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MOMA exhibit offered detailed look back at Pixar's first 20 years

MOMA exhibit offered detailed look back at Pixar's first 20 years

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"Computers don't create computer animation any more than a pencil creates pencil animation. What creates computer animation is the artist."

-- John Lasseter

A more appropriate statement couldn't be adorning the walls of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art recently. "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation" just ended its brief run at MOMA last weekend. And I was thrilled to be able to catch the exhibit before it got packed up and sent off to first London, then Tokyo.

New Yorkers tend to overlook what's in their own backyard. It's hard to believe that I've lived here 38 years and I've never been to the Statue of Liberty. I've probably ridden Space Mountain more times than I've been to the top of the Empire State Building. I've only paid MOMA a visit a handful of times and I worked 8 blocks away from it for a whole year. I wasn't going to miss the chance to see what was being billed as the museum's largest collection of animation art ever assembled, 500 different pieces in all. The show was broken up into four crucial areas of the film making process, character, story, world and media. The Pixar exhibit took over three floors of the museum for almost two months and what a total joy it was to behold.

What I found most impressive about this show was the multitude of artistic mediums being displayed. I think even those of us who follow Disney and Pixar and the animation world sometimes take it for granted that these guys do a whole lot more than work on a computer. Pencil drawings of Buzz and Woody and the rest of the "Toy Story" gang were displayed next to pastels of the "Bug's Life" characters. Charcoals of "Finding Nemo" 's undersea world were exhibited next to resin sculptures of "The Incredibles" and "Monster's Inc." The artistry and talent of the Pixar crew was overwhelming. The show seemed to be dedicated to the fine art aspect of the Pixar artist and the work they do before logging on to their computers. I always found it to be quite a statement that when Disney closed its animation studio in Orlando...who do you think it was that reportedly bought most of the drawing tables? Why, it was none other than Pixar. That's ironic isn't it, considering Disney's has basically bought them back now?

The attention to detail was everywhere. The research done by the artists to completely realize what mood and atmosphere was going to be most successful in the films they were creating was clearly evident. Despite my love and interest in animation, I had never seen what are referred to as colorscripts before. Colorscripts are almost like storyboards, in that they take the viewer through a scene from start to finish in a simplistic drawing, laying the groundwork for a good story. The difference with colorscripts is that they are basically the storyboard without the story, created in vibrant colors to establish the mood or atmosphere of a given scene. The colorscripts for "The Incredibles" were very Modernistic with bright colors and sharp angles. You could see the genesis of the Parr's world unfolding. The colorscripts for Toy Story were much more familiar, very soft and done in pastels to convey the familiarity of a child's bedroom. They were beautiful works of art and created quite a logjam of patrons whenever they appeared on the museum wall. I regret not having any photos to share, as certain areas of the exhibit were "no photography" zones.

There were many original sketches of characters, such as this pencil drawing of Woody from behind.

Photo by Chris Barry

Look at this colored pencil original of Buzz and Woody riding RC.

Photo by Chris Barry

How about this early color test for Sulley from "Monster's Inc?"

Photo by Chris Barry

I also loved this very simple marker drawing of Mike and Sulley drawn by Monster's Inc. director Pete Docter.

Photo by Chris Barry

The resin models, or maquettes as they're known were great to see up close. These help the animator's fully realize their creations in 3-D before they are rendered on the computer.

Here's a great Bloat maquette from "Finding Nemo."

Photo by Chris Barry

An early version of Sulley...

Photo by Chris Barry

And the version we came to know in the finished film.

Photo by Chris Barry

In this case you could see some preliminary sketches for the upcoming Pixar film," Cars." I have to say, I wasn't all that jazzed up for a talking car movie, until I saw the extensive drawings of the "Cars" environments in this exhibition. (Unfortunately also in the "no photo zone.") Now I can't wait for this next Disney/Pixar release to hit the theaters.

Photo by Chris Barry

One of my favorite things in the whole exhibition was this sketch of John Lasseter's early animated characters, Andre of "Andre and Wally B" fame. They seemed to be actually drawn on the wall in pencil, though I'm sure they were transfers of some sort. If anyone knows if Lasseter actually drew these on the wall, I'd love to hear from you.

Photo by Chris Barry

Once again, I hope I can convey just how impressive the artwork at this show was. For any fan of the Pixar films it was a dream come true to see all this background material displayed. As I walked around it was interesting to hear the comments. There were lots of Disney/Pixar fans like me. There were a lot of families with kids looking for their favorite characters, albeit in many different unseen forms. I also heard many people who were obviously not familiar with the films or the characters and were just blown away by the sheer artistry of this work. There were aspiring artists with sketchpads drawing inspiration from the work they admire and hoping, "Maybe... someday..." It was great to see and great to witness the effects this tremendous body of work has on such a broad array of people. The atmosphere was intoxicating as the whole room was smiling.

Most of us never had any doubt about the natural fit of Disney and Pixar. This exhibit solidified it for me that these two artistic giants need to be forever linked. In my opinion it was $7 billion well spent three weeks ago, when Disney purchased this company of brilliant artists. I'm going to invoke a sentiment that many of you think is cliché, but I'll take the heat on this one. After spending two hours engulfed in the amazing Pixar artwork, I had one thought as I walked down 53rd street (heading, obviously, to the "World of Disney" store on 5th Avenue) and that was, "Boy...Walt would've loved these guys!"

Next time, I'll talk about the two works created especially for this show, Artscape, a digital film directed by Andrew Jimenez and the unforgettable Toy Story Zoetrope.

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