When the movie Toy Story was released, all anyone could talk about was how amazing it looked and how huge a step forward it was for animation.
Pixar could have stopped there, but instead, they doubled down, working to perfect the character mapping and images to bring us closer to something that feels "real," in only the way an animated movie can be. Something that looks spectacular and engrossing.
Pixar didn't stop there. They've worked on advances for each film, creating something unique in their medium and constantly pushing the ball forward. Let's take a quick look at how they did it through this two-part video essay series from Insider. Check them out!
Every Pixar Movie Changed 3D Animation in Some Way
In the first part, I had to laugh at how innovation breeds problems. As Pixar set goals for their movies, they had to tackle technical problems. Sure, they created the first fully computer-animated feature film with Toy Story, but they also wanted to improve what they could do with the visual medium and with animated camera work.
That led them to study the classics and focusing in on the visual language that they could only get animating. Each Pixar movie pushed the studio to expand animation technology.
Even before Toy Story, the gang at Pixar was learning how to render someone walking for a short called RenderMan. Once they got the walking down, they could work out the bigger stories they wanted to tell.
After they had their first feature under their belt, they wanted to get other details right. That meant things like realistic skin, sweat, and hair.
Hair was something that had to really concentrate on with Monsters, Inc. They had to have their monster characters have features that felt tangible, so they wound up drawing and animating each little fiber of hair, learning to automate a computer system that would allow them to add realistic hair to the character Sully.
Simple story beats and characters meant learning new ways to animate different things. In their early days, they had to master shading, ray tracing, subdivision surfaces, subsurface scattering, translucency effects, cloth and fur simulation, and muscle movement on human characters.
In their later movies, they had to refine even more.
As Pixar's stories got more complicated, so did the nuance with which they had to work. The great anecdote in this video about Hanks' tentacle animation in Finding Dory is indicative of their problems. Making things move realistically, look wondrous, and writing software that does this automatically. Like how for Elastigirl in The Incredibles, they had to make her suit have a sheen, and it had to maintain this through action scenes but also change with the light.
Once they got this done, they could take on more intricate cloth and layering, like on the skeletons in Coco.
Every movie was a building block of the one that came after. Once they mastered cloth shading, they could move onto hair simulation, volumetric clouds, and advanced character rigging.
What are some of your favorite Pixar innovations? Let me know in the comments.