The goal of Pixar in a Box is to show you how the concepts that you learn in school are the same concepts that we use to tackle creative challenges at Pixar.
We’ve taken Pixar’s filmmaking process -- our “production pipeline” -- and broken it down into a series of topics, such as Animation, Character Modeling, Patterns, and Effects. These topics represent the fundamental steps we use to make our movies, and you can explore them in any order you want!
Each topic in Pixar in a Box contains two lessons. The first lesson contains videos and fun interactives that will get you solving problems and creating things with tools, while showing you some of the connections to math, science, arts, and humanities.
The second lesson gives you a deeper dive into the concepts in the first lesson, and also contains interactives and exercises. Our lessons touch on concepts ranging from grade four through high school and beyond -- but we think they’re a ton of fun for people of all ages!
Explore how smooth surfaces are created for Pixar’s characters using the mathematics of subdivision and weighted averages.
Once a character’s design has been determined through a series of drawings (and, for main characters, clay sculptures), the computer models that actually appear in the film are created in a process called character modeling. This is done by placing and moving digital points in a computer, then using a mathematical principle called subdivision to smooth the models out into the organic shapes you’re used to seeing in Pixar movies.
Explore how realistic blades of grass are modeled using parabolic arcs.
Everything you see in a computer-animated film needs to be created digitally: the characters, the sets and props, and the virtual worlds in which they exist. Pixar creates these worlds in a stage of the pipeline called environment modeling. To produce a believable amount of variety in natural shapes, the technical artists at Pixar closely observe the repetition that they see in nature and then use computer programming to create that same kind of repetition, at magnificent scales.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar uses parabolic arcs to generate grass and other natural phenomena in virtual natural landscapes.
Explore how characters are brought to life with geometric transformations.
Rigging is the process that Pixar artists use to give their character models (and some props) the ability to move. Technical artists called “riggers” articulate the models by adding special controls called deformers, which let them change a model’s shape or pose, frame by frame, to create movement.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar uses computer programming together with geometric transformations to create these controls.
Explore how organic looking patterns are created using randomness.
All Pixar models start out as digital 3-dimensional objects, without any surface characteristics. The
process of creating the surface appearance, including colors and textures, is called shading, and in that process they use a variety of patterns to make the objects seem real.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar uses randomized variation to create patterns that make its characters, sets, and props appear real and believable.
Explore how swarms of robots were created for WALL-E using combinatorics.
Modeling a character in the computer point by point takes a lot of time and energy. For crowds of background characters – whether fish, monsters, or robots -- the artists at Pixar design a selection of physical parts that can be recombined in many different ways, so they can quickly create a variety of characters in the necessary quantities.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar populates its films with crowds of characters using a modular approach and the mathematical principle of combinatorics.
Explore how the physics of light and lenses are used to create virtual cameras.
Just as live-action movies are made using cameras, Pixar uses virtual cameras within the computer environment to “film” their movies. These virtual cameras, with optics that behave like real lenses, are placed in a shot by cinematographers who make artistic choices based on what they want each shot to convey.
In this lesson, you’ll learn what drives the camera choices made by Pixar’s cinematographers, and how they apply the physics of light and lenses to recreate the ways that actual cameras capture real life.
Explore how virtual sets are constructed using geometric transformations.
Live-action filmmakers make sure that every object in a room or environment is in the right place before they film a scene, and Pixar filmmakers do too, with virtual sets, props, and characters. Pixar’s set-dressing department takes models built earlier in the production pipeline and manipulates the object’s size, orientation, and position in space using geometric transformations. Then, the camera and staging departments use virtual cameras to stage scenes, making decisions about camera angles and movements just like real cinematographers do.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar uses coordinate geometry and geometric transformations to design sets and stage shots, taking into consideration the key elements of location, composition, camera movement, and character performance.
Explore how animators bring characters to life with the help of animation curves.
Animation is acting. It is the process of bringing a character to life by positioning a model in a series of subtly differing poses, and then playing those poses back in a sequence. While traditional animators do this by drawing every frame by hand, computer animators use digital models and the mathematical principles of splines and animation curves. The same fundamentals of animation apply to both forms.
In this lesson, you will learn how Pixar animators use the mathematics of interpolation to help support the animation process, helping animators create motion and tell stories.
Explore how water, smoke and fire effects are created using millions of tiny particles.
Explosions, smoke, fire, and water are special effects that require a lot of engineering to create. These effects are too complicated to model and animate using the same methods as characters or sets. So Pixar uses the laws of physics as well as computer programming to produce them.
In this lesson, you’ll learn just how Pixar uses physics to create many of the special effects seen in their films.
Explore how pixels are painted by solving systems of linear equations.
Rendering is the process of compiling all of the math, engineering, and artistry of every department on the film into a final image. The rendering group takes each department’s contribution – the textures, camera choices, animation, lighting, etc. – and calculates the color of every pixel in every frame of every shot in the film.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how technical artists at Pixar use ray-tracing and other mathematical algorithms to calculate the color of pixels and to generate the final frames that appear on screen.
Explore how Pixar artists create realistic human features using computer simulation.
A believable world frequently contains objects that need to move in a realistic way, but are too complicated or numerous to move individually “by hand” - things like leaves on a tree or hairs on a monster’s body. Imagine trying to move thousands of strands of hair individually for a single character for every second of an hour long film. Instead, software engineers at Pixar develop models to simulate this movement based on known, predictable systems: for example, springs and the forces that they experience are well understood and can be used to model hair.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how Pixar applies physics, computer programming, and simulation to create believable simulated hair as seen in the film Brave.
Explore how Pixar artists define, represent, and manipulate color in their films.
Just as dialog, acting, and music are tools filmmakers use to convey meaning and emotion, color and lighting can be used to the same effect. Imagine the difference in mood created by a dimly lit room compared to a room brightly lit with fluorescent lighting. However, explaining what “color” something has is not as simple as saying “red” or “brown” because there are endless shades of color that human eyes can perceive (the visible spectrum) and endless ways to modify that color.
In this lesson, you will apply lessons on the physics of light, including refraction, to discuss questions like: “What is light? What is color? How do we perceive it? And how do Pixar artists modify color for use in their films?”