‘Pixar in a Box’ exemplifies the rise of DIY filmmaking

Khan Academy recently announced it will be offering a new class entitled “Pixar in a Box,” where users can learn the tricks of the trade Pixar uses to make films that are now considered all-time classics, such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.” While at first this seems to be just a fun activity one can do online, it actually represents an interesting shift in the entertainment industry as the barriers for creation continue to fall.

While hypothetically anyone could have picked up a camera and made a movie, acquiring of capital has always been an obstacle that kept people out of filmmaking. In recent years, however, the proliferation of high quality cameras on smartphones and accessible editing software has made film production relatively accessible. We live in a world where if someone wants to make a movie the only thing stopping them is their own hesitation.

Animation, on the other hand, is a different ball game. The physical equipment needed to create an animated film is mostly in software and the high-end ones are difficult to acquire. While shooting and editing can often be learned on the fly, animation software takes actual sit-down lessons and instruction to master — though the same certainly helps for shooting and editing. This is where these lessons from Pixar can really come in handy, as it will give people the technical skills necessary to go out and make films that could eventually rival Pixar’s own.

Looking at it from all sides of the equation, it’s pretty clear how a class like this benefits the consumer, especially since the class is free. The question is then, how does this benefit Pixar, and by extension, Khan Academy? The answer, I think, is a lesson in brand building for both companies.

When people think of Pixar, they of course think of animated films, but they also think “quality” and “emotion.” When you watch a Pixar movie, you know you’re going to see a movie that is not only visually stunning, but also well thought out and extremely clever. Pixar has spent now over 20 years building up this brand quality, and by offering a class of some of their secrets, it sends a message that they not only care about the quality of their films, but the quality of the art of animation. When we see one of their movies, we think Pixar cares about us, and a class like this is their way of indicating, “Yes! We do care about you!” Next time Pixar comes out with a film, people will not only feel more included, but will also have learned some tricks that could enhance the viewing experience. And if you want to tell your friends, that’s more power to Pixar.

For Khan Academy, this is an amazing get, as the big name brings people to their service. The hope is that this course will energize current users of the service, and raise awareness for those who don’t. Best-case scenario, people try out the Pixar class, really enjoy it, and stay for more courses. It appears to be working, considering they are getting an article here.

This is the very rare instance in the entertainment industry where everyone wins, as Khan Academy and Pixar can beef up their brands while providing an actual tool to consumers who want to be educated. While do-it-yourself animation has not quite taken off like live action, and as software becomes more affordable and more classes pop up I expect to see a whole new generation of self-taught animators appear.

Now the question is, how long until one of Pixar’s students becomes Pixar’s teacher?

Erik Benjamin is a sophomore television, radio and film major. His column appears weekly in Pulp. You can email him at or follow him @embenjamin14 on Twitter.


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