Pixar celebrates a brilliant quarter-century

An invigorating, thought-provoking and fun behind-the-scenes experience of the wildly successful Bay Area studio is in store for visitors to “Pixar: 25 Years of Animation” at the Oakland Museum of California.

On view through January, the show (an update of a 20-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2005) features hundreds of items, including paintings, sculptures and story boards used (and not used) in the creation of the studio’s 11 blockbuster, revolutionary films — from the “Toy Story” trilogy to “Cars” to “Up.”

While the Emeryville-based studio is famed and credited for its innovation in technology — which is detailed in a brief, informative historical timeline that shows how it has grown from a handful of computer experts to a staff of more than 1,000 — the exhibit really showcases how old-fashioned artwork and human storytelling remain the cornerstone of Pixar’s mission.

Quotes from staffers on the exhibit’s wall indicate that despite their sophisticated, refined animation process, their films’ successes primarily depend on doing whatever it takes to create believable characters in realistic settings.

To achieve that end, the attention to detail is astounding — as revealed in pencil drawings and studies on display. These include early renderings of familiar characters such as Woody and Buzz in “Toy Story” and Sullivan in “Monsters, Inc.,” and extensive color samples in gouache, watercolor and acrylic paintings of leaves or underwater life used in settings in “Up” and “Finding Nemo.”

A fascinating wall of paintings and drawings compares various Pixar artists’ preliminary visions of Edna Mode of “The Incredibles,” including a few quite reminiscent of Edith Head, the real Hollywood fashion designer on whom the character is based.

Two big installations anchor the show. Zoetrope is an amazing, moving 3-D merry-go-round-style display of “Toy Story” characters that exemplifies principles of animation.

Artscape is a room-filling, wide-screen projection of up-close views of artworks used in making the Pixar movies. Set to music, it’s a thrilling and sometimes meditative exploration.

Also, the exhibit features some of the studio’s best-known shorts, including the company’s first Academy Award-nominated film, John Lasseter’s “Luxo Jr.,” which stars the adorable desk lamp now in the company’s logo.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

IF YOU GO

Pixar: 25 Years of Animation

Where: Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays; closed Mondays-Tuesdays; exhibit closes Jan. 11

Tickets: $12 general, $9 seniors and students, $6 ages 9-17, free for children 8 and under

Contact: (510) 238-2200, www.museumca.org

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