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March 8, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Every film Pixar has produced has landed in the top fifty highest-grossing animated films of all time. What's their secret? Mathematics. Oh, and 22 Rules of Storytelling.

Dr. DeRose has recently been giving lectures about the Pixar formula ("story, concept art, modeling, rigging, shading and lighting") around the country.

On Youtube: Movies, Math and Making.

PDFs of his papers are archived at Pixar's website.

Vimeo: Math in the Movies: Making It All Add Up
posted by zarq (40 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is the most important of the 22 rules:

You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
posted by Mister_A at 1:32 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pixar's 22 rules, previously.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:35 PM on March 8, 2013


Lutoslawski: "Pixar's 22 rules, previously."

Ah, thanks! :)
posted by zarq at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2013


It's just amazing how sophisticated this modeling has to be to get the point where it even begins to start having expressive capabilities, much less the type of personality and aesthetic distinctiveness that you see in Pixar's work. It's like everything that's intuitive in regular animation has to be rebuilt mathematically from the bottom up, and it just blows my mind that they've gotten as far as they have.

Also, from the article:

Tony DeRose wanders between rows at New York's Museum of Mathematics. In a brightly-colored button-up T-shirt that may be Pixar standard issue, he doesn't look like the stereotype of a scientist.

Yes, yes he does.
posted by invitapriore at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


If only Steve Jobs had stayed at Pixar and devoted his remaining energy and considerable megalomania to fully realizing the dream of Walt Disney. At Pixar World every experience is meticulously generated by series of rules, algorithms, mathematically consistent but broad enough in scope to create an entire universe, where every detail, no matter how mundane, reflects the living spirit of Jobs. And everyone can go, just by putting on their VR-goggles.

In the end, instead of a frozen head in a box somewhere, every time we visit Pixar World we find that Jobs is with us, so much so that some argue Pixar World is Steve Jobs, that he didn't die but lives forever, unlike poor freezer-burnt Walt, as long as the servers are running...
posted by ennui.bz at 2:06 PM on March 8, 2013


If only Steve Jobs had stayed at Pixar and devoted his remaining energy and considerable megalomania to fully realizing the dream of Walt Disney.

From what I recall of his biography, they (Pixar) were quite happy to tell him to fuck off and keep his meddling to himself.

I'm glad he invested him them. I'm even happier he left them alone, for the most part.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:36 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's their secret?

Inflation?
posted by ShutterBun at 2:42 PM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


So did we just decide to forget about John Carter?
posted by miyabo at 2:44 PM on March 8, 2013


Well if John Carter was animated, then that was one fuck of a movie.
posted by phaedon at 2:48 PM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


If only Steve Jobs had stayed at Pixar and devoted his remaining energy and considerable megalomania to fully realizing the dream of Walt Disney. At Pixar World every experience is meticulously generated by series of rules, algorithms, mathematically consistent but broad enough in scope to create an entire universe, where every detail, no matter how mundane, reflects the living spirit of Jobs. And everyone can go, just by putting on their VR-goggles.

So… a whole world designed by the guy who signed off on the iPhone earbuds.

Can I sign up for the the head-in-a-freezer option?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:01 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well math and Intel. Most of the current graphics algorithms would be purely academic even 2-3 years ago. And really that statement should hold for any given year, they really leverage the latest hardware.

It totally amazes me that a bunch of math geeks were able to get the idea of storytelling right. Even the early shorts Luxo Jr or Tin Toy were great story telling.
posted by sammyo at 3:55 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure they had plenty of time to learn about storytelling since they didn't have any girl/boyfriends amirite? LOLnerds etc. etc.
</hamburger>
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 4:44 PM on March 8, 2013


What's their secret?

Most animated movies suck?
posted by doctor_negative at 4:52 PM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


oh no you didn't
posted by louche mustachio at 4:57 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What happens when Pixar finally makes more than 50 movies, smart guy? Huh? What then?
posted by ardgedee at 5:14 PM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


What's their secret? Mathematics.

When you start to hate their movies, you'll call it "by the numbers".
posted by DU at 5:57 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well math and Intel. Most of the current graphics algorithms would be purely academic even 2-3 years ago. And really that statement should hold for any given year, they really leverage the latest hardware.

I'm not so sure. Most of the magic of Pixar comes from Renderman, their own software program. Recent advances in hardware have more to do with rendering speed. Advanced GPU's are great for real-time effects (as in games) but have pretty much nothing to do with 3D modeling/animation at this point. (Unless I'm mistaken, which is definitely possible)
posted by ShutterBun at 7:37 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Before you go and heap praises on Pixar as vanquishing the mouse, let me direct your attention back to Lilo and Stitch. This was the most intelligent and intense movie the House of Mouse has ever put out, and way ahead of Fantasia.

