Pixar in a Box is this cool program that exists because of children asking the question but why do I need to learn this? How many teachers out there have heard this question? Well they wanted to show that math among other subjects are used in the making of movies. Pixar presenters Elyse Klaidman and Tony DeRose listened to educators. They would go on these speaking engagements and be asked if this is a program the teachers can use in the classroom to keep the kids interested in learning. Both Elyse and Tony have been with Pixar for over 20 years. Elyse was in charge of Pixar University and Tony is a former professor at the University of Washington.
How do I use Pixar in a Box in the classroom?
The intent here is to really show kids, parents and teachers how concepts they are learning in the classrooms are used for creative benefits here at Pixar. So if you type Pixar in a Box.org into your browser you are taken to a landing page the basic organization is that there is a collection of topics, environment modeling, character modeling and so on. And each of these topics is focused around a creative challenge we face at Pixar. So in Character Modeling the challenge is how do you create the shapes of all the characters in our movies. That’s some pretty complicated geometry.
Learning about animation and math with Pixar in a Box
And it turns out that there is some really nice mathematical ideas there, in particular the idea of averaging and weighted averaging. So if kids are wondering why do I have to learn averaging, well that’s how we make our characters. In environmental modeling, kids learn that the beautiful forests in Brave are built out of little pieces of curve called parabolic arcs and parabolas are things that 8th graders typically study with no clue why they ever need them. Well, if you want to make a beautiful forest, parabolic arcs are your friends. Each of the topics is hosted by one or more Pixar employees. For instance, Fran Kalal hosts the topic about how to build a large crowd of robots and it turns out that the idea of combinations and permutations are the key there, the math concept. The character-modeling lesson I mentioned a minute ago is hosted by Alonso Martinez, who is one of our character models. The topic on rendering, which is how, we make all the beautiful imagery you see in the theater that is hosted by Susan Fong. So we really wanted to get as diverse collection of Pixar employees, make this really personable and hopefully students from all kinds of backgrounds can see a little bit of themselves in these people, and maybe get excited about a lot of careers that many of them don’t even know exist. One of the nice bits of feedback that we are getting is that students and parents just had no idea that you could combine your interest in sewing for instance with your interest in computer science and that’s Fran’s job, putting those two things together.
From the landing page, I have clicked on the patterns topic. The creative challenge here is how do you create some of the beautiful patterns in our films, like the skin on the dinosaurs in The Good Dinosaur. So this topic like many of the others is broken into two lessons. There is lesson one that starts here and goes down and lesson one the goal is to really kind of deepen and understanding what that creative challenge is, getting a little bit into the math/science/arts and humanities concepts but doing a deeper dive into those concepts in lesson two. Lesson one is generally designed for middle school and up or grade 5 and up. Lesson two is more like grades 8 or 9 and up.
Elyse: One thing we didn’t show you, but at the very top it says Start here. There is actually an introductory film that is about 5 minutes long that puts all the different parts of the pipeline in context and how we make our films. So each of these separate sections then make sense in that context and it’s a super cut introduction.
Tony: Each lesson starts out with a pretty broadly accessible intro video. These intro videos are typically from grades 1 and up. These intro videos are really intended as the hook to really get you inspired to go deeper. So again that’s intended as the hook and the rest of the lessons really deepen the concepts. Some of the rest of the lessons are more tutorial videos, typically 2-3 minutes apiece and then some exercises and interactive applets that kids can use to express their creativity using the ideas that they just learned. A lot of these applets are really patterned after the real software tools that our artists use. I will show you an example of one of those in a few minutes. I’m going to jump ahead to the third video in the lesson.
This is the second tutorial video and to T this up, the video just before this introduces the idea of a shading packet which is a little bit like a blue print that comes from the art department, handed to the technical folks as a kind of guide to the look that they are trying to hit with the pattern. That gives you a feeling of the style of the lessons and what I thought I would do here is jump ahead to the end of this lesson where you get to make your own dino skin. This is one of the apps I was talking about. Elyse: These apps are really an essential part of the whole puzzle here because it’s not just about talking at learners, its about giving them an opportunity to think creatively and actually hands-on experience. We’ve tried also to include some lessons that are hands-on, literally hands-on lessons not on the computer as a part of Khan Academy and this program. We haven’t done as much of that as we would like to, but we are going to be developing some more.
Tony: You have a few controls here, much like the controls that are artists have. You can really design a wide array of variations of dinosaur skin and then when you are happy with your pattern, you can wrap it up back on to a cylinder, which is kind of close to a dinosaur leg. This is a really close approximation of the kind of workflow that artists actually go through. And then lesson 2 deepens some of these concepts, talks about different kinds of randoms and randoms that you can use to get even more variation out of your design.
Lets talk about season 3 with Elyse.
Tony gave you a little taste of some of the math content. There is science and computer science content as well in what we are calling season 3. We’ve just stepped into the humanities and really into story. Story is obviously key to what we do here at Pixar. What we’ve got in this series, we’ve opened up with the first topic which is called We Are All Storytellers, which essentially has our storytellers talking about how they got into story telling, why they got into storytelling. But storytelling is something we all naturally do. We go into the character structure, visual language, filmmaking, grammar, and storyboarding. So that is the series of topics. These lessons are a little bit different in that they don’t have computer-based interactives. They have more hands-on and classroom and individual. The activities are listed out after each one of the lessons and we love when we here back from learners, from teachers, from educators, from kids, from everyone about how they are using, how they could use it better, what we could add or what we could do.
I had no idea that Pixar in a Box was even available for teachers. Make sure you share it with other middle and high school teachers.
Directed by Brian Fee (storyboard artist “Cars,” “Cars 2”) and Produced by Kevin Reher (“A Bug’s Life,” “La Luna” short), CARS 3 cruises into theaters on June 16th!
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CARS 3 opens in theatres everywhere on June 16th! Are you taking your kids to see Cars 3? Check out me racing around the race track in Sonoma for Cars 3 and my touring the Pixar Campus post. They are both fun posts so make sure you check them out and see the fun we had. Next week we’ll be back with another Story of our Story from the writers of Cars 3. Stay tuned!