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‘The Science Behind Pixar’ takes movie fans under the hood, at the Science Museum of Minnesota

The author with Wall-E (Lillian Speakman/MPR)

I just kept thinking: Prince would love this.

Not only was he a huge fan of Finding Nemoa regular attraction on the screens at Paisley Park, and infamously once a replacement for Questlove — but Prince was a fastidious studio whiz. The musical genius made sure that every last detail of his songs came out just the way he wanted it, no matter how long it took or not matter what he had to invent along the way.

That’s the approach they take at Pixar, though even the facilities at Paisley Park can’t compare to the vast computer banks it takes to design and animate an entire feature film. The Science Behind Pixar, an exhibit opening today at the Science Museum of Minnesota, illuminates the process by which some of the most popular movies of recent years have been created.

The topic could get fiendishly complex, but the well-designed exhibit focuses on the basics: explaining to kids (and adults) exactly what it means to create the illusion of reality through computer-generated images. Interactive stations demonstrate how computer animation is built up from basic shapes, adding movement and texture and lighting effects.

One particularly challenging — and fascinating — idea that’s illustrated is the idea that something can be rendered in greater or lesser detail, that every frame represents a compromise between the desire for realistic, immersive images and limitations of time and energy.

Sometimes that doesn’t even take a computer to demonstrate. At one particularly clever station, visitors can change toy cars on a road from more-detailed to less-detailed models. When the model road is viewed through a camera, with some cars closer than others, it becomes apparent that the less-detailed model suffices perfectly well for a background image.

At another station, you’re given control over just a few of the variables controlling the face of one well-known character, Jessie from Toy Story. I succeeded in making her look sort of like I do when I wake up in the morning.

A few characters appear as large-scale models — which is just as disconcerting, yet awesome, as it would be to find yourself computer-animated. There’s a jovial Wall-E, and the Monsters, Inc. (Mike and Sulley) grin down from a platform behind a rail. A giant Dory features in a lighting demonstration.

All in all, it’s one of the most genuinely science-oriented pop culture exhibits to come through town. I loved Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, but I learned a lot more in The Science Behind Pixar. I also learned that there are some movies I need to catch up on…including Finding Nemo.