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A Family Guide to The Science Behind Pixar

How to navigate and what not to miss in this STEAM-driven new exhibit.

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The first time I saw The Incredibles, I was captivated by Edna Mode. Her angular haircut, dry sense of humor, and oversized glasses made her my favorite instantly, and I was even more captivated when I learned she was voiced by the film’s director, Brad Bird. In The Science Behind Pixar, the newest exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, I came face-to-face with a model of Ms. Mode and learned how she comes to life on the big screen. She’s just one of the fan favorites you’ll find in the animation station.

The exhibit—from the Museum of Science in Boston and Pixar Animation Studios—takes audiences through every step of creating a Pixar movie; from modeling and animation, to lighting, and finally putting it all together in a process called rendering. More than 50 interactive elements guide visitors through a tour of the production process and introduce unfamiliar movie-making terms like rigging, foley sound, and simulation. Use these tips to explore all the exhibit has to offer.

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Learn the Step-By-Step

After watching the short introductory video starring Mr. Ray from Finding Nemo and Roz from Monsters, Inc., head to the Create a Model from Virtual Building Blocks station. Here visitors can use a computer to make characters and sets by transforming shapes on an X, Y, and Z-axis, offering a peek into some of the first steps in the filmmaking process. To the left of this station is the standout of the exhibit. A small circle of screens and boards explain how each step comes together, showing the countless hours of work and details that are crucial in the Pixar process.

Experiment with Sound

DMNS educator and program specialist, Keelin MacCarthy, is most fond of the Be a Sound Artist station. “The sound artist station is special to Denver. In it, kids can create sound effects and foley work for films to make a more immersive experience for folks,” says MacCarthy. “It’s also super hands-on and fun because you get to clack coconuts, turn a rainstick over, and use a thunder can to make this huge rolling thunder sound.”

Explore STEAM

Making animated movies isn’t all about art. The exhibit shares Pixar’s use of computer programs and physics, showing families that STEAM is crucial to make beautiful and realistic films. In the simulation section, kids experience how an artist’s rendition of characters meet math and science to create characters and objects that move realistically. Learn how programmers used physics to create realistic-looking hair curls, and how math is used to make animated vehicles in Cars reflect light like real metal.

Try Hands-On

MacCarthy points out one Pixar fact so small that most viewers do not notice it. WALL-E’s eyes are made to appear human with one trick: lighting the iris. When that light is turned off, he seems lifeless, but once they hit that little light, WALL-E seems human and the audience sympathizes with him. Hands-on activities throughout the exhibit teach kids how these small details come together. In the animation section, kids make their own simple stop motion film. In the face rigging workstation, kids move buttons left and right to move the eyelids of Jessie from Toy Story and change her expression. In the rigging section, younger kids can create poses for The Incredibles’ Elastigirl in a tactile learning station.

Find Your Talent

MacCarthy hopes that families leave with an appreciation for their own gifts, whatever they may be.

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“A lot of the Behind Pixar videos playing throughout the exhibit are of Pixar employees talking about their background in physics or art, and how they’re now using those skills to make stories come to life,” says MacCarthy. “For kids to see how they can use their talents to make an impact on people in a really meaningful way, would be very special.”


Check it Out:
Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver
Need to Know:
Runs through April 5, 2020. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost:
$29.95 for adults, $22.95 for kids ages three to 18, $24.95 for seniors age 65 and older. All tickets include general museum admission. Students with their ID and museum members receive discounted admission.
Insider Secret:
A toddler guide is available upon request, giving families with small children a reference guide to the hands-on activities best for younger Pixar fans.

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