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Tech explodes in Pixar's 'Cars 2' (images)

Like many of its predecessors, the new movie is full of technical innovations. Some required a tripling of Pixar's render farm.

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Daniel Terdiman
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Tokyo progression 1

On June 24, Pixar will release its 12th feature film, "Cars 2," the sequel to "Cars" from 2006. In the new film, the heroes from Radiator Springs--Lightning McQueen, Mater, and others--join the World Grand Prix, an auto race that visits exotic locales like coastal Italy and Tokyo. And then they plunge into a dark, mysterious spy story.

For one of the sequences that takes place in Tokyo, Pixar's animators and artists had to make sure the audience was treated to just the right level of the cacophony of lights that is Tokyo. In this image, and the four following, we see how a single frame representing the Tokyo sequence evolved from early work to final composition.

This is the earliest composition of the frame.

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Tokyo progression 2

In this image, we see the character and camera staging created prior to animation, a process known as layout. At this point, dressing and set models are still being worked and will not be finished until animation on the frame is done.
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Tokyo progression 3

Here, we see the last character animation poses. Both the primary and secondary characters in the frame have been keyframe animated and cars in the background have been added procedurally with a crowds software system used by Pixar.
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Tokyo progression 4

As Pixar puts it, "The character and set shading encompasses the color, texture, and material attributes of every surface, and determines how surfaces will respond to lights."
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Tokyo progression 5

In the final composition form of the frame, we see how virtual lights offer illumination from countless sources of light including neon signs, street lamps, and headlights. The reflectivity of the cars' bodies and the wet streets need Raytracing, a computation-heavy technique. As well, other visual details including colored fog around signs and lens flare from headlights have been added. Finally, the finished rendered image is processed at Pixar's Renderfarm and must be seen to be free of any visual artifacts.
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Reflectivity and ocean effects

In this image, we can see two of the effects Pixar's artists created that pushed the envelope of what's been done before in computer animation for feature films. First, we see the reflectivity off the body of the Finn McMissile car. And second, we see the high degree of detail that Pixar has crafted into the ocean water, including the wave caps, and the roughness of the open sea.
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Reflectivity

In this image, we see even more clearly how bright and realistic the reflectivity off the cars' bodies can be.
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McMissile firing a missile

Here, we see Finn McMissile--who is voiced by Michael Caine--firing a missile in a scene from Pixar's new film, "Cars 2."
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Explosions

In this image, we see Lightning McQueen and Mater--the stars of the original "Cars" along with some of the explosions that Pixar's artists and animators created for the film.
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Italy

"Cars 2" visits locations far beyond Radiator Springs. Here, we see Lightning McQueen in coastal Italy, where the World Grand Prix has stopped.
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Lightning McQueen and foe

Here, we see Lightning McQueen racing against his main World Grand Prix rival.
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Lightning McQueen in Tokyo

Here, we see Lightning McQueen amid the bright lights of Tokyo.
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Finn McMissile and explosions

Here we see more explosions and the reflectivity techniques created by Pixar as Finn McMissile speeds away from some action.

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