Pixar Pipeline Research

When the people at Pixar make a film they take it through four stages, these are: 

  • Development
  • Pre-production
  • Production
  • Post-production

Development is where they create the storyline of the film. Somebody will present an idea for a film and if it is good storyboards are created and concept art is drawn up. Along with this a script will be looked at and maybe changed and manipulated into a way that is more suitable for audiences.

Voice talent is also recorded; temporary voices are recorded often by the Pixar artists for storyboard reels to give the film a bit of “feel”. Later on in the production line professional actors come in and re-record the voices for the film, many times the artists rendition of a voice is good enough to be kept for the original.

Reels are then made; these are essential to the validating of the sequence and are the first instance that the timing is understood

The art department then creates the characters look and feel, captivating the emotions and characteristics of the character often doing this quite well. They go off the storyboards and their own initiative to create a character. They also design sets, props and visual looks for surfaces.

Models are then sculpted and/or created in 3d software and are then given something called “avars” which allow the character to move. These are like hinges.

After this the sets are then dressed allowing the director to encapsulate the look and feel for the film.

The shots are then laid out; the layout crew choreographs the characters in the set and uses a visual camera to capture the shot for the scene. They often produce multiple versions of shots to give the editorial department a choice for cutting the scene, often maximising storytelling effect. Once the scene has been cut it is released for animation.

The animators then take over choreographing movements and facial expressions in each scene using the characters “avars” at their disposal.

Lighting completes the look and feel of the film, creating different scenes and making the film feel and look realistic.


Here you can see a picture took of some storyboards for the film Finding Nemo. A storyboard consists of rows upon rows of sketches all annotated and pinned on a board. This gives the makers an idea of what is supposed to happen and when, they can re-arrange anything they want to and change the images as they wish. Storyboards can take up to six months to create.




This is a picture of a rather large piece of conceptual art from the latest movie Ratatouille. Concept art is used to create a visual representation of a design idea. Concept art is used in films, games and comic books.


These are two models of characters used in Pixar films “A Bugs Life” and “Finding Nemo”. Models are used to show what a character will look like and to convey their emotions.


This is a piece of conceptual art depicting a scene in the film. You can see how the picture shows facial features and the artists and animators will be able to see what is going on in the scene.


This image is the above concept art turned into the finished scene. You can see it has the lighting, materials and textures all added into the scene.




This is a computerized zoetrope with characters from Toy Story 2 on it. This would spin around and create a 3D animation of the characters. You could manipulate the characters and then see how a walk cycle or action would look like.


Jan Pinkava

Jan Pinkava


Jan Jaroslav Pinkava was born on June 21st 1963 in the city of Prague. Jan Pinkava wrote and directed the Pixar short film ‘Geri’s Game’ which won an Oscar. He also was the originator and director of Pixar’s 2007 film ‘Ratatouille’ until Pixar management forced him to give up his position as director and credited him as co-director.



This is a video of the animation short called Geri’s Game made by Jan Pinkava. The animation is about an old man playing chess with himself but then makes you feel as if he is playing with someone else. The story starts by showing you what he is doing by alternating seats and moving each piece on his own accord and then it ends with him almost losing but switching the board around and taking the win. Geri’s Game sets a new advance in the ability to animate skin and cloth.

The animation is widely known and is very good, it is a good example of the talent Jan Pinkava has.

This is a video of the Pixar team giving a talk on how they made the wonderful animated film Ratatouille. Unfortunately Jan Pinkava does not appear in this video but you can at least see the techniques he would have used to create these animations.

His family came to Britain in 1969 and he then obtained British citizenship and when old enough he attended Colchester Royal Grammar School and showed an interest in arts, music, drama and sculpture, he was also quite good at these subjects.

