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I recall reading years ago that each Pixar film included some new technology or capability to their internal rendering software that they they'd developed as part of making that film. Monsters Inc. for example introduced fur. This article makes mention of this tradition as well:

Pixar’s subsequent films act like a timeline of technological developments in computer graphics. Building on the work of other researchers, 2001’s Monsters, Inc. introduced the on-screen representation of fur. Two years later, Finding Nemo pioneered new techniques in digital lighting, which were used to create realistic-looking water. The Incredibles and Ratatouille brought with them believable human characters, and advances in the simulation of crowds and fluids.

My question is, what technological development did each Pixar film introduce?

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Do you expect to get a complete list of all Pixar movies? Seems a bit too much to ask for in one question.. –  poepje Jun 25 '12 at 14:39
    
@poepje Just the ones that introduced some new technology. It would be a list of a dozen films, which doesn't seem outrageous to me. –  user209 Jun 25 '12 at 14:41
    
Well because you mentioned that each pixar movie introduced a new technology.. :) Also, sorry for asking, but where do I recognise your avatar from? –  poepje Jun 25 '12 at 14:45
    
@poepje Probably from some old games. –  user209 Jun 25 '12 at 15:16
    
Oh your name even refers to that, haha. Thanks though, it's been so long since I played that, good to be reminded by it again :D * opens DOSBox * –  poepje Jun 25 '12 at 15:21

2 Answers 2

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Here you can find all technical memo's and publications of Pixar. Most of them can be directly related to the movie they are developed for, or used in by the images provided. Note that many of their publications are published in SIGGRAPH, which is one of the worlds biggest conferences/journals on Computer Graphics/animations. So they do new and innovative stuff all the time, though some of their novelties are not made for a specific movie directly. It seems they have people working on their rendering and simulation tools in general, while others try to achieve certain effects required for a specific movie.

I think that for their first movies they didn't publish as much since they still needed a solid ground in the movie business. Furthermore, it takes time to be able to develop new stuff. Also they improve on their techniques every movie (see for example the rendering of hair). So this list is unfortunately incomplete, but gives a nice overview of the published novelties per movie.

General:

Movie techniques:

List without papers, but notable used techniques:

  • Toy story: First big feature animation movie, new re-rendering techniques
  • Toy story 2: Acting and behavior of animations
  • A bugs life: Fluid animation
  • Monster's Inc: Fur
  • Finding Nemo: Underwater rendering, sea surface
  • Ratatouille: Cutting food and wet fur
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Can you flesh this out to link technologies/advances to some specific movies? A link-only answer is only good while the link is valid, which it eventually ceases to be. –  user209 Feb 6 at 16:37
    
Unfortunately I couldn't find many publications specifically related to their older movies, but I tried to explain why. Hope this is useful :) –  invalid_id Feb 7 at 7:02
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Excellent edit. –  user209 Feb 7 at 16:09
    
Thanks. Didn't have much time yesterday. If you need more info/details, just ask :) –  invalid_id Feb 7 at 17:04

Pixar’s subsequent films act like a timeline of technological developments in computer graphics. Building on the work of other researchers, 2001’s Monsters, Inc. introduced the on-screen representation of fur. Two years later, Finding Nemo pioneered new techniques in digital lighting, which were used to create realistic-looking water. The Incredibles and Ratatouille brought with them believable human characters, and advances in the simulation of crowds and fluids.

Not one of those statements is correct, if given as an industry wide example of developments of computer graphics.

These statements might be correct, if referring to Pixar's own usage of those technologies. Monster's Inc was the first time Pixar used Fur extensively for one of it's own feature films, but fur in computer graphics had been in use for many years by this point. I would credit them this achievement as being the largest usage of fur in a feature film to that date.

While I agree that Pixar set many milestones for standards in the level of quality in computer graphics. They were not the only studio setting new standards.

ILM set the standard for computer graphics and lighting in the 1993 Jurassic Park.

Disney set the tone for most realistic computer generated animal in the 2000 film Dinosaur.

A year later Square Pictures (R.I.P) released the 2001 film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which to this date still exceeds anything in visual production value that Pixar has ever done. Including the claim for believable human characters.

That same year in 2001 the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring demonstrated the most realistic human generated character (Gollum).

This isn't a list of the best, but just a list of the many other films and studios that have far out done Pixar in the area of computer graphics. Pixar at best has the best quality of children's films, but their continued focus on soft lighting and uniformly playful characters limits how far they can push technology. It's difficult to make Woody compare to Gollum, because Woody is a toy and the most photo-realistic toy just doesn't impress visually.

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... Although it should be noted that all the human characters in the other films you mentioned were Motion Captured (including Gollum), while Pixar proudly displays a notice that everything is animated by hand. I don't know about fluids, but the LotR films basically wrote a AI crowd simulator for all the big battle scenes. –  Clockwork-Muse Jun 25 '12 at 23:00
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Motion capture is an animation technique just like key framing, and most motion capture requires a character animator to clean the data for production usage. With that said, motion capture doesn't simplify or devalue the computer graphics that it's used with, if that was what you were trying to imply. –  Mathew Foscarini Jun 25 '12 at 23:09
    
Contrary to Clockwork-Muse's theory that Pixar animates by hand, Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film and the first film produced by Pixar. Pixar has always been a proud leader in CGI. –  Jeff Mahaney Feb 6 at 21:53
    
If you look at the specifics of the question, it asks what improvements Pixar made to their own rendering software with each movie. Your comment does not answer that question, it describes how other companies are just as innovative or more innovative than Pixar. I stand by my opinion, your answer is well-researched and expressed but off-topic. –  vastra360 Feb 24 at 21:04

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