Today Calla and I visited the Franklin Institute with the Bryn Mawr Student Activity group to see the Science Behind Pixar Exhibition. The Pixar cartoon characters in the welcoming video introduce us to the complicated production procedures behind the scenes and we got very excited by the extensive role Computer Graphics plays in the Pixar movies.
Follow the crowd, we step into the exhibition and learnt about the way Math, Physics, Art and Computer Science together create the Pixar miracles. According to the Pixar people, normally there are four movies being produced together, though each at a different stage. The movie producing procedure starts from Story and Art, when people create new ideas about the movie they want to make. Secondly, it moves toward the Modeling phase. During modeling, artists create the appearance of the characters by drawing and making character maquette. We looked at some plastic replicate of the original clay model sculpture, for example Joy from Inside Out. It’s interesting to find out that the physical modeling greatly help with the virtual computer modeling of the characters. These clay sculptures allow director and artists to see the character from different perspectives and make changes easily. The mesh denotes the basic layout of each character and a smoothing algorithms are applied to produce the final images. Then it moves toward the Rigging stage. During rigging, computer scientists design and control the movement of characters by controlling the joints. Each joints act like the string on a puppet that control its movement. Also by combing several joints together, riggers make characters’ movement much more realistic. For example, rigging controls the movement of smiling, cheek muscle movement and the slight wrinkles in the eyes together. After rigging, it’s shading time, when computer scientists program the shaders to control the surface of an object/character to become either matte or smooth. By modifying the surfaces, they actually modifies how virtual light reflects through the object, changing the object’s appearance. Next semester, most of us are going to take Dianna’s Computer Graphics, and shader is probably the hardest part of it because it’s not debuggable. Even though it’s hard, Calla and I see how important it is for movie production. Next, it’s time to choose Sets and Cameras. In virtual computer world, programmers have full control of where they want to put the camera to present different perspectives to show to audiences. After choosing settings and camera location, it’s important to program the animation. Animation is used extensively in human hair, a school of fish, grass etc. It’s makes life easier by applying physical animation algorithms to control the consecutive movements, so people don’t need to program every single frame. After simulation, it’s time to choose the correct lighting. Lighting is usually used to show the change in mood of the characters. Finally, all the frames and productions go to the RenderFarm for rendering. What render does it that it renders 2D image by figuring out the color to fill in for each pixel. It usually takes 5 to 15 hours to render an image depends on the complexity but each frame in Inside Out takes an average of 29 hours to render. After rendering and testing, the movie has gone through the journey and is prepared for production.
Besides the technical details, there are also short videos where Pixar employees introduce their works. There are lots of artists, designer and computer programmers involved for each single movie, and it’s pretty inspiring to see a lot of women among the producers.
Overall, Calla and I really enjoyed this trip and most importantly, this exhibition really inspires me as a female computer scientist. I am really excited to take the Computer Graphics course and learn more about it.