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The Blue Umbrella – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Pixar Short of the Week, Shorts, The Blue Umbrella

Posted by Joanna • January 20, 2019

“The Blue Umbrella” celebrated its 5th anniversary last year. It played before Monsters University in 2013, and is one of Pixar’s most photorealistic shorts to date. It’s a simple ‘boy meets girl’ love story, except: our two love-struck characters are umbrellas, and blue and one red. Because why not?

Yes, there are plenty Pixar projects that focus on bringing inanimate objects to life. But “The Blue Umbrella” does this in a wonderfully smart and observant way. Director Saschka Unseld highlighted that this is one of the main drivers of animation – breathing life into things that are usually lifeless.

The photorealism is partly the crew deservedly showing off their skills in effects, animation, and lighting. But it’s also a deliberate choice. Unseld wanted to show the audience a real world – convincing enough that you could easily be fooled into thinking it was live-action – before bringing the city to life. One minute the viewer is staring in awe at how real it all looks; the raindrops, the wet pavements, the way the traffic lights and car lights make everything glow; and the next minute the drain pipes and mailboxes are blinking and smiling. This enhances the magic of the short hugely.

You can tell the crew went out to the streets to find as many faces in inanimate objects as they could. The faces haven’t been lazily tacked on to them. Instead, naturally placed screws, bolts and openings form facial features that you could imagine pointing out in real life. It’s fun to find patterns in everyday objects and project personalities onto them, and “The Blue Umbrella” does exactly this but in a very thoughtful, restrained way. The umbrellas, however, have simple but iconic faces composited onto them.

As with all Pixar films, a lot of creativity went into the making of “The Blue Umbrella”, and this is obvious from seeing the finished product. Even the screenplay was written like a poem and is beautiful in itself.

“And in the middle of them
is a bright blue umbrella.

He looks around and with him
we see that
it’s not only the umbrellas that are happy.

Everything in the city
that is made for rain
is cheering.

They all love the rain so much
that together
they start to sing a song.

Rooftops,
gurgling rain pipes,
bus stop shelters…
…all together
they sing a song
to celebrate the rain.”

The city and the rain create a love song for the blue and red umbrellas. The music for the short really helps create this feeling. Composer Jon Brion incorporated steady raindrop sounds into the suite, and together with vocals by Sarah Jaffe, the piece has this immensely relaxing, heartening effect on the listener.

Pixar encourage employees from all sorts of departments to pitch short film ideas. Unseld, who started off in the cinematography department, was inspired to pitch “The Blue Umbrella” when he saw a broken umbrella laying on the side of the street. It made him feel so sad: the material sagged, the way the broken metal supports stuck out at weird angles almost resembled broken bones… Unseld stood there feeling sorry for this poor inanimate object while everyone else continued to walk by. It’s fitting that he went on to create a story that made thousands of people around the world feel so strongly for one blue umbrella.

Some fun facts about “The Blue Umbrella”:

  • At the end of the short, the couple (plus umbrellas) go to café called La Parapluie Café. Parapluie is French for umbrella!
  • Composer Jon Brion also composed the music for Paranorman, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Lady Bird.
  • Finding a way to create the umbrellas’ faces was tricky – they tried making them out of raindrops, or impressions in the cloth. In the end, a stylised face seemed the best fit.

Concept art by Harley Jessup

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Sanjay’s Super Team – The Pixar Short of The Week

Pixar Short of the Week, Sanjay Patel, Sanjay's Super Team, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Simoa • January 12, 2019

“Sanjay’s Super Team” emerged the victor in this week’s poll, which I’m very happy about! I’ve been waiting to delve back into this short ever since we launched our short film series. Premiering before The Good Dinosaur in 2015, it was met with unanimous praise and approval.

Inspired by director Sanjay Patel’s childhood, this mostly true story wasn’t, at first. Patel was actually very reluctant to make it a personal film, but some encouragement from both his father and John Lasseter prompted him to shine the spotlight on his younger self. “Sanjay’s Super Team” is not only Pixar’s first film with a nonwhite protagonist, but the first to feature a non Western culture as well.

There are two rituals being practiced in this short. One is sacred while the other is a distinctly American pastime. Sanjay and his father sit on opposite sides of the room which further illustrates the contrast between their two activities. Note how the television and prayer box are the same shape, the antennae mirroring the incense sticks. Also note how Sanjay is on the left (West) side, while his father is on the right (East) side.

