STORY WRITTEN BY VINCE CAREY
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PHILADELPHIA >> Dr. Frederick Bertley is obsessed with science and he’s proud of it.
“We find ourselves in a crisis around (science, technology, engineering and math) education and a growing rate of science illiteracy,” said Dr. Bertley, the senior vice president of science and education at the Franklin Institute. “Our children are scoring well behind dozens of countries in international tests both in math and science. Those countries include developing nations that have about 1/1,000th of our recourses.”
So, Dr. Bertley said, when students don’t see the need for the science or math they are learning in school, teachers should ask them to name their favorite movie.
“Let’s say a student says, ‘A Bug’s Life,’” Dr. Bertley said. “Really, ‘A Bug’s Life?’ You know that beautiful grass you see throughout the whole movie? It’s mathematics that makes that all possible.”
Still don’t believe it? Well, after walking through the Franklin Institute’s new 14,000-square-foot exhibit “The Science Behind Pixar,” science and math comes to the forefront.
“This exhibit showcases as many of the science careers as there are Pixar characters for our students to understand the potential opportunity for a rich science and math education,” said Dr. Bertley.
The ball that bounces around Andy’s room in “Toy Story,” isn’t simply a ball. It’s a complex combination of angles, lines and shapes. The original drawing, which is part of the 3D simulator at the exhibit, looks nothing like the finished product.
“In 1985, a bunch of us at what was then LucasFilm, were working on a novel algorithm using shadows in CG imaging,” said Eben Otsby, who is one of the original founders of Pixar and now the Technical Director of Artists at the studio. “We were working on a way of storing information we could use to determine what part of a picture was in shadow. This was pure computer engineering. We had a resident animator named John Lassiter who was working on a movie about desk lamps casting shadows about as it moved. Here we have a really seminal example of the meeting of technology and art producing something that went well beyond either the contributions of either the art or the engineering itself.”
That Pixar desk lamp, named Luxo Jr., is about as famous as any of the characters from the likes of “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.” or “Finding Nemo.”
As part of the exhibit visitors can actually see how time sensitive it is to make Luxo move by taking one photo of each movement then putting it together for a small movie.
Right next to that is a huge screen showing a scene from “The Incredibles.” The dials on the panel in front slow the movie down to each frame. Speed it up and everything comes back to life.
Lightning McQueen’s hood from the movie “Cars,” can go from perfectly smooth to beat up and rusty with a few equations.
“Through more than 40 interactive experiences, plus video stories and photo ops, the exhibit explores how Pixar has revolutionized the world of animation,” said Larry Dubinski, the President and CEO of The Franklin Institute. “It’s a behind-the-scenes look at filmaking through Pixar’s creative design process with a goal of increasing and understanding the corps STEM concepts.”
The exhibit, which takes up two of show spaces in the museum, will easily fill up a whole day. Everybody is greeted with a short introductory film which gives a quick overview of Pixar and how movies are made.
When the doors open, a giant replica of Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story” franchise is ready and waiting. There are ample areas to take photos with other charachters like Wall-E, Dori or even “The Incredibles” fashion designer Edna E. Mode.
“We are always batting things around between the art and the technology sides,” Otsby said. “On one side we have incredible visual artists. On the other side, we have a huge part of the studio that works totally in STEM disciplines. We have the magic that makes our films come to life with physics and computer science. We have at least 400 people who are working in these disciplines at all times.”
Which, in the end, is how the entire exhibit is geared.
“The science behind Pixar is uniquely positioned to help our children and adults,” said Dr. Bertley.