Pixar and the Design Process

Although Pixar is one of the best animation companies out there, their design process isn’t all that different than the one we’re supposed to use when we’re creating our own pieces of work.

The Pixar team starts out by brainstorming ideas and working out the kinks in their storylines. Since we were taught to follow the design process step by step, as college students we brainstorm ideas and rework the problems in our hypothetical animations.

The Pixar team then creates storyboards for each scene and sketches out the ideas for the movie. Storyboards are always a necessity for us to create before we start the technical side of our projects. It makes it so much easier to plan out what we’re going to be doing as well as figure out at an early stage what will or will not work. I think this step is really important because it lays out the whole foundation for what the animation will look like. Without this step you would just be going into the animation blind and would probably run into a lot more bumps along the way.

After this step, the Pixar team creates the characters as digital illustrations and begins the character design. This is one of my favorite steps. I always create the characters, backgrounds, props and everything else that goes into my animation beforehand in illustrator. The animating part of the process is obviously important but the amazing animations won’t mean much if the objects you’re animating don’t look as great as they could.

The animating part of the process is probably the most difficult. Only because not everything works exactly how you want it to and sometimes it’s very hard to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the animation. But when problems like that happen, figuring them out is the most rewarding feeling in the world. Plus, even though I think the animating part is the most difficult, that doesn’t mean it’s not one of my favorite parts to do.

The process is clearly reflected in the final animation because of how well put together it is and how smoothly it runs. Because so much thought is put into the steps before the final product, every step has been thoroughly worked on over and over again until it’s exactly how it was envisioned to be. The longer you plan, I think the better the final product comes out.

When we watched how the short movie clip “Day & Night” was made, it really showed how many steps go into making an animation. We saw how they had to work on timing and make sure that everything on screen coincides with each other. They used rough drawings at first just to get the feeling down. Then they created extremely rough versions of both the foreground and background to see how it would all look. Then the farther along they got with that, the more detailed the digital animation would get. It really amazes me how many steps were put into making such a short film. But it’s obvious that all that time an energy absolutely paid off. The final product of all that work is a really well animated, smoothly running, clever and funny animation that really shows a really unique side to the world. It’s also really cool because the animation uses sounds from everyday life, like birds chirping or cows mooing or the sounds that emanate from Las Vegas! Without any words, it’s really interesting how the story this movie is trying to get across is so clear! And I bet it’s because of the in depth design process that the Pixar team went through. So even though I’m not the biggest fan of taking the time to go through every step…I am now an avid believer that as time-consuming as the process is, it is well worth the time.


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