Review: The Ins and Outs of Pixar at the MoMA

Museum-goers are given a glimpse into the pioneering processes of Pixar Animation Studios.

If you happen to miss Luxo Junior, the bouncing lamp, at the ticketing area of the Museum of Modern Art, there’s no way to miss the wall of 116 brightly hued cartoon fish that welcome you to the “Pixar: 20 Years of Animation” exhibit. MoMA’s newest major exhibition illustrates how Pixar Animation Studios has crafted the perfect marriage of animation and technology. “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art,” as John Lasseter, Pixar’s Executive Vice President, sums it up.

The exhibit delves into Pixar’s past, present, and future. Walls are lined with works of art that reveal increasingly sophisticated animation during its industrious 20 years. You can marvel at pencil sketches of familiar leading men (a toy cowboy, a closet-inhabiting monster, a superhero-turned-father) who become more refined in gouache paintings. Or admire the workmanship that goes into creating a lost fish’s cohort from a 2-D pastel to a 3-D ceramic sculpture.

Such documentations make some viewers wonder if computer generated imagery has taken personal style and flair out of the animation industry. From one artist’s pencil sketch through an assembly line of artists until the characters look…well, like Pixar—there’s an apparent homogenization of the final product where the original drawing is lost. Pixar artist Tia Kratter says this process is necessary. “You’re not losing the nuances of the animators’ creations,” she explains. “And with the large collaborative effort that’s involved in creating commercial animated projects, you don’t want too many different personal styles.” For those skeptical of the digital animation process, a look through the expanse of sketches, paintings, and models show that artists play a major role in this computer-generated process.

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The exhibit is not simply a dredging of the Pixar archives. In an upstairs theatre, there are two crowd-pleasing features created exclusively for the MoMA show—the “Toy Story Zoetrope” and “Artscape.” The zoetrope features beloved Toy Story characters on a rotating disc that, at the right speed and with an accompanying strobe light, seem to come to life. “Artscape” is a widescreen projection of work by Pixar artists that, with some digital manipulation, provides the viewer an engaging perspective as characters in the movies. While downstairs there are three touch-screen monitors that give guided tours of the inner-workings of the company’s animation—from meeting the artists, the evolution of animated characters, to the inclusion of music and sound effects. The content is so comprehensive that an opportunity to saddle up to one of the machines will be an exercise in patience.

A rotating film program offers viewings of Pixar’s six feature-length animated features, 11 short films, and a new animated short called One Man Band. Though these artworks are only on view until February 6th, Pixar has donated new 35mm prints of each title and its short films to the Museum’s film collection. This donation ensures that even after the exhibit moves to its next venue, New Yorkers will still have something to be animated about.

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