Pixar’s Life and Legacy

BUD LUCKEY / DISNEY / PIXAR

Carole Reynolds

The destination was the Oakland Museum of California, (OMCA) and of the myriad reasons
to visit, “Pixar: 25 Years of Animation” was high on the list.

There could be no more fitting a place for this OMCA/Pixar partnership than here.

Pixar is headquartered a few miles away, in Emeryville.

Renowned for producing the first-ever completely computer-animated feature film, 1995’s “Toy Story,” Pixar and OMCA combined their efforts to remind, or perhaps inform the public that the pencil-to-pixel transition is not a simple one.

“When I was reading about CGI [computer generated imaging], I always figured someone was cheating, but this has been an eye-opener for me,” said an unidentified visitor to his female
companion in the Pixar display.

“They have real ‘people-produced’ art here,” he added.

He, like many people, assumed that CGI meant technology from start to finish.

This exhibition was designed to celebrate the many artists who worked in traditional media, from pencils and pastels to paint and sculpture to create the characters that enchanted audiences the world over.

“This artwork plays a particularly important role in the process of concept design, story and character development,” said John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

“OMCA celebrates the breadth of California creativity trough its collections and it is wonderful to revisit the craftsmanship of Pixar artists in this context,” he added.

Anyone who has ever seen, and been charmed by, a Pixar character would find this walkthrough tour of behind-the-scenes artistry disarming. It had the effect of looking through the childhood photo album of someone you know well, but didn’t know as a child, and getting to see all their odd relatives for the first time.

Sulley, one of the characters from “Monsters, Inc.,” for example, was shown in paintings identical to each other as far as expression and pose, but each Sulley— displayed in different colors and patterns—was like seeing his strange uncles on the golf course in funny clothes.

Front and rear views also revealed that the artists toyed with the idea of a hairless or perhaps scaly Sulley.

Unlike many museums, OMCA did not have “stuff” on display against a white wall. The walls were in warm rich tones that pleased the eye, calmed the spirit and gave a sense of welcome to the visitor.

Additionally, the information panels were directly on the wall in a matte finish, and not housed in reflective rectangles of Plexiglas.

They were easy to read, and were written in English, Spanish and Chinese. Certainly one of the highlights of the Pixar exhibit was the hypnotic 3-D Toy Story zoetrope.

This was incredible and very difficult to describe. A series of figures, characters from the movie, were arranged in slightly varied poses on a large disc.

When the disc began to spin at a high rate of speed, a strobe light came on, and the magic of animation happened right in front of the delighted audience, with rows of identical figures endlessly performing identical motions.

This significantly enhanced presentation of the exhibition came home to Oakland after a world tour that began at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2005, and includes an updated version of Pixar’s Artscape.

The Artscape, a widescreen tour of animation, immersed the audience into the animated world, and allowed them to travel into and through what had, just seconds before, been a still drawing or painting of projected Pixar art that seemed to be hanging on the wall.

It was most fascinating to see a wall full of eyes come to life because one set of eyes shifted a tiny bit.

“We’re thrilled to see this greatly enhanced version of the exhibition come to the newly reopened Oakland Museum of California, our hometown museum and practically a neighbor,” said Lasseter.

“Most people don’t realize that many Pixar artists work in traditional media— drawing, painting, pastels, and sculpture—as well as in digital media,” he said.

“One thing to keep front and center is the fact that this exhibition is all about the art behind the animation, which is why it is a museum show,” said Kelly A. Koski, OMCA communication manager.

“The Bay Area has emerged as the global center for animation today, making OMCA an ideal venue for this comprehensive exhibition of Pixar’s achievements,” said Lori Fogarty, OMCA Executive Director.

“This museum’s mission is to connect communities to the natural and cultural heritage of California, and we believe that Pixar is, in many ways, a quintessential California enterprise,” Fogarty added.

“Not only does Pixar carry on the extraordinary legacy of animation in California—and particularly the pioneering creativity of the Walt Disney Studios—but it represents the dynamic marriage of art and technology that is a hallmark of California innovation,” she said.