‘Science Behind Pixar’ is trip to infinity and beyond

Interactive exhibit highlights STEM and creative partnership

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Even the most cursory look at Disney Pixar Animation Studios’ creative output makes one thing abundantly clear — the studio is responsible for the most astounding creative output of this century. In terms of technical achievement and creative storytelling, nothing comes close.

It’s the partnership between the technical and creative that gets explored in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s new exhibit “The Science Behind Pixar.”

“The exhibit follows the entire process of how these films and stories are created,” said Greg Koronowicz, the museum’s senior producer of digital media. “It covers everything, from what it takes to animate the 3D characters to lighting and beyond.”

The exhibit runs at the museum, 2001 Colorado Blvd., through April 5. Timed tickets will be required and advance reservations are strongly encouraged.

The heavily interactive exhibit is the perfect introduction and expansion of the science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) focus that has been gaining ground in the education world.

“What’s great about the exhibit is it shows how artists and animators rely on scientists and programmers to help create the movies,” said Dr. Ka Chun Yu, curator of space sciences at the museum. “People can learn about how the creative and scientific work together.”

Each section in the exhibit focuses on a step in the filmmaking process — modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets and cameras, animation, simulation, lighting, and rendering — with more than 50 interactive elements along the way. Visitors can build robots like those in “WALL•E,” create a virtual 3D shape and play it in a 360-degree view and make their own stop-motion animations.

Some of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit pull back the layers on elements of filmmaking that audiences may not even consider, like lighting. Visitors can see the lengths to which animators went to get light just right underwater for “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory,” the challenges of capturing the way light reflects off of shiny surface for the “Cars” trilogy, and the emotional lifting lighting choices can do in “Up.”

As with every temporary exhibit, museum educators worked hard to add a touch of the museum’s style and expertise to the proceedings. This includes an exhibit guide specifically created for young children, with highlights that will appeal to them, and a sound cart where visitors can get a taste of how sound effects are made, explained Keelin MacCarthy, one of the program specialists with the museum.

“Setting up these temporary exhibits and adding our own elements is something we take very seriously and do very well,” added Jennifer Moss Logan, content specialist at the museum. “We try to pinpoint what will be meaningful and special to our guests and add that.”

If you’ve been moved by the stories Pixar brings to the screen and want to know how they do it, or want to get a taste of the careers available to those who study STEM fields, there is truly something everyone can learn at the exhibit.

“The exhibit expands everyone’s horizons, especially kids who will be coming out of high school and college having studied science, technology, engineering and math,” said Koronowicz. “I wish I knew this stuff was available when I was in school.”

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