When you hear the word "museum," you probably don't associate it with irreverent comedy, talking animals and the latest in technological advancements. All that will soon change, however, for those who attend "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation," a revolutionary new-media exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Featuring more than 500 works of original art, the exhibit displays the massive effort and talent behind Pixar flicks — taking the concept of feature animation, as Buzz Lightyear would put it, to infinity and beyond.

"I hope they see that [two] things go on," beamed an enthusiastic Ronald Magliozzi, assistant curator of research and collections at MoMA. "Being hunched over a computer looking at pixels — that's certainly one aspect of life at Pixar. And the other aspect ... is that they are highly educated and very talented artists."

The exhibit — which runs through February 6 — offers paintings, conceptual art, sculptures and much more of the behind-the-scenes work that has yielded everything from the "Toy Story" films to "Finding Nemo" to next summer's surefire hit, "Cars." As those who've visited Pixar's headquarters in Northern California can attest, the company takes great pride in using such items to create worlds for the artists to exist in while they sculpt their next animated classic. Now visitors to the exhibit can step into those worlds as well.

"We went [to Pixar headquarters] without much knowledge of what kind of art they generated within the production of these films," Magliozzi admitted. "We went out there every month because they literally opened the archive to us, and out came the boxes. We just asked for things and they brought it out. We went film by film — sometimes artist by artist; our idea was to focus on the artists of Pixar."

Artists like Ralph Eggleston ("Toy Story," "The Incredibles"), Harley Jessup ("Monsters, Inc.") and many more, all of whom proudly contributed both their work and their time.

"[The artists are] very excited," Magliozzi said. "[There is an] audio tour, there's going to be a number of kiosks, and that's going to be [a place] where the people can interact with the artists. There are 42 artists in the exhibition ... and they're all covered in the interactive kiosks. Some are interviews, others are artist profiles. And during the exhibitions, we're going to have educational programs. The artists are going to be here at the museum speaking, conducting, giving lectures and such."

For anyone who has wondered where Pixar got that slick look for the "Incredibles" title sequence or which dark corner yielded "Monsters, Inc.," the exhibit offers a chance to see the roots of the company's very distinctive family tree. "These artists are serious artists in the sense that they know [art] history and they know what they're doing," Magliozzi said. "There are a lot of references to traditional art, classic art, even recent pop art in the work that they did for the films ... we haven't put surrealist pieces of art from the '20s next to 'Monsters, Inc.,' but it has a lot of surrealism in it. 'The Incredibles' has a lot of deco kind of stuff in it."

With one foot planted in the past, "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation" looks to the future with Artscape (a widescreen projection of handcrafted art) and Zoetrope (sculptures rotated under a strobe light to simulate motion), two eye-popping pieces bound to inspire long lines. "I think we're going to have crowd control problems," Magliozzi admitted half-jokingly. "The Zoetrope and the Artscape pieces are awesome, and they take some time to look at; they're tight pieces, like film. One piece runs 12 minutes, the cycle is maybe 10 minutes. I think it's gonna be something people will be lucky to see.

"[Zoetrope is] a reference to the pre-cinema toy," he said. "It's got 260 sculpted figures on it, and it's been rotated onto a strobe. It's gonna be a showstopper."

An art enthusiast first and foremost, but ultimately as much of a geek as any other Pixar fan, Magliozzi says he sometimes can't spend enough time looking at the art. "I think I would steal one of Teddy Newton's collages that he did for 'The Incredibles,' the concept art," he laughed when asked to pretend that he had the opportunity. "It's very exciting to see the collage. To see what he's done with the collage, and how the collage has an angular look."

Pixar loyalists, meanwhile, may similarly feel like they're committing a crime as they steal a peek at the latest in a long tradition of short films — "One Man Band," which is making its North American premiere at MoMA.

"It reminds me of renaissance art," Magliozzi said of the short, which will eventually be attached to "Cars" this summer. "It has a renaissance look to it ... kind of Italian. Very different look from any other Pixar short or feature ... It's about a competition between two one-man band masters in the city square. It's a three-character piece, basically, two musicians and a child. ... The shorts are just brilliant."

All in all, the result is a feast for art lovers and movie geeks alike, nearly as expansive and entertaining as the Pixar universe itself. "People are going to learn the extraordinary amount of development work, concept work and concept art that goes into the production of these films," Magliozzi promised. "The work that goes into defining the world of the films, the characters of the films and the story of the films. And the art that we have ranges from traditional hand-drawn storyboards to digitally generated printouts and print and applications. We're gonna be putting them on the walls ... everywhere you look, almost every view you have of the exhibition, you're going to see moving images alongside still flat art and 2-D art. It's very exciting; the space is very dynamic."

For more on the world of Pixar, check out our visit to their Emeryville, California, headquarters: "Monsters (And Superheroes), Inc."

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