Did you know that Pixar has an educational program for those interested in many aspects of what Pixar does? It is called Pixar in a Box and I had the opportunity to chat with a few people in San Francisco about this online tool and resource. With Cars 3 coming out on June 16th, I am excited to share a little about Pixar in a Box. If you have a kiddo super excited for this movie, Pixar in a Box would be a great resource!
First, you may want to know what Pixar in a Box is, right?!
What is Pixar in a Box?
Pixar in a Box is a behind-the-scenes look at how Pixar artists do their jobs. You will be able to animate bouncing balls, build a swarm of robots, and make virtual fireworks explode. The subjects you learn in school — math, science, computer science, and humanities — are used every day to create amazing movies at Pixar. This collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy is sponsored by Disney.
While in San Francisco, we chatted with Elyse Klaidman and Tony Derose about Pixar in a Box. Elyse is the Director, Exhibitions and Educational Partnerships at Pixar Animation Studios and Tony is the Research Group Lead. Elyse has been with Pixar for over 20 years and has done a lot of things there that have focused always someway on education. Tony has been with Pixar for 21 years and his background includes being a professor at the University of Washington. They both have a strong interest in education.
Why does Pixar in a Box Exist?
Pixar in a Box’s goal is to support educators in their goals to incorporate content that will help students know this is why. For example, you study math and you may actually be able to make a movie with that.
History of Pixar in a Box
Pixar has something called Pixar University for internal teaching. Elyse has overseen that and noted that they would receive phone calls from educators on every level saying, “Hey could you help us? We want to do some sort of animation curriculum. We want to incorporate animation into our art curriculum.” When they had time, they would always try to support those educators, but the time factor was difficult because they had day jobs at the studio to focus internally. Tony states, “I think 10-15 years ago, I started giving this talk called Math in the movies that was intended to try and pull the covers back and tell the story about the degree to which math was used in the production of our films. That talk got a lot of really good support and afterwards a lot of parents and teachers would constantly be asking how can I get my hands on this kind of material. Unfortunately my talk had so much Disney and Pixar assets in it that I couldn’t give it out and that was really frustrating.”
Pixar has several traveling exhibitions like Pixar 20 years of Animation 11 years ago and opened at the Museum of Modern Art in NY and has been traveling the world. There is also The Science Behind Pixar, which opened in Boston almost 2 years ago. It’s in Los Angeles and Tony and many people at the studio helped Pixar craft this exhibition and again it’s a catalyst for being in the community and for education and for discussion for what they do at Pixar and how they do it. Tony tells us that it is about a “13,000 square foot exhibition that offers opportunities to be creative.” Some examples include creating expressions on faces with some physical interactive elements. There is some video and it’s really great to see these families come to this physical place and you see so much inter-generational learning. The kids are often teaching the parents more than the other way around. So it’s about 1.5-2 hours is typically what people take to go through it. It will probably tour for 10-15 years. They also have a second copy that will be touring internationally. With the reach that these exhibitions have accomplished, Pixar realized that if they could find the right partner in the online educational space, they could potentially reach many more kids!
Khan Academy Partnership
Pixar approached Khan Academy with the idea of partnering to tell the story of math, science and art in the production of our films. They agreed and then Disney Corporate Citizenship, the philanthropic part of Disney, agreed to fund the whole thing. So it’s a 3 year project. They are in the early stages of the last year. The first year was focused mostly on math related topics. The second year was focused mostly on science related topics including computer science and the 3rd season which we are about a third of the way through is focused on the art of storytelling. So the intent here is to really show kids, parents and teachers how concepts they are learning in the classrooms are used for creative benefits here at Pixar.
Pixar in a Box Access
Head on over HERE to check out this awesome online resources that includes a collection of topics, environment modeling, character modeling and so on. Each of these topics is focused around a creative challenge they face at Pixar. So in Character Modeling the challenge is how do you create the shapes of all the characters in our movies. That’s some pretty complicated geometry. It turns that there is some really nice mathematical ideas there, in particular the idea of averaging and weighted averaging. So if kids are wondering why do I have to learn averaging, well that’s how we make our characters. In environmental modeling, kids learn that the beautiful forests in Brave are built out of little pieces of curve called parabolic arcs and parabolas are things that 8th graders typically study with no clue why they ever need them. Well, if you want to make a beautiful forest, parabolic arcs are your friends.
Each of the topics is hosted by one or more Pixar employees. For instance, Fran Kalal hosts the topic about how to build a large crowd of robots and it turns out that the idea of combinations and permutations are the key there, the math concept.
The character-modeling lesson is hosted by Alonso Martinez, who is one of their character models. The topic on rendering, which is how, we make all the beautiful imagery you see in the theater that is hosted by Susan Fong. One of the nice bits of feedback that we are getting is that students and parents just had no idea that you could combine your interest in sewing for instance with your interest in computer science and that’s Fran’s job, putting those two things together.
When you access the site, you’ll want to click “Start HERE” so you can see a brief introduction to the topics and content of the site. Then, each lesson starts out with a pretty broadly accessible intro video. These intro videos are typically from grades 1 and up. These intro videos are really intended as the hook to really get you inspired to go deeper. So again that’s intended as the hook and the rest of the lessons really deepen the concepts. Some of the rest of the lessons are more tutorial videos, typically 2-3 minutes a piece and then some exercises and interactive applets that kids can use to express their creativity using the ideas that they just learned. A lot of these applets are really patterned after the real software tools that Pixar’s artists use.
Have you checked out Pixar in a Box? It is an awesome site that allows kids to apply the skills learned in school and see how they connect with Pixar and animation. You will even be able to see how Cars 3 animators and other members of the team did things.