Pixar: A Look Ahead, and a Quick Surprise – Austin Visuals Reports

John Lasseter is a living legend at Pixar, and he’s head of animation at Disney as well.  When he spoke about the company’s forthcoming movies to the audience at this year’s Disney fan convention in Anaheim, California (called D23), he began by explaining that every Pixar film started with the same question:  What if?  What if monsters really did live under your bed?  (Or in your closet, as the case may be?)  What if your toys really did come to life when you happened to not be looking at them?  What if superheroes were really dissatisfied with being forced to sell insurance for a living?

The plot of Pixar’s next film, The Good Dinosaur, was brought on by wondering about one of the biggest what-if questions ever.  He then showed a short animation that depicted a monstrous asteroid hurtling towards the Earth, 65 million years ago, when it was teeming with dinosaurs.  And it missed completely.

So what’s next?


Something new called, Inside Out is a Film that is set for a 2015 release, it will follow a teenage girl named Riley, who quickly becomes very uncomfortable when her family makes a major move. The movie follows five emotions inside Riley’s head:  Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith, from The Office), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kailing, also formerly of The Office).  They watch events of Riley’s life on the Consciousness Screen, and decide which get to be stored as memories.

When Joy and Sadness have to take the Train of Thought out on a hunt for missing memories, they leave Fear, Disgust and Anger in control of her brain, and she starts turning into a typical teenager.  That will be a big enough crisis, in and of itself!

So what’s the surprise about?

Well, we recently got a peek inside Pixar studios to take a look at what software they use to create movies like the ones we just talked about above, and the recently released Monsters University. As you know, OpenSubdiv refers to a set of open source libraries that implement high-performance subdivision surface (subdiv) evaluation on massively parallel CPU and GPU architectures.  In a recent Open Subdiv demo, Pixar’s engineering lead Dirk Van Gelder lets us take a look at his monitor, so we can see what Pixar’s Marionette looks like.

In case you didn’t know, this is the software’s 30th iteration, and it’s no longer called Marionette or Menv (the original name, Modeling environment).  The software now bears the name Presto in tribute to the 2008 short film created by Doug Sweetland.


At about 18:45, Dirk Van Gelder starts his portion of the presentation.  With him, we get a good look at the interface and see in motion the Monsters University character Dean Hardscrabble.


The controls, or Avars, as they are called at Pixar, are docked to the bottom right of the screen, instead of being displayed in the viewport as we are used to.  They are displayed in a channel box or spreadsheet, as this is the term used in AL, the predecessor of Menv.  One other interesting thing to note is that Presto runs on Linux and the Gnome Desktop environment atop that.  It’s more stable than Windows, we’ll warrant!

Presto can be seen in use a little more over here:


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