Inner workings: Pixar reveals its design process at the Cooper Hewitt

Design boards displayed within wooden, arched alcoves. A table in front displays screens and text about the company's design process
Pixar is currently the subject of an interactive retrospective just opened at the historic Cooper Hewitt museum in New York. Photography: Matt Flynn
(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

Few film studios have mastered the art of storytelling quite like Pixar has. From the mod-tinged world of The Incredibles to the imaginative portrait of the human psyche in its most recent effort Inside Out, the iconic animation studio has won over adults and children alike with its clever and evocative approach.

Pixar’s inner workings are now the subject of an interactive retrospective just opened at the Cooper Hewitt in New York. Staged within the museum’s innovative Process Lab, a room that once house Andrew Carnegie's office, the show features original artwork, rarely seen sketches and storyboards, paintings and even sculptures from its catalogue of recognizable films.

'At Pixar, the visual design process and the story development process work hand in hand from the very earliest stages,' said John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios. To wit, the exhibition has been built around the studio’s three key principles: story, believability and appeal. Amongst the material on display are architectural research made during the design of the focal house in Up, models for the cowboy doll Woody in Toy Story and detailed drawings showcasing how the robots in Wall-E became utterly believable.

The Process Lab’s interactive touchscreen table also enables visitors to delve deeper into the 450 pieces of Pixar artwork made available, while learning more about related objects at the museum as well. With a screening of Pixar’s first short film, Luxo Jr (1986), a series of interactive workshops lead by Pixar staff and a conversation with Lasseter being held on 12 November also on offer, visitors might just to decode the secrets of the studio’s success.  

Colorscript digital painting for The Incredibles

Amongst the artworks on offer are rarely seen sketches and sculptures, paintings and storyboards, such as Lou Romano's colorscript digital painting for The Incredibles, 2004. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

Illustration of a small blue house in between two huge skyscrapers

Don Shank, Carl’s House, Up, 2009. Digital painting. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar 

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

Sketch of an option for the arm design for the character WALL-E

Jay Shuster, WALL-E Arm Option, WALL-E, 2008. Correction fluid, ink and marker on paper. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar 

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

Wood-panelled room with a screen and information about the designing of Luxor Jr.

The exhibition includes a screening of the studio's first short film from 1986, Luxor JrPhotography: Matt Flynn

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

A sketch of the characters from the film Inside Out

An early sketch from the studio's most recent release, Inside OutRiley and Emotions (2015), by Ricky Nierva, watercolor and marker on paper. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar 

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

A digital painting of a mouse holding some cherries

Robert Kondo, Remy in the Kitchen, Ratatouille, 2007. Digital painting. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

Painting of a road going through a desert scene

Tia W. Kratter, Ornament Valley, Cars, 2006. Acrylic on board. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

(Image credit: Matt Flynn)


‘Pixar: The Design of Story’ runs from 8th October to 7th August 2016


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Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.