Stitch falls to his knees, and clasps his hands in prayer in a moonlit glade, and asks of his creator... "Please, why?"

His creator answers him.

But, yeah, hey, suck-up-to-the-boss non-union workers having any kind of voice was the fantasy Pixar spun just the year before.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before you go and heap praises on Pixar as vanquishing the mouse, let me direct your attention back to Lilo and Stitch. This was the most intelligent and intense movie the House of Mouse has ever put out, and way ahead of Fantasia.

I'm completely with you on loving Lilo And Stitch. It's one of the few I watch EVERY time I can find it coming around on my far-too-many-channels satellite service. It's brilliant on so many levels...

... and yet, have you ever noticed how it parallels Monsters Inc in several ways?

Scary blue and purple monster with a young child who is not afraid of it but instead adopts it as family... a one-eyed green sidekick character... a gravelly voiced multi-eyed blue-purple creature...

It's just an odd little something I've noticed.
posted by hippybear at 7:56 PM on March 8, 2013


I mostly notice how Lilo and Nani are complex and deeply wonderful characters and that in the end they don't get a mum and a dad and live happily in the suburbs with Christmas; instead they get a mandate to protect them from CPS, super sweet tech, Nani gets to bang the hell outta David (I assume) without being married AND keep her kid sister out of foster homes, with assistance from various aliens and a lone CIA agent turned CPS officer. To make a pretty damn 'broken' family that is still, in every way, good.

I love Monsters Inc, but it doesn't have the same message, the same emotional resonance as Lilo and Stitch. I love the message of Boo's strength, and friendship, and love, and trust (trust kids!) but it isn't the same.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:16 PM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, yeah, I'm not comparing the movies in any meaningful way, just design elements which run between them... it's an ever-growing list, actually... It's odd in a way which I feel extends far beyond coincidental.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite of Tony's writings is a slim volume on 3D graphics using affine geometry. It starts from scratch, and moves quickly and with elegance. I was at UW when David Salesin and Tony seemed to "swap jobs." It was an exciting time, and seems to have worked out great for both of them.
posted by dylanjames at 8:45 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rule 23: female characters shall stand by their man.
posted by happyroach at 8:52 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pixar loves math. Cars 2 was certainly based on a formula.
posted by benzenedream at 8:59 PM on March 8, 2013


The math guys weren't doing the story telling. Lassiter was a Disney animator.
posted by empath at 9:57 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


What happens when Pixar finally makes more than 50 movies, smart guy? Huh? What then?

The pigeonhole principle!
posted by valrus at 10:05 PM on March 8, 2013


Several of Pixar's films are absolutely horrible, I mean horrible even if you only compare them to other American animated features (and they're beyond horrible if you compare them just to other Pixar movies). Let's not pretend that just because they put out some of the most amazing work ever done that it's all amazing.

They're not consistent with quality, just consistent with financial success. If you love money, maybe that's awesome. If you love film, it's an irrelevant and silly thing to bother pointing out. I mean at their current rate, eventually the low quality films will become so numerous as to cloud out the "magic" factor that makes us always assume whatever the next one is will be amazing...and from there, well, Disney knows all about what happens after that.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:11 PM on March 8, 2013


Several of Pixar's films are absolutely horrible

Um...name one?

(Cars 2 wasn't very good, but horrible?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:07 AM on March 9, 2013


I dunno, but I've not yet seen Planes, and I'm beginning to wonder if there's a reason for that.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:22 AM on March 9, 2013


Yeah, horrible is a tough word to use for the worst of their films, which I think general consensus would say was Cars 2 and, a distant second, Cars. Even then, it's more a case of "You folks can do much better than this." Which is not, say, like suffering through the technically solid but completely redundant Ice Age sequels.
posted by jscott at 5:23 AM on March 9, 2013


OK, OK, I'm gonna take this bate. I LOVE Cars. I love the characters, the wit, the Americana... I used to run a cinema kids club, and of all the Pixar films (except the Toy Story franchise) Cars had the widest appeal. Yeah, the parents may have preferred the intimacy of WALL-E or the epic visuals of Finding Nemo, but all the kids would go crazy for Cars, from toddlers to teens, which is a phenomenon that was really quite rare.

It's not my favourite by any means (Monsters Inc. and Up currently tie), but for me it's ahead of Brave, Ratatouille, The Incredibles and, well, Cars 2 (le sigh).