The boy runs to the television set and gleefully begins watching his favorite superhero cartoon. His father is quiet as he kneels before his prayer box. He rings a bell which signals to Sanjay that it’s time to pray. The boy ignores him and instead raises the volume on the TV. But his father has the remote, and he turns the TV off and takes away his son’s action figure too. A thoroughly uninterested Sanjay joins his father, sighing about the whole ordeal. He sneaks the toy back from under his father’s nose and its cape accidentally catches fire from the flame in the oil lamp. Sanjay ends up blowing out the flame and is transported to a cavernous temple. Sanjay is all alone in this dark, cold place, until a monster unfurls from the giant oil lamp in the center of the temple, a creature made of darkness. The monster proceeds to destroy the temple. Sanjay lights the oil lamp, and three Hindu gods come to life: Vishnu, Durga, and Hanuman.

Now the temple is filled with both light and warmth. The deities evoke tranquility in the midst of chaos. They attempt to quell the monster’s attacks, but only succeed momentarily. It’s up to Sanjay to restore peace, and he does so by smashing his action figure against the oil lamp. The reverberating echoes, not unlike the ringing of his father’s bell, calm the monster and he departs peacefully. As the older Patel remarked, the monster is a metaphor for little Sanjay’s own chaotic energy. His father also wanted him to be calm. And when little Sanjay is finally still, he reaches enlightenment, much like the monster who ceases his destruction of the temple.

Sanjay receives a blessing from Vishnu, along with his repaired toy, and returns home. His father allows him to watch TV again once he sees that the boy has no interest in his customs. But Sanjay now has a much better understanding – and appreciation – of his father’s religion and beliefs.

Although “Sanjay’s Super Team” lacks dialogue, it’s a symphony of sounds, as well as light and color. Mychael Danna’s score achieves an epic and adventurous sound, that blends in seamlessly with the chimes of both bells and light. The short’s bold designs and lighting also sets it apart from other Pixar features. The light behaves much differently than it would normally. There’s a glossy sheen to the light and textures within the temple, making the deities almost appear translucent.

There’s also a gracefulness to the short, evident in the movements of the deities. That was a result of studying Indian dances, such as Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Kathakali.

But there’s gracefulness in the narrative too. The story grew from Patel’s own experiences of ignoring his family’s culture and instead gravitating to an American one. He didn’t want to be different at all. “I wanted my name to be Travis, not Sanjay.” So the short’s conclusion, in which he envisions the deities as his own superheroes and proudly shows his artwork to his father, is especially touching. Sanjay realizes that he can unite his passions and his father’s traditions, that he can embrace his Indian heritage and his American one.

“If I could, I would go back to the 1980s and give my younger self this short. I want to normalise and bring a young brown boy’s story to the pop culture zeitgeist. To have a broad audience like Pixar’s see this … it is a big deal.”

“Sanjay’s Super Team” is not only a gift for Sanjay Patel’s younger self, but for the audience as well.

Fun facts:

  • Sanjay doesn’t have an age – at least his older counterpart doesn’t know how old he actually is!
  • The kid art in the end credits was drawn by the children of Pixar employees.
  • Vishnu, the blue deity, represents Sanjay’s father. He’s known as the preserver, and that’s what Sanjay’s father did with his traditions.
  • Vishnu’s blue color is also central to the short, as the flame is blue and so are Sanjay’s pajamas.
  • The motel that Patel’s parents managed is also the same one in the short.

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Geri’s Game – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Geri's Game, Pixar Short of the Week, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • January 5, 2019

“Geri’s Game” is one of Pixar’s most memorable shorts, despite it being over 20 years old now. It came out in 1997, and was then played before A Bug’s Life in November of 1998. Even though its age means that current technology has totally surpassed the level of detail they were able to include in “Geri’s Game”, the short has aged incredibly well and is still fondly recognised as many people’s favourite animated short.

“Geri’s Game”, directed by Jan Pinkava (who went on to co-direct Ratatouille), tells a simple but effective story of an old man (Geri) playing a game of chess against himself. There is only one character in the short, but the clever use of editing, camera angles, and animation give the illusion of there actually being two ‘Geri’s competing against each other. It’s the animation especially that makes this illusion so endearing – one Geri is frail and withdrawn, peering uncertainly through his glasses and moving each of his white chess pieces with shaky hands, while the other Geri sits confidently with a smug look on his face. He doesn’t seem to need his glasses to plan out his next move – as soon as takes his place at the chess table he moves each black pawn, knight or rook quickly and decisively.

