Focusing on Pixar

Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Brave, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and many more to come.

Pixar is by far my favorite animation studio for its story lines and CGI (computer-generated imagery). I learned a lot about the making of Pixar films from the collaboration series between Pixar and Khan Academy: Pixar in a Box. As a filmmaker, the part I found most interesting was the section about virtual cameras, because of the connections to filming with a physical camera.

A virtual camera is a simulated camera created by a computer, which is programmed to act just like a real camera. Virtual cameras, or v-cams, have focal length, various lenses, a physical location, and exposure. All of these factors contribute to the focus of a shot. For example, a greater exposure blurs the image.

The v-cam exists, along with sets, props, and characters, in a virtual 3-dimensional world, allowing a variety of camera movements and angles. Think of a shot right now. Seriously, think of one. Think of what you would do with the lens, exposure, focus, movement, etc. Now picture that on a computer. The v-cam can probably film that shot you thought of. Amazing, right?

The filmmakers make decisions on how to shoot a scene, just like live-action filmmakers. How much of the shot do they want in focus? What should even be in the shot? Should there be a rack focus? How about a dolly zoom? Etc.

V-cams are not limited to high-budget CGI animations. In the Animation I class at my school, I used a v-cam in my two-dimensional animation using Adobe Flash. In this situation, the v-cam is a box that controls what part of the stage is being filmed. This does come with more limitations and less capabilities than its 3-D counterpart, however.

The v-cam “operators” at Pixar use their filmmaking knowledge about focal length, lenses, exposure, and even math to construct the perfect shot. Think of this the next time you’re watching an animated film. Come on, who doesn’t analyze each and every shot of a film?

For whatever the purpose, I would 101% recommend the interactive video series Pixar in a Box, even if just for fun.

Have a great holiday week! Happy Hanukkah this Saturday (et al), Merry Christmas this Sunday, and Happy Kwanzaa this Monday (et al)! Tune in next Thursday for the final post of the year!

Cut to the holidays.

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