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  • This is a shot

  • from Pixar's latest movie, "Soul."

  • Even though it's animated, everything about

  • how the fingers float from one key to another

  • to the small details like tendons moving in the hand

  • feels just as real as

  • the reference footage that inspired it.

  • While Pixar has used reference footage since the beginning,

  • it could not have pulled off a scene

  • with movement this nuanced and realistic

  • back in 1995 for "Toy Story."

  • And it took years of technological breakthroughs.

  • So how did Pixar get here?

  • First off, they have an army of animators and riggers.

  • We talked to seven who worked on "Soul"

  • to see how far Pixar has come.

  • Let's start over 26 years ago

  • with the technology built for "Toy Story."

  • Getting a given character to move

  • starts in Pixar's rigging and modeling department.

  • Whenever you're thinking of a character model

  • before it's rigged, it's in a completely neutral pose.

  • There's no expression on the face.

  • The arms and legs are all straight.

  • And so the controls that we put in in rigging

  • lets parts of the body move like you would pose

  • like a doll or a puppet.

  • To get a clearer idea of the basics,

  • let's start with this character model of Woody.

  • The rigging department will add the rig,

  • which is essentially an inner skeleton.

  • Throughout this rig you can see all these controls

  • called animated variables, or avars,

  • which animators use to make

  • different parts of a character move around.

  • This early version of Woody had 596 of those controls,

  • which may seem like a lot,

  • but by 2019's "Toy Story 4," Woody had more than 7,000.

  • To make things a little more complicated,

  • one control point is often connected

  • to other control points.

  • So moving one in the eyebrow

  • will move the wrinkles on the forehead.

  • Adding more controls to these "Toy Story" characters

  • would have let them move with more nuance,

  • but back then, Pixar was making a brand new rig

  • for every single character.

  • That would change with "Toy Story 2."

  • Pixar introduced Geppetto, later updated to Presto,

  • which allowed animators to reuse

  • and adapt rigs for multiple characters.

  • This sped up the animation process

  • and gave animators more control

  • over movements and facial expressions.

  • The new software provided a template of two-legged

  • and four-legged rigs that could be altered

  • depending on the specific needs of a character.

  • According to rigger Jared Fong, the sea lions

  • in "Finding Dory" were actually constructed from dog rigs,

  • with legs folded into flippers.

  • More control with Geppetto also meant

  • more expressive facial movements,

  • as seen in 2003's "Finding Nemo."

  • To really nail the character's emotions,

  • animators used reference footage.

  • Now fish don't have eyebrows or eyelids,

  • but eyebrows are so important for expressing human emotions.

  • So animators decided to add eyebrow-like lumps

  • to characters like Marlin and Dory.

  • And replicating real facial expressions

  • meant connecting more control points with each other.

  • You can see that with Dory. The control points

  • around her mouth are connected with her eyes and her cheeks,

  • giving her a more believable smile.

  • A smize, if you will.

  • After making major strides with toys and sea creatures,

  • the most daunting challenge was yet to come: humans.

  • Mr. Incredible consisted of 426 primary controls,

  • 111 secondary animation controls for more subtle movements,

  • and 1,061 modeling controls

  • for sizing and other adjustments.

  • Thanks to Geppetto, the rigging and modeling team

  • could perfect Mr. Incredible

  • and then reuse his rig for other characters.

  • And to really make his movements realistic

  • they used full-body reference footage.

  • For example, this clip where an animator

  • lifts up this exercise ball

  • was helpful for moments like this,

  • where Mr. Incredible lifts up an Omnidroid.

  • And the team didn't animate just a rigid skeleton.

  • On top of the skeleton was a layer of muscles,

  • which could bulge and flex.

  • And the skin on top of that

  • would need to respond realistically.

  • So Pixar developed a new system called Goo.

  • This allowed the animators to see the skin

  • and muscles react in real time as they worked,

  • allowing for greater flexibility and movement

  • and more control over how humans move.

  • Goo led to breakthroughs in moving

  • more challenging body parts, like the shoulders,

  • which were more primitive in earlier films.

  • The Buzz Lightyear shoulder's a ball and socket.

  • Woody's shoulder is just a stitch line.

  • He's got no shoulders, right?

  • That arm just hinges.

  • Mr. Incredible has a big old strong shoulder.

  • How you get a trapezius muscle there in the shoulder,

  • and how it moves in the pectoral, really complex stuff.

  • The rigs built for "The Incredibles"

  • were designed to let the characters

  • stretch further than the average human.

  • Which was important for Elastigirl,

  • who needed to transform into all shapes and sizes.

  • And just like how superheroes

  • needed to react to forces like gravity,

  • so too did the cars in Pixar's next feature, "Cars."

  • Pixar extended its technological boundaries yet again

  • with a system called ground locking,

  • which made sure the cars always stayed on the same path,

  • regardless of terrain,

  • without animators having to move them frame by frame.

  • We had to have our characters

  • be able to follow the contours of the ground

  • without having to animate them,

  • like up and down if it was like, a rolling hill.

  • So it's going to move along these things.

  • And then we're going to animate on top of that.

  • Because of ground locking,

  • Lightning McQueen could now drive smoothly on a flat road

  • that turns into a very windy path automatically.

  • This may seem like a specific advancement

  • just for the "Cars" movies, but it would be important

  • for some of the most memorable characters in "Soul."

  • By 2007, animators could have

  • up to 150 controls in the human face.

  • So they could give characters a much wider range of emotion.

  • Perfect for a movie like "Ratatouille,"

  • which is largely set in the human world.

  • All these intricate controls allowed for

  • the complex array of expressions seen on Chef Skinner.

  • Look at how far Chef Skinner's mouth extends

  • as he's yelling at Linguini.

  • According to supervising animator Mark Walsh,

  • the tech wouldn't have been able to handle such a stretch

  • in "Toy Story" or "Finding Nemo."

  • The groundbreaking muscle work in "The Incredibles"

  • allowed animators to give Linguini

  • more spontaneous movements in the scenes

  • where he's controlled by Remy in the kitchen.

  • By the time "Toy Story 3" came out in 2010,

  • Pixar's animators had gotten such precise control

  • over how characters move, that it's surprising

  • they'd want to take a step backward.

  • But they actually relied on fewer controls

  • to better replicate the trademark toy movements

  • audiences knew and loved.

  • If a character has a limited range of motion

  • in its shoulder, what we'll do is we'll basically

  • lock off some of that range of motion,

  • and then that forces you to animate it in a different way.

  • They still had room to pick and choose

  • what they would keep about the old characters

  • and where to elevate them.

  • For example, they could have put 25 controls

  • in each of Buzz's eyebrows, but decided to keep them simple,

  • like when he had just three per brow in the original,

  • while also giving Spanish Buzz

  • these complicated flamenco-like moves.

  • There was one particularly hard toy to animate:

  • the octopus named Stretch.

  • Despite the innovations in stretchiness

  • from "The Incredibles," making eight tentacles

  • stretch and curl was still a daunting task.