“Geri’s Game” shows how important facial expressions and gestures are in determining a character’s personality. Here, the Geri playing with the black chess pieces oozes confidence.

The Geri playing with the white pieces is withdrawn and unsure.

The confident Geri is somehow the much better chess player, but the other Geri manages to win the game in a more unconventional way – he fakes a heart attack and spins the chessboard around while his foe is distracted. And the prize for winning? Geri’s very own pair of dentures.

The story is silly, but it also shows a heartwarming insight into an old man facing the loneliness head-on – loneliness is a huge issue with the elderly, but it’s lovely to see Geri having fun in his own company, even if it’s a little crazy. At the time it was released, it must have really shown the potential 3D animation had for creating characters full of personality and illustrating stories that people feel invested in.  It won the 1997 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and you can see why – while modern day 3D animation generally looks much more detailed and impressive, “Geri’s Game” made good use of its limited technology. Geri’s character model may not be staggeringly beautiful by today’s admittedly high standards, but the animation is wonderful – next time you watch the short, pay attention to how his elderly hands shake, how he walks carefully and deliberately, and how different his two personas move and behave. Pixar shorts are often used as a form of practice in a way, and you can tell “Geri’s Game” was used to focus on improving their animation and modelling of humans.

Concept art by director Jan Pinkava

Some fun facts:

  • There is one shot where both ‘Geri’s can be seen at once. Pinkava assures us this was an intentional joke.
  • Geri appeared again in Toy Story 2 as the toy repairman who made Woody look as good as new. The toy repairman was a last-minute character addition, so using an old model as a starting point saved them a lot of time.
  • Geri is voiced by Bob Peterson, who has also lent his voice to Dug (Up), Roz (Monsters Inc.) and Mr. Ray (Finding Nemo).
  • Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Incredibles 2) told Pinkava that one of the reasons he came to Pixar was because of “Geri’s Game” – it showed him that human animation was possible using 3D techniques.

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Lava: The Pixar Short of The Week

James Ford Murphy, Lava, Pixar Short Films Collection, Pixar Short of the Week, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Simoa • December 14, 2018

This week, “Lava” was the overwhelming favorite in our latest twitter short film poll.

I have to admit, I was more than a bit surprised that “Lava” won, and by such a large margin. I remember the short being distinctly unpopular when it first premiered in 2015, paired with Inside Out. There were lots of complaints about “Lava,” ranging from the story (or lack thereof) to the character designs. And while some of those negative responses are reasonable (to an extent), I think this short does have its merits. Maybe “Lava” isn’t technically or narratively groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be.

I saw Inside Out nine times in theaters, which means I also saw “Lava” nine times! And at almost every viewing, the reaction to Uku, the male volcano, opening his mouth to sing was derisive laughter. I couldn’t ever see what was so funny about it. What made me laugh wasn’t the short itself, but my mother’s wry observation at its conclusion: “Well, there’s someone for everybody.” And isn’t that just like Pixar, to not only anthropomorphize volcanoes, but make them yearn for romance and everlasting love? Sure, as someone in one of the above critical pieces noted, Pixar already did it before with umbrellas…but these are volcanoes! Massive ruptures in the earth’s crust that literally erupt fire and destroy everything in their path. But the volcanoes in “Lava” are gentle, with friendly faces and sweet singing voices.

Uku (Kuana Torres Kahele) is a lonely volcano in the middle of the sea who sings about finding his one true love.

“I wish that the earth, sea, and the sky up above-a
Will send me someone to lava.”

Thousands of years pass and he remains alone, literally eroded and sinking into the sea. One of the most brilliant moments of the short is the time lapse representing all these years.

via Giphy

And how quietly devastating is the sight of a volcano on the brink of extinction, never once experiencing the love that all the animals around him do? Turtles, dolphins, birds — all have a special someone, except for this craggy mountain of rock. He once bloomed in verdant greens, with bright sparks of red-orange lava, but all of that rich color and life disappear.

But not all hope is lost. Lele (Napua Greig) is an underwater volcano who believes Uku’s song is for her. She bursts forth to the surface while Uku descends into the sea. When she starts singing his song, Uku, reinvigorated by music and love, rises back up to join her, and they form an island called Ukulele.

