The Science Behind Pixar at the Museum of Science & Industry

Monsters of Pixar backdrop with kids at MSI

My kids are growing up with Pixar movies. Cars taught them about friendship, Monsters Inc taught them to think independently, and Inside Out taught them about the importance of expressing their emotions. Then there’s Wall-e, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up… the list goes on and on.

The characters in these movies and the worlds they live in came to life for my kids (and me) in ways that seemed like magic, but there’s some amazing science behind that magic. The new exhibit, The Science of Pixar, at the Museum of Science and Industry gives visitors a chance to explore that science/magic.

We had an opportunity to check out the exhibit on opening day. Was it as magical as Pixar movies? Yes.

giant Buzz Lightyear

The Science Behind Pixar exhibit is a temporary exhibit, on display through January 9, 2019. There is an additional fee for the exhibit (it’s $14 for adults and $11 for children, in addition to general admission to the museum), and timed-entry tickets. The beauty of the timed-entry ticket is that there is a limit to the number of people in the exhibit at one time, and you know when you’ll be admitted, rather than having to wait around for other visitors to leave.

The exhibit is split into two areas, and includes more than 40 interactive elements demonstrating the science and technology utilized by the Pixar storytellers.

Greeting visitors as they enter the exhibit is Buzz Lightyear, much larger than his life-size of about 12 inches. Nearby are life-size versions of Mike and Sully. Seeing these, you know you’ve really taken a step behind the scenes into the Pixar worlds.

boys posing with Mike & Sully from Monsters Inc.

There are eight sections in the exhibit, each focusing on a step of the filmaking: Modeling, Rigging, Surfaces, Sets and Cameras, Animation, Simulation, Lighting, and Rendering. Although the process is complicated, the explanations are easy to understand. There are short videos where Pixar artists demonstate steps in filmaking, and there are phones for younger or vision-impaired visitors who are unable to read the displays.

child listening to phone at Science Behind Pixar exhibit

children watching behind the scenes video at Science Behind Pixar exhibit

Best of all, the exhibit is very hands-on. With familiar characters and scenes from Pixar movies, visitors can try out the work of the Pixar storytellers. They can use a rig to create facial expressions on Jessie, slow down or speed up scenes from the Incredibles frame by frame, simulate Merida’s hair movement, and much, much more.

computer to adjust facial expressions

Each of the activities was captivating. Campbell, at 5 years old, was able to understand all of them and complete the tasks, but they were entertaining for the older kids as well, including me. It is mind-boggling to see the amount of work that goes into creating the movies, as well as how amazing the technology they use is.

computer to control animated movements

This was not the kind of exhibit where my kids spent a few moments at one activity and moved on; they were entranced by each one. Between the three of them, we spent about 30 minutes at one activity that allowed the kids to generate a field of grass. No joke – they loved it. In fact, two of them named it as one of their favorite activities in the exhibit.

One of the things that I particularly loved was the concept art for many of the movies and characters on display throughout the exhibit.

Inside Out concept art

Concept art for Joy from Upside Down

Concept art for Pixar's Up

Campbell was enthralled by the Cars activity that allows you to decorate a car hood with several different elements.

Cars movie - designing racing car hood

Edna Mode, costume designer in the Incredibles, is also represented, and the kids had an opportunity to speed up an slow down scenes from The Incredibles.

Edna Mode from The Incredibles at MSI

The Science of Pixar brings very advanced science and technology and makes it fun and accessible for everyone. It’s well worth the additional ticket fee and is something everyone should try to check out before it ends in January 2019.

Child posing with Nemo

Kid posing with Wall-e



  1. Thanks for you detailed review. I was wondering what it would be like and wondered if it would be worth the extra cost. Now I know.

  2. Samantha Shank says

    How long is the timed entry?

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