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Pixar created a virtual IMAX camera and lenses to shoot the Lightyear movie

New Lightyear movie shot with virtual IMAX camera
(Image credit: Pixar)

To infinity and beyond! Pixar Animation Studios is breaking new ground with its upcoming movie, Lightyear, the origin story of Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear in an epic space adventure that prompted the creation of his action figure toy line.

A fully virtual IMAX camera with an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 was created and used by Pixar to shoot a version of the film suitable for IMAX showings, enabling several scenes in Lightyear to be shot on a bigger scale than any other previous animated project.

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Pixar is a leader in the animated filmmaking industry and renowned for making groundbreaking innovations, with its 1995 Toy Story setting the standard of what computer-generated animation can achieve.

Now, with Lightyear, Pixar is taking one giant leap for mankind – in the field of animation – by creating its own virtual IMAX camera and developing a pipeline to allow for simultaneous shooting at different ratios. Jane Yen, Lightyear's visual effects supervisor, revealed that the team shot with the IMAX camera with 1.43:1 aspect ratio that was then cropped down for the standard 2.39:1 format. 

"I think this is the first [animated movie] that has been made for IMAX in this way," said Jeremy Lasky, Lightyear's director of photography (via ComicBook.com (opens in new tab)). 

"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… It's all just code, right? A set of lenses that recreate the look of an anamorphic lens (opens in new tab), which is your typical wide screen.

"You'll notice things out of focus in the background [that] instead of being round are stretched a little bit. There's that blue lens flare that you see. Anamorphic lenses were the way to shoot widescreen in the Sixties, [and] 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."

"We built a set of lenses that actually are IMAX. They're approximating shooting on a larger sensor… 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."

This essentially means that scenes shot with the IMAX crop ratio using the virtual camera and coded lenses are being viewed in their entirety, exactly as the team behind it intended, with wide-angle immersiveness at the forefront. Be sure to catch Lightyear in IMAX when it hits theaters on 17 June – and you can catch Pixar's back catalog, including the Toy Story series, on Disney+.

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.