“Lava” is considered by many to be Pixar’s weakest. Some people are a bit more extreme in their assessment, calling it the worst thing Pixar has ever made, offensive (!), worthless, total garbage. Dana Stevens over at Slate declared it an embarrassingly terrible horror show, but only after she spent four long winded paragraphs talking about other film releases in 2015. Truly bizarre! I might not agree with my nephew that “Lava” is Pixar’s greatest short, but I definitely trust his opinion more than anyone else’s.

concept art

Director James Ford Murphy was inspired by his love of Hawaii, where he honeymooned with his wife over 25 years ago. He also wrote the short’s eponymous song and first pitched it at Pixar by singing and playing it on his ukulele. The song’s inspiration came from Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s beautifully haunting rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” which is very meaningful to Murphy. What he really wanted was to create something just like it in movie form.

There’s also the level of immaculate detail we usually expect from Pixar, particularly the inspiration from actual volcanic geology. Murphy also incorporated Lōʻihi, an underwater volcano, into the short. Lōʻihi formed the basis for “Lava,” as Murphy wondered if this volcano knew about Hawaii (the Big Island) and vice versa.

What I love most about the short’s backstory is that Lōʻihi came to represent Murphy’s sister, who married in her 40s.

“As my sister stood up on the altar, I thought about how happy she was and how long she’d waited for her very special day. There, at my sister’s wedding, I remembered Loihi and I had an epiphany… What if my sister was a volcano? And what if volcanoes spend their entire lives searching for love, like humans do?”

We got the answer in a sweet 7 minute musical.

Some fun facts:

  • Uku and Lele’s eyes were originally lava, but the result was creepy and they ended up looking too much like jack-o-lanterns.
  • The clouds around the two volcanoes were based on weather patterns and were also meant to resemble hula skirts and leis.
  • The voices of Uku and Lele, Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig, found out they had both attended hula school together when they met in the recording studio.
  • Did you know the Pizza Planet Truck appears in the short? Look very closely at one of the constellations in the sky during the time lapse!

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Day & Night – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Day & Night, Pixar Short of the Week, Short Film, Shorts, Teddy Newton

Posted by Joanna • December 7, 2018

“Day & Night” is the much-loved Pixar short that played before Toy Story 3 in 2010, and it still stands as one of the most unique shorts in the studio’s history.

It explores the inspired 2D-3D world of Day and Night – two polar opposite characters with, to begin with, a total lack of empathy for each other. The short opens with a fully 3D animated scene, and the audience is lulled into a false sense of familiarity: Pixar does 3D animation! This is what we’ve all come to expect (the genius Ratatouille short “Your Friend the Rat” is a clear exception here, along with lots of creative credits scenes). This is where “Day & Night” hits us with the first of many clever surprises – this 3D world we’ve been looking at is all inside not one, but two 2D animated characters. Inside Day are sunny fields, bright mornings and singing birds, while inside Night are moonlit meadows, glinting stars and chirping crickets.

These two characters live in the same world – in fact, the entire short only uses a single camera – but the “Day & Night” crew managed to pull off this seamless day-night contrast between scenes inside each of the characters. They live in the same world, but they see it so differently. It’s only as they discover more about each other that they begin to see the beauty in their opposite’s perspective. This is such an important message – one that can apply to absolutely everyone who’s had the joy of watching the short.

There are so many things to appreciate about “Day & Night”: the particularly relevant message, the knitting together of wildly different animation techniques, the use of sound… Initially, director Teddy Newton wanted to use only natural sounds to create the soundtrack of the film, but eventually Michael Giacchino was enlisted to compose music for it too. The music was only used where music would naturally be – playing on a radio on the beach, or blasting out of Las Vegas casinos.

There are so many smart visual and audio gags in “Day and Night” – ducks quacking to mimic laughter, squeaky bicycle wheels to imitate Day rubbing his eyes. Here, Night is hanging off a cliff edge.

The finale to “Day & Night” is perhaps what sticks with people the most – Day and Night are distracted by a radio broadcast, which is a snippet from a Dr Wayne Dyer (author and motivational speaker) lecture.

“Fear of the unknown. They are afraid of new ideas. They are loaded with prejudices, not based upon anything in reality, but based on … if something is new, I reject it immediately because it’s frightening to me. What they do instead is just stay with the familiar. You know, to me, the most beautiful things in all the universe are the most mysterious.”

It’s after hearing this recording that Day and Night finally understand the beauty in one another’s world views – it’s people’s differences that make our world so full of wonder. A synchronised sunrise and sunset show that Day and Night may be very different, but it’s still possible to connect with one another.

