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2015 Pixar Undergraduate Program - Gondola Project

Pixar's Undergraduate Program

Since 2008, Pixar has invited a few promising undergraduate technical artists to intern at Pixar as part of the Pixar Technical Undergraduate Program, otherwise known as "PUP." These PUP interns, or "PUPs" spend the summer learning Pixar's pipeline, from people working in production, getting to know both the tools and philosophies Pixar uses to make animated feature films. During the course of their internship the 2015 PUPs completed the ambitious group project you see here. Modeling, shading, vegetation, set dressing, layout, master lighting, was completed in 7 days. Shot lighting was completed in 10 days, as the subject of one of the PUP's final projects.

Read on to learn more about this gondola shot was created in about week by the 2015 PUPs.

The Team

Hi everyone! My name is Christina Faraj and I was one of the nine Pixar interns from this past summer who participated in the 2015 Pixar Undergraduate Program (PUPs!). I am so thankful for my summer at Pixar, it challenged and introduced me to all parts of the pipeline, artistic and technical problem solving as I got to work with incredible people along the way.

As the 2015 PUPs, we were a unique bunch that constantly pushed each other, and often collaborated informally on projects. So by the time our final project came around, it was only natural that we all pitched the idea that for the first time ever, all the PUPs would work together on one large scale project.

To do so, we planned out concepts ahead of the pitch. We held group meetings where we shared ideas, drew concepts, planned shots, created model spreadsheets and stayed organized of who would be doing what.

The Pitch

It took one image to change everything for us, and it was a beautiful photo of a gondola sitting in the water alleys of Venice. We were inspired by this image and felt the need to recreate its delicate beauty. The idea “Story is King" permeates throughout Pixar, and without a story to tell there is essentially no project. We decided to create a story connecting this Italian setting with Roman and Greek mythology. Molly Meyer, who was the lighting lead of the project, explains the idea behind the project, “Our project alludes to the myth of the river Styx, where souls that have passed would get on the boat in order to travel to the underworld. The candles on the sides represent the souls, and as the boat passes through the canal the lights on the sides go out and the candles on the boat go on. The story is very mystical and serene, so with the help of my mentor Stefan Gronsky we aimed for a mood that existed on the edge of sunset. The deeper the boat goes into the canal, the darker it gets."

Modeling, Layout & Animation

Andrea Goh was our team's layout lead was in charge of making sure the composition, animation of the gondola and cameras told the story as best as we could. As she did this she also continued to work closely with the modeling and set dressing leads, Nellie Robinson, Alex Shilt, Abby DeBusk and myself, to make sure all the assets and shot set dressing in the scene was correct before being passed along the pipeline for shading, lighting and rendering.

Set Dressing, Shading & Lighting

Harsh Agrawal who was the shading lead in this project, explains his productive method of working, “I was responsible for creating master shader library and template to get the texturing work done efficiently. I also created the procedural shader for the foliage in the scene. A plane with moving fractals was rendered to simulate water. Katana, Mari and body paint were major software for shading. Ptex and projections were major part of the workflow that help create the environment in short amount of time.“ Harsh also worked close with the global tool leads of the project Richard Lee and Itamar Belson who created the vegetation networks using Pixar's proprietary vegetation tool. “The tool was very flexible and allowed for a huge amount of variety generated from a few base curves. The leaves and flowers were instanced as simple planes, and textured with a transparency map to give the desired plant shapes," says Richard.

You imagination is always fertile with Pixar's vegetation tool

Final Result

After a week we were basically done! Molly Meyer, our lighting lead then finished the lighting as her final project.

During production we worked in Katana for shading and lighting, Presto for layout and shot set dressing, Maya for all modeling, and Pixar's proprietary software for the vegetation of the leaves and flowers. We all learned a lot about the process and techniques of making movies.

I am so proud of what we accomplished as a whole.

About the 2015 PUPs

Applying to the Program

For those interesting in joining the program, applications are accepted from January 1st to March 1st. You can read more about the Pixar Techicnal Undergradute Program here: Pixar Internships TechnicalArtists

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