If you’re a diehard fan of Pixar's movies, you’re likely already planning on heading to the California Science Center — the building at Exposition Park with the food court and planes hanging from the ceiling — for the exhibit "The Science Behind Pixar," which is on display until April 2017.
After a cute introductory video featuring Mr. Ray (Finding Nemo) and Roz (Monsters, Inc.), visitors are greeted by life-size statues of Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story – although you should really know at least that much if you’re going to a Pixar exhibit) and the dynamic duo of Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University). It’s the kind of first impression that only the folks most closely associated with the animation studio could bring you, and it's sure to be breathtaking for any kids who can recite every line of Inside Out.
Beyond that point, the bulk of the exhibit is fascinating in ways you wouldn’t normally expect from an exhibit on cartoon characters. If you find Disneyland to be sort of dorky and overwhelming but secretly can’t stop watching Finding Dory, "The Science Behind Pixar" exhibit was probably built for you.
Conversely, people who enjoy being swept up in the magic of the Magic Kingdom, might be less enthused.
While the title of the collection itself should've been a dead giveaway, it was still a little surprising that an experience geared toward children lifted the veil of Pixar magic quite so quickly. Yes, the point of the entire thing is to show how Pixar films are made from the first line drawing to the final product — which, from a scientific perspective, is incredible — but it seems like showing the mathematical algorithms and computer programs used to generate massive schools of fish in Finding Dory and control the stretchiness of Elastigirl in The Incredibles might be a bit over the heads of elementary schoolers.
"You're really manipulating that thing," said a TV reporter to one of the handful of kids present during the media preview. The little girl shrugged off the compliment and went back to aimlessly mashing the buttons on one of the interactive digital displays.
Make no mistake, there’s plenty to see and do throughout the two-part exhibit, like digitally building a bedroom within the world of Monsters Inc., manually re-creating a stop-motion version of the famous Pixar jumping lamp intro and learning about texture wrapping by laying different designs on the same few shapes. Kids and parents alike will undoubtedly enjoy themselves, and most children probably won’t even realize they’re looking the men and women behind the curtain square in the eyes.
If you’re truly interested in the art of animated filmmaking, the "Science Behind Pixar" is a can’t-miss exhibit. Just don’t be surprised if kids aren't quite as dazzled by the more involved tech stuff. Grownups will learn the details about the entire process behind what goes into a Pixar movie and get an appreciation for the painstaking hours that go into the steps along the way; kids get to play with some of their favorite computer-generated characters in entirely new ways — so it’s definitely a win-win if you’re into that sort of thing.
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Expect to leave the exhibit with the impression that 20th century animation is dead and gone. Guys hunched over drafting tables, pencils stuck behind their ears, have largely been replaced by programmers and graphic designers.
If you take the title at its word and can appreciate what can be gleaned from informative models and digital interactive experiences, the Science Behind Pixar is an obvious winner. If you’re looking for more of an entertainment-based look behind the scenes, maybe stick with the Studio Tour at Universal.