In the commentary for “Day & Night” from director Teddy Newton and Camera Polisher and Stereographer Sandra Karpman, Newton comments on the fact that many viewers’ favourite part is when Day and Night almost seem to become each other and switch places. He explains that they don’t turn into each other. “They’re still who they are. They’re still the same person. It’s just that the thing inside them has changed. They come out of the experience seeing the world in a new way, empathising with the other’s world view.”

That’s a pretty brilliant message to be putting out there.

Some fun facts:

  • Director Teddy Newton would hear this recording of Dr Wayne Dyer while he was growing up because his mother owned an audio recording of one of his lectures. He felt the quote so perfectly fit the theme of “Day & Night” and it couldn’t not be included.
  • Pixar treated Dr Wayne Dyer to a screening of “Day & Night” as a way of saying thank you.
  • Initially, Newton came up with the idea of a keyhole character with the 3D world inside it. In the end, he decided the characters needed to be more mobile to be able to tell a story, so the keyhole concept gradually evolved into the walking and (kind of) talking Day and Night characters that we see now.
  • Newton lent his voice to Chatter Telephone in Toy Story 3 and Mini Buzz in the Toy Story Toon “Small Fry”.

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La Luna – The Pixar Short Of The Week

La Luna, Pixar Short of the Week, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Simoa • November 30, 2018

Premiering at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2011, Enrico Casarosa’s “La Luna” would go on to captivate viewers worldwide when it debuted in theaters before Brave a year later.

“La Luna” continues the Pixar tradition of evoking a deep sense of wonderment, but it’s distinct among the studio’s short films for both its visual and storytelling style. The official synopsis describes this mini masterpiece as a ‘timeless fable,’ where a young boy goes to work for the first time with his family.

Bambino (boy in Italian) sets out on a nighttime voyage across the sea in a small boat with his Papa (Pixar’s Tony Fucile) and Nonno (grandfather). The three are dressed similarly in brown overalls, and Nonno presents Bambino with a matching hat like the one he and Papa wear. They both disagree on the proper way Bambino should wear it, which is only the start of their disagreements and bickering. Bambino is uncomfortable being in the middle of their squabble. The three sit in silence, totally surrounded by water and sky, waiting; for what? Bambino doesn’t know himself. The answer comes in the short’s first awe inspiring moment, when the moon rises into the sky, its reflection rippling the calm water. It’s massive and so close.

Bambino is given an anchor, and then Papa reveals a ladder that…goes up to the moon! The timid boy lands on the moon’s surface and discovers that its covered in golden stars. They fill up all the craters too.

This is the family’s extraordinary line of work. Papa and Nonno are the moon’s janitors. They’ve even got a broom shed up there. They sweep the stars off the moon’s surface, and now they’re teaching Bambino to carry on the work. As they did with Bambino’s hat, the two men quarrel about what kind of broom he should use. This time however, Bambino’s wonder and joy eclipse their bickering.

Shooting star concept art

The feeling I get when I watch “La Luna” is almost indescribable. It’s glowing with warmth, which owes a lot to the film’s use of colors and texture. Casarosa wanted to bring as much of a watercolor look to the film as was possible with a computer. The result is a stunning, as close to a painting as you’ll get in CG, bit of work. That glorious shot of the moonrise is actually watercolor! Casarosa also wrote and illustrated a storybook version, which is only too fitting considering its whimsical artwork and the simple way it unfolds onscreen.

Concept art by Dice Tsutsimi.

On Pixar’s site, this detail about Papa and Nonno illuminates one of the short’s messages even more.

“Covered by the signs of age, the two adult men’s eyes cannot be seen. Nor can they see as clearly and widely as the boy, whose large eyes are unobstructed and clear.”

Both men have lost their sense of joy and wonder. Climbing a ladder up to the moon no longer excites or delights them. And that’s one of the many things I love about this short. It champions looking at the world through the eyes of a child, where the things we’re used to, yes, even something as grand as the moon, are always new and extraordinary.

Casarosa’s inspiration for “La Luna” came from three sources. The first was his own childhood in Italy where he was often in the middle of his father and grandfather’s arguments. Like “Bao,” this short film is a magical tale rooted in the director’s personal experiences. The personal always strengthens Pixar’s narratives, no matter how fantastical. Casarosa was also influenced by Hayao Miyzaki and Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince. But the boat and ladder come directly from Italo Calvino’s short story, “The Distance of the Moon.”