After receiving an 8mm camera as a Christmas present in 1975 he started to experiment with pixilation, stop-motion plasticine, paper-drawn and cell animation. This could probably be seen as the beginning of his career. 5 years on and he won the Young Film-Maker’s Competition of the Year Award on a children’s quiz series called ‘Screen Test’ for a short animation called ‘The Rainbow’. He was 17 at this point in his life.

The childrens quiz show presenters said that when Jan Pinkava won the competition it was the only occasion in the history of the competition from 1969 to 1984 where they saw a piece of film that was spectacularly professional.

He went on to Aberystwyth University to study Computer Science and he then graduated with first class honours and a PhD.

After University he went onto get a career and ended up working with a company called Digital Pictures who specialised in TV Advertisements. Digital Pictures was a small company so Jan Pinkava got to do everything from working with the clients to directing and animating TV commercials. He worked with digital pictures from 1990 – 1993

After Digital Pictures he worked freelance while sending out CV’S and reels to several different companies. He sent Pixar his package as Pixar’s top directors were being moved from work on TV commercials to work on Toy Story, so he got it in at the right time. Jan Pinkava was hired to direct TV Adverts His first one for Pixar was the last of their Listerine ads. Later on in 1994 his TV Commercial for Listerine won the Gold Clio Award.

We draw hundreds or thousands of ‘storyboards‘ which are like a strip cartoon version of the film. These storyboards are then put under a camera and edited together to make a ‘storyreel‘ – a video version of the final film with still drawings representing animated shots, cut to length, with rough soundtrack and dialogue. This storyreel is edited and re-edited (on a non-linear digital editing system) until it stands on its own as an entertaining story which is then used as the blueprint for the animated film. In this way, an animated film is edited before it is made, everyone in the production knows what film they are making and we avoid leaving expensive animated footage on the cutting room floor. In parallel with this effort, work is done on the production design and the design of the characters in the film, using traditional media. Many paintings and drawings help define the look and feel of the final film. Physical sculptures are created, while designing the characters, props and sets, which are then used directly or indirectly to create the geometry of the computer models that define the virtual world of the film within the machine. At Pixar, ‘the machine’ in this context means a vast network of servers and workstations with a combined computing power that’s enough to boggle most minds. Skilled ‘technical directors’ (TDs) then spend time ‘instrumenting’ the digital puppets that have been modelled. This means adding the controls – or virtual puppet strings, if you like – that make the geometry movable by the animators. Our animators usually come from art backgrounds and have no idea how all this is done; they are there to animate; they are the actors that breathe life into the characters using our proprietary animation system. Other TDs specialise in writing ‘shaders’ that define the surface appearance of every object when finally rendered, often working closely with artists who paint backgrounds and surface details of objects, as if painting the elements of a theatre set or applying make-up – all digitally, virtually, behind the glass of the screen. The lighting TDs complete the picture by adding definitions of virtual lights in a way analogous to the lighting of a theatre stage or film set. Images are then rendered, using Pixar’s Renderman software, with all the added effects of motion-blur, depth-of-field and other simulated aspects of photography. Finally, the digital images are transferred to good old-fashioned film and then all the processes of traditional ‘post-production’, like sound design and editing, begin. In this way a computer animated film is written, designed, animated, and ‘filmed’, using a ‘sophisticated pencil’ in the hands of a lot of talented people working very, very hard indeed.” -Jan Pinkava.

Jan Pinkava helped out with a few things within Pixar.
In chronological order:
Made an animation short ‘Geri’s Game’ (1997)
Additional Animator on A Bug’s Life (1998)
Story Artist on Toy Story 2 (1999)
Additional Storyboarding for Monsters, Inc (2001)
Co-Director and Story Writer for Ratatouille (2007)

Jan Pinkava is considered to be a follower (http://design.osu.edu/carlson/history/syllabusWi07.html) in the development of CGI history.  This could be because he is in the era which is described as being the era of followers. This would mean he did not specifically introduce anything new to the CGI scene like the pioneers did.  Jan Pinkava would later evolve the techniques that were used in earlier times.