Each Pixar film has brought with it new challenges and innovations
A Bug’s Life (1998)
Abug’slife brought with it more than talking Culicidae and Hemiptera. A new automatic randomising Ant Generator software was created to generate the crowd ants. This was so no two looked the same. This software was based off particle systems that could also generate snow and wisps of smoke. Combined with rigid body animation for each character, this technique was destined to be crawling over all their films in future.
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Sulley was a big blue monster with a thick coat of fur. Two million hairs had to be corralled and lit in order for his character to look real, and the answer was Fitz. This new simulation software would mimic physics in animation with respect to fine hair, fire and was used extensively for the scene where Sulley crashes a sled out in the snow, as well as to move the one T-shirt on the cute little girl, Boo.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Particle physics in effects were in full colour for the majestic coral reef sequences in this iconic animated film. Rendering a reef became even more of a challenge when lighting and generating the look of submerged water. The lighting department experimented with refraction and replicating ‘caustic lights’ on the sea floor. The wet look above water was important too, given Nemo’s adventures.
The Incredibles (2004)
With the first fully human cast, the physicality of human activity became the focus of Pixar for The
Incredibles. Subsurface scattering was the new key element. Skin, hair, clothing and anatomy were again on the foreground but smoke, water, fire and explosions were required as well. Supervising TD Rick Sayre said there was “no hardest thing” in the movie because everything was the hardest. Violet’s hair was deemed virtually impossible for most of the production time but ultimately was tamed into submission.
Perfecting lip sync from a car’s grille and eye emotion on a windscreen were just some of the challenges for the Cars franchise. After topping this, the Pixar artists were onto making these cars stretch and squeeze while still resembling particular car models. The simulation department upgraded Renderman’s ray-tracing capabilities and helped lighting determine the path of different lights, and then render the most impressive duco shine on the vehicles.
After Disney bought Pixar, they all learned how to ensure that animated food looked good enough to eat. Huge upgrades to Pixar’s Renderman and the in-house lighting software were instigated. Widespread use of subsurface scattering techniques were to make the many dishes, vegetables and general kitchen atmosphere more appealing.
This was the first Pixar movie released in 3D. New software was created to help render out the clothes element of this movie, as well as the feathers on the giant tropical bird. Another challenge in
UP were the 20,000 balloons, each colourful ball mixing and working with the several balloons around it. Pixar’s physical simulator, called ODE, is procedural animation on steroids.
For sci-fi hit Wall · E, they even brought in Apple’s Jonathan Ive to design EVE. A proprietary build-a-bot platform was adopted to create the wide array of incidental robots shown as characters throughout the movie. This helped to block out robots in countless variations. Particle simulation software was adapted and used extensively to also create the junk towers on Earth, and the fire extinguisher episode in space.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
When they started work on Toystory
3, the production team checked on the original film’s files and couldn’t edit any of them. So they had to remake them all from scratch. They built them better, sharper and even more real. Check the tech on the conveyor belt sequence for instance. Garbage bags, tens of thousands of small pieces of plastic, and the whole cast of characters, all procedurally animated en masse, in the dusty garbage dump.
Merida’s hair was a key player in this very unique production. This was the start of Pixar proving the use of the engine used to create Violet’s hair in
Theincredibles. Created specifically for Merida was the Taz software which allowed a strand of hair to curl and bounce around in 3D space, and to interact with others close by, then be coloured, lit and rendered.
Pixar artists have used the Presto animation system since debuting it for Brave in 2012, and improvements realised for Coco allowed the most impressive skeletal crowd to sing. Together with the immense lighting challenge that is night-time in the stunning Land of the Dead during festival time, the colour and movement is complete.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
Universal Scene Description was all over this iteration of the Incredibles world. Without being able to run the characters in several departments concurrently, those we spoke to say Incredibles2 would not have been possible. Being able to tweak the animation and lip synch on a character and know at the same time the lighting and look of everything is updated, means a lot while in production.