I might just be in a contrary mood, though. Aardman were robbed at the Oscars.
posted by dumdidumdum at 7:19 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I once did some research on the critical reception of Disney features released before the animators were drafted into WWII. It was interesting to see the parallels between that period and Pixar's rise to prominence. The reviews might have differed slightly between the films, but overall the reception was overwhelming, and focused on the ingenuity, creativity and great storytelling. More than once critics would say that Disney had elevated cartooning into an art form, and the studio very quickly developed a following among adults as well as children.

Then, if you look at those first few features, you find not only some of the greatest Disney films, but the most varied in story, style and artistry:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio
Fantasia
Dumbo
Bambi
posted by dumdidumdum at 7:30 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


he says, or 10 billion. How can you render so many collisions quickly enough to be usable? You have to create a new spatial data structure that culls extraneous collisions without being too lossy. Instead of a quick-and-dirty compression algorithm like MP3 or JPEG, Pixar has to create the equivalent of the PNG or the FLAC for animating hair.
*rolls eyes*. What a completely ridiculous statement.
posted by delmoi at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


After Cars 2 and Brave, I am a bit soured. I'm still paying attention, but it's a step back from 'buy ticket without bothering to read reviews.'
posted by ersatz at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure. Most of the magic of Pixar comes from Renderman, their own software program. Recent advances in hardware have more to do with rendering speed. Advanced GPU's are great for real-time effects (as in games) but have pretty much nothing to do with 3D modeling/animation at this point. (Unless I'm mistaken, which is definitely possible)

Here's a 2012 talk from the GPU team at Pixar.

GPUs these days are very flexible, and can be used to accelerate all sorts of expensive computations.

Even if Pixar don't use them to accelerate their final Renderman output, which they most likely do, it's very likely they'll use GPUs for realtime previews, or to accelerate the modelling programs themselves, so increased GPU power is definitely very involved in 3D modelling and animation, as well as their more common uses in video games/ realtime rendering.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always wonder if I am alone on the planet in disliking Pixar (except, oddly, John Carter). The rendering is creepy and the storytelling is laid on so thick that I feel emotionally manipulated instead of captivated. People who like Pixar, does it not feel that way to you? Do you notice it and like it?
posted by dame at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do people really think of John Carter as a Pixar movie?
posted by dogwalker at 11:34 AM on March 9, 2013


@dame I'm probably alone in not having seen any tv or film i like in years... i mean, i don't hate it, it just seems boring. I kind of liked the migrating birds thing on tv, but they kept yattering over the top of it, so you couldn't get in the zone that was just there out of reach. I mostly watch make-up videos on youtube - well, i keep looking for good ones but hardly ever see any good ones. I don't wear makeup, it's just occasionally, when someone's putting it on, there is a purity of feeling you can achieve that's incomparable. This one is far and away the best.
posted by maiamaia at 3:41 PM on March 9, 2013


Even if Pixar don't use them to accelerate their final Renderman output, which they most likely do, it's very likely they'll use GPUs for realtime previews, or to accelerate the modelling programs themselves, so increased GPU power is definitely very involved in 3D modelling and animation,

Right, GPU'S are helpful in the modeling stage (by allowing more complex models and scenes without slowing to a crawl, and enabling quicker previews, but very few 3D programs can benefit much from them, apart from just "speeding things up."

Even the best "performance benefits" Nvidia lists amount to "GPU-based rendering," which is nice, because GPU's are cheaper and more suited to the task than CPU's.

But none of this, to me, amounts to "today's hardware is allowing them to do things (in their movies) they couldn't do before, except where "rendering time & expense" were the limiting factors.

All of the big advances (hair, fluid dynamics, subsurface scattering, radiosity, ambient occlusion, etc.) are all software dependent, not anything Intel is doing. (and those features have been around for over a decade)

Today's hardware is certainly faster at doing the job, but you can run Renderman with all of its features on a run of the mill Windows XP box from 10 years ago.

So I agree in the sense that "we couldn't have done this complex scene 15 years ago because it would have caused us to miss our deadline, but I don't think today's hardware manufacturers have anything more to do with it than making it "quicker and more affordable." (Which is of course a good thing)
posted by ShutterBun at 3:30 PM on March 10, 2013


Hmm. Pretty crappy attack piece On Emma Coats from the New Yorker here, which misreads her tweeted list as some kind of Robert McKee style Stalinist dictates.
posted by Artw at 7:02 PM on March 13, 2013


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