surprising, equally powerful urge to do more work with pastels. The pastel art on display (settings, mood pieces, sometimes character sketches) comes across, unexpectedly, as being just as impressive as the sculpture work, and almost as important to Pixar’s creative process. The characters drive the narrative, but their setting is absolutely crucial to the experience of the film, and I don’t think I’ve always given settings the attention they deserve in my own work.