The crescent moons in Bambino’s eyes are not only a charming design choice, but another contrast between him, Papa, and Nonno. He sees what they can’t!

“La Luna” is Pixar’s most elegant and poetic offering to date. Michael Giacchino’s score is a lunar lullaby. The film’s sound design is also on par with its visuals. Have you ever wondered what stars sound like? The short gives us an idea with their soft clattering. And the way the giant star sings when Bambino’s touch sends ripples echoing through it – it’s just divine.

Something Enrico Casarosa said about this short has stayed with me for years.

“Trust your inspiration. You can stand on the shoulders of tradition and still find your own way.”

That’s not only true for Bambino, and of course, all of us trying to find our way in the world, but for the director, too. There’s plenty of poems, stories, and artwork inspired by the moon. “La Luna” found its way to be one of the most mesmerizing.

Tidbits & fun facts:

  • The time period is the 1930s.
  • Papa and Nonno speak Italian gibberish.
  • Bambino is on a poster in Riley’s classroom in Inside Out.
  • Papa’s thick mustache was based on Mr. Duffi‘s from Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky (1986).
  • Giacchino was brought on to score the film after a recording session for Cars 2. Casarosa told him to ‘dig into [his] Italian roots.’

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Presto – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Pixar Short Films Collection, Pixar Short of the Week, Presto, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Nia • November 23, 2018

This week’s Pixar Short that was hand picked by Twitter followers in our latest poll is the underrated “Presto”! The short premiered in front of WALL-E back in 2008.

The film tells a simple story of famed and ever-so-dapper magician named Presto Digiotagione and his gorgeous white rabbit Alec Azam. The short starts in Preto’s dressing room as we’re introduced to Alec, who is unfortunately locked in his cage. His stomach begins to roar like a tiger; it’s clear he’s famished and eyeing the carrot that’s obviously out of reach. After several failed attempts to scoot his cage in the direction of the carrot and finally get his snack, Presto enters the dressing room and foils Alec’s plans of satisfying his hunger.

When Presto realizes it’s almost time for him to be on stage, he quickly starts preparing for his magic show. He makes sure all the locks are shut on his door and eyes his dressing room suspiciously before unlocking his dresser revealing his, drum-roll please, magic hats. His act is based off two hats that are linked to each other, one that is shaped like Sorcerer Mickey’s hat from Fantasia and the other like your standard black magicians’s hat. Whoever, or whatever, is wearing the sorcerer hat, Presto can reach his hand through his magician’s hat to pull the object or animal through, thus completing his bit. It’s clear when the show starts, Alec is fed up and just wants his snack. This causes Presto’s act to not go as planned as he desperately tries to get Alec to put the sorcerer’s hat on so he can pull Alec through his magician’s hat. Instead, what proceeds is a slew of comical bits where instead of Alec coming through the magician’s hat it’s an egg to Presto’s face, Presto’s hand stuck in a mouse trap, a ladder flying through and hitting Presto where it hurts, and even Presto himself as he survives a death defying stunt at the end resulting in Alec’s refusal to listen to him. Albeit his show looking like a disaster for Presto he ends up delivering one of the most exhilarating magic acts of his career. In the end, despite things going awry, Alec gets his carrot and Presto gets even more acclaim.

This short is one of my all-time favorites. What draws me to it each time is the fact that it pays homage to all the great shorts that came before it; from Looney Tunes to the classic Tom and Jerry episodes, the inspiration is obvious in the gags that pull the story from beginning to end. You could even say that Alec, with his motivations and character design, is a modern day Bugs Bunny. “Presto” thrives in gags that bring the plot forward and help carry the story; it’s clear that the set-up is going to be Alec wanting his carrot and doing anything to get it, even if it means embarrassing Presto and ruining his career. Each gag is escalated the more that Alec doesn’t get what he wants and in return there is never a dull moment.

Some fun tidbits about “Presto”:

  • I love the fact that Presto himself was modeled after my favorite actor William Powell. His physicality and charm (even at Presto’s worse moments) throughout the short is based off the actor. You could even see a little bit of Nick Charles from The Thin Man in Presto’s mannerisms throughout the short.

  • Pete Docter and his team actually re-used the theater that’s seen in Presto for the newsreel in the opening of Up. The stage that Charles Muntz reveals the skeleton on is the same one seen in the short.

