Pixar Created a Fully Virtual IMAX Camera to Shoot Lightyear

04/21/2022 11:59 am EDT

Pixar Animation Studios has long been at the forefront of groundbreaking innovations for animated filmmaking. Toy Story changed the entire industry and started the shift towards computer-generated animation. Now, with Lightyear, Pixar is breaking new ground yet again. For this new movie, Pixar created a fully virtual IMAX camera, allowing several scenes in Lightyear to be shot on a bigger scale than any previous animated project.

"We created a virtual IMAX camera with 1.43:1 aspect ratio and developed a pipeline to allow us to simultaneously shoot the film for IMAX, and then crop down for our standard 2.39:1 format," Jane Yen, Lightyear visual effects supervisor, revealed during a recent press conference.

This is obviously a huge feat and a major step forward for animated filmmaking. To get more information on exactly how the camera works, and how the entire idea came about, ComicBook.com spoke with Lightyear's director of photography, Jeremy Lasky.

"I think this is the first that has been made for IMAX in this way. There's about a third of the film that was shot for IMAX. And the easy answer is that we have a set of lenses. And when I say lenses, I mean CG made," Lasky told us. "It's all just code, right? A set of lenses that recreate the look of an amorphic lens, which is your typical wide screen. You'll notice things out of focus in the background instead of being round are like stretched a little bit. There's like that blue lens flare that you see. It's anamorphic lenses where the way to shoot wide screen in the sixties, seventies, and then later got phased out a little bit, but they're still used today. But those effects call to a period of sci-fi that we were looking at, which is why those same lenses or versions of those lenses were used on Wall-E."

Lasky went on to explain how the sci-fi films from the '70s and '80s influenced the look of Lightyear, ultimately leading them to the idea of the wide, IMAX camera.

"It's hearkening back to this kind of film, this period of filmmaking," Lasky said. "The IMAX stuff, if you've ever seen a piece of IMAX film, it's gigantic. They're shooting it on these huge things. And it presents a different look than standard 35 millimeter film because of the size of the film or the size of the sensor, if you're shooting digitally. Now, we said, 'Okay, well, let's be true to this. If we're going to make this in IMAX, let's really do it.' So our lenses were modified. We built a set of lenses that actually are IMAX. They're approximating shooting on a larger sensor. So your depth, the field feels different. The character relationships at different lenses or focal lengths feel different. The flare feels different, the lens flare.

"So for the 30 or so minutes of the movie in IMAX, we shot with those lenses opened up to the 1.43 aspect ratio and composed for that while keeping the composition as clear and as solid for a 2.39 crop from the center. So the wide screen image is pulled out of the IMAX image. Which all sounds really technical, but all it really means is, when you're watching it an IMAX screen, we were thinking about those scenes as IMAX. And it wasn't just some after the film was done, blow up of the movie."

When Lightyear hits theaters on June 17th, it will be released on IMAX screens around the country, allowing those scenes shot natively in IMAX to be shown exactly as they were intended.

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