The ‘Science Behind Pixar’ a family-friendly delight

Cincinnati Museum Center hosts interactive exhibit.

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

It goes without saying that it’s great fun to be up-close-and-personal with some of our favorite animated characters: Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sulley, Edna Mode and WALL•E.

But the current exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center isn’t only an opportunity to take photos with a six-foot Buzz Lightyear or with Mike and Sulley from “Monsters. Inc.”

“The Science Behind Pixar ‘’ is also a fascinating look at the complex process of bringing the popular characters to life through science, technology, engineering, art, music and math concepts. You’ll meet the talented and creative folks at Pixar Animation Studios and learn how they’ve been making magic since “Toy Story” debuted in 1995.

The traveling exhibit, produced by the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with Pixar Animation Studios, will be in Cincinnati through April 24. It’s a must-see!

My husband and I attended the media opening for the Cincinnati exhibit in October and found it hard to tear ourselves away. You can’t help but get involved with the eight interactive areas; each focuses on one of the major steps in the filmmaking process. The steps include modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets and cameras, animation, simulation, lighting and rendering. Each is explained in a creative way. Modeling, for instance, involves building and shaping a character or an object in a 3D software. Rigging is the process of creating “rigs,” the virtual marionette strings that make it possible to move and pose a character. You’ll learn that Pixar rigger Mike Wazowski has 7,000 rigging controls that can be compared to a marionette with 7,000 strings. Amazing!

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

All in all, the exhibition features more than 50 interactive elements. The films and characters represented include “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory,” “Brave,” “The Incredibles, " “Up,” “WALL-E,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Cars,” Luca” and more.

In introducing the exhibit, the museum’s Dave Duszynski, president of Mercury Museum Services, said the current show demonstrates how STEM is integrated into our lives. “If you can dream it, you can literally create it,” he told us. “A two-dimensional sketch becomes a fully-fleshed out character with its own physiology. A series of cells and panels becomes a film studio where camera angles can make all the difference.”

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Duszynski explained, and the exhibit reveals, how much is studied and built in the real world to become part of these animated worlds. “Before Nemo and Dory can surf on a sea turtle, animators have to observe real sea turtles to see how they move, and then recreate it through stick figures, line drawings, models and more.”

The exhibit begins with a five minute introductory film entitled “This is Pixar.” Then, in addition to manipulating the lighting and backgrounds and furniture to see various effects, it’s fascinating to see and hear members of the studios’ production teams as they describe their roles in the process and the particular challenges they face each day.

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

We learned that every second of a film represents 24 frames and a single frame can take more than 24 hours to produce.

Here’s a look at some of the entertaining and educational screen-based activities you’ll get a chance to try:

  • Discover how camera placement and angles created a bug’s-eye view in “A Bug’s View”
  • Create a digital sculpture from an artist’s sketch
  • See how models are given a virtual skeleton that enables animators to pose them
  • Build a robot inspired by those in “WALL•E”
  • Try your hand at stop-motion animation of a jumping lamp and watch a short film of what you produced
  • See and touch scale models of many of Pixar’s best-known characters

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

Credit: © Michael Malyszko 2015

According to the museum’s vice president of marketing and communications Cody Hefner, the exhibition does a great job of tailoring the content to different age and experience levels. “Kids and adults can each activate the same station and get different depths of information but the cause and effect is so clear that it’s all very accessible,” he says. " Adults have been excited to point out interactive stations to kids while kids bounce wide-eyed from character to character. It’s clear everyone has their own nostalgic relationship with these characters.

Hefner says just as everyone’s favorite Pixar character varies widely, so does everyone’s favorite exhibit station. Among the most popular has been the lighting station where you can adjust the lighting effects to replicate the underwater world on a giant Dory figure and the station that allows visitors to design their own race car hood inspired by Lightning McQueen from “Cars.” And, of course, getting your picture taken with a six-foot Buzz Lightyear or with Mike and Sulley from Monsters, Inc. have become a must for anyone visiting.

The bottom line: Don’t miss this one!

Holiday Trains celebrate 75th anniversary

Since 1946, families have headed to Cincinnati to enjoy the Duke Energy Holiday Trains on their 1,000 feet of track. The trains at the Cincinnati Museum Center are surrounded by other train layouts, some dating back over 100 years. You’ll also see Brickopolis, LEGO bricks crafted into scenes from the worlds of Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Harry Potter and more. You’ll have the opportunity to build your own snowman and go on a museum-themed scavenger hunt through one of the train layouts. You can also visit Santa through Dec. 24.

The holiday exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children with the purchase of any other museum experience. Through January 3.


What: “The Science Behind Pixar”

Where: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati

When: Open 10 am. To 5 p.m. Thursday – Monday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Closed Christmas Day. Runs through April 24.

Tickets: Adult $19.50; Child and senior $15.50; Member adult $13.50 and member child $9.50. Timed entry is required for both “The Science Behind Pixarand “Holliday Junction.”

Parking: Cincinnati Museum Center parking is $6 per vehicle (cash or credit), $4 after 4:30 p.m. and free for Members.

For tickets and information: www. or call (513) 287-7000.

About the Author