  • If you look on the second balcony all the way on the left you will be able to see two iconic characters from the Muppets watching Presto’s magic show: Satler and Waldorf. I wonder what they thought of the performance…

  • “Presto” was nominated for Best Animated Short Subject at the 36th Annie Awards and was also nominated for Best Animated Short Film. Despite Presto not winning any awards, it was still well received and is even more beloved today.

If you haven’t seen “Presto” before or you would like a well deserved re-watch, you can check out the short below:

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Piper – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Piper, Pixar Short Films Collection, Pixar Short of the Week, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • November 13, 2018

The Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 3 is out on Digital and Blu-ray today – why not give “Piper” a watch and then dive into this little Pixar short exploration?

Since premiering before Finding Dory in June 2016, “Piper” has quickly become a firm favourite with Pixar fans, and even went on to win the 2017 Oscar for Best Animated Short. This is our first post in our ‘Pixar Short Of The Week’ series, where our Twitter followers vote on what short they’d like us to delve into next. “Piper” won with over 50% of the votes in this week’s poll – I think that alone tells you how beloved it is. It ticks all the boxes – very cute, heart-warming message, a sense of humour, beautiful to watch… And I’ve found that I appreciate it even more now in 2018 than I did when I first watched it in theatres two years ago.

Piper concept art

This is, in part, due to my new-found passion for birdwatching. I don’t know how many people share this joint interest in Pixar and birdwatching, but if any of you are out there, I’m sure you’ll agree that “Piper” is the dream.

Fun fact (maybe): On pixar.com, Piper is described as a Sandpiper – director Alan Barillaro was inspired by ‘watching Sandpipers react to waves and run on the beach’. But ‘Sandpipers’ are actually a large family of birds. Piper is in fact a Sanderling (Calidris alba, as opposed to Hungrius Littlus Birdis) – these are the birds that run in and out with the waves, poking around in the ‘intertidal zone’ for food. They are also the only birds in the Sandpiper family that lack a hind toe – and look!

No hind toe! (Especially obvious if you look at Piper’s mum’s feet).

This is what I love so much about “Piper” – it achieves this perfect balance of realism and magic. On the one hand, the level of detail is such that I can do bird identification, but it’s also a short about a precious baby bird expressing real human emotions and overcoming her fears through a friendship with a tiny crab. It’s a technological triumph, but – and this is the key to the success of the film – it’s also a wonderfully told story.

“Piper” actually started out as a project to push the limits of new animation technology, which is made apparent when you see the animation of individual grains of sand, the frothy movement of the waves, and the independent fluttering of feathers. I love that people appreciate the sheer skill that has gone into the creation of the short, but are also able to just enjoy it and immerse themselves in it.

Look at that feather animation! Look at the sand!

Piper concept art. They even got the Sanderling plumage spot on.

The birds are stylised, but realistic. You can tell the aim wasn’t to fool the viewer into thinking they’re watching a live action sequence. Honestly, it looks better than live action. It looks better than real life! The way they experimented with camera movements and depth of field makes it all so captivating. And the “Piper” crew was able to design the characters in such a way that they can express more emotion.

This is important, because “Piper” is also amongst the many Pixar shorts that have zero dialogue – the connection you feel to the characters is not brought about through words, but is instead completely reliant on their facial expressions and behaviour, along with the music (by the legendary Adrian Belew). It’s the subtle yet complex animation that makes all this possible. Barillaro was inspired by Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E when finding ways to animate communication between non-speaking, non-human subjects. Their gestures are understandable, but the birds haven’t been so heavily anthropomorphised that the ‘otherworldly charm’ is lost.

The message that I take away from “Piper” is that fear is there to be overcome, and life will feel all the sweeter once you’re on the other side of it. By the end of the short, Piper not only gets over her fear of the waves, but completely submerges herself in them! It’s not unlike what Poppa told Arlo at the beginning of The Good Dinosaur in the warm light of thousands of fireflies: “Sometimes you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.”

“You gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.”

Some more fun facts:

  • Yes, Piper is a girl.
  • The composer for Piper, Adrian Belew, is perhaps best known for being in the band King Crimson and working alongside stars such as David Bowie and Frank Zappa.
  • Barillaro took a go-pro to a Hawaiian beach, where the water was nice and clear, to get research footage for the underwater scenes.
  • They recorded pieces of the soundtrack being played underwater in the Pixar pool – these recordings were used in the surround sound during the underwater scenes.

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