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The Making of Bao: Story, design inspiration, and more!

Bao, Behind The Scenes, Domee Shi, Interview, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Nia • April 23, 2018

Bao is Pixar’s new theatrical short that will be playing this summer in front of the Incredibles 2. It’s one of my favorite shorts from Pixar and it goes without saying – the film is full of scrumptious designs and a heartwarming story that will have you begging for more. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our review of the film.

During my most recent trip to Pixar I learned some fantastic things about the making of Bao from director Domee Shi, production designer Rona Liu, and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb.

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

  1. Bao has two meanings in Chinese: steamed bun and to treasure something precious. Domee thought it would be the perfect title for a story about “a precious little steam bun.”
  2. Domee’s #1 obsession in life, outside of animation, is obviously food (and I don’t blame her – I think about food 24/7). “I love food, not just eating it, but drawing it as well.” Before the days of Bao, Domee was making art about food and posting it online. You might remember some of the food related gags and little food-centric comics from her My Food Fantasies
  3. Domee was also inspired by food folk tales because “they’re so cute and strange – like the little gingerbread man and that one song, there was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” With Bao, she was inspired to do a Chinese version of all those folk takes she loved.
  4. According to Domee, the first ingredient to Bao was obviously food and the second ingredient was what she knew best: growing up as an only child. Domee’s family was a small immigrant family that moved from China and lived in Toronto. Domee’s father worked a lot and because of that she spent a lot of time with her mom growing up. Her mom would hold her close whenever she could and treated her like a “delicate little dumpling.” When Domee started growing up and doing things on her own, it was hard for her mom to let go and she’d tell Domee,“I wish I could put you back in my stomach so I’d know exactly where you were at all times.” Domee even said, “It’s that creepy sweet love of a mom who doesn’t want to let go of her little dumpling that was the spark that became the heart of the story.”

    ©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  5. Domee wasn’t only inspired by her relationship with her mom, but she was inspired by her. She is a “dumpling Queen.” Food was how Domee’s mom showed her love for her and they formed a special bond making dumplings together over the years for numerous holidays and events. “In Chinese culture, food and family go hand in hand. When you want to show that you care about someone and that you love someone, you don’t say ‘I love you’ you say ‘have you eaten yet?'”
  6. Her mom was involved in the research for Bao. She’d come in to do “dumpling making demos” for the animators and effects and simulation artists.

    (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

  7. The third ingredient for this short was Chinatown, specifically Chinatown in Toronto where Domee grew up. She wanted to honor that setting and the equally vibrant Chinatown grannies. “I wanted to celebrate their bold colors, their keen eye when it comes to picking out the freshest produce, and their determination to get the best deals in town.”
  8. The style of Bao was inspired by 2D Japanese animation, especially the visual styles of My Neighbors the Yamatas and One Piece. Domee “loved how squishy the characters looked and how pushed their expressions were.”

    ©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  9. Though translating 2D designs to 3D was the biggest obstacle Domee and her team had to get past. Some poses and expressions didn’t translate as well when it was created with 3D software, since 3D itself is its own medium. Some of the design aspects Domee wanted to pull from My Neighbors the Yamatas or One Piece were going to be an challenge, like the mother’s massive head and exaggerated limbs, but there’s nothing that a little planning can’t solve, especially in animation production. In the end, after trial and error, they were able to combine 2D graphic design and 3D modeling, which gave Domee range to achieve what she wanted.
  10. Production designer Rona Liu “oversaw all the visuals in the film.” Her job was to work with the different departments to make sure the look was cohesive and adhered to Domee’s vision.
  11. According to Rona, Domee wanted the short to look and feel very, very cute. It was also heavily influenced by Japanese folk art. She loved the “simple and graphic designs and the fact that a slice of life was the main subject… she wanted to borrow some of that philosophy with Bao, while keeping focus on the characters as much as possible.”
  12. The patterns on the mother’s clothes supported her emotional journey throughout the film. When the mother is unhappy and lonely, Rona used muted colors. When the mother is happy, the colors were “bold and red and auspicious.”
  13. The environment also played a supporting role to the characters. The background designs used throughout the short are not perfectly straight; if you look closely at some of the sets in the trailer and even when you see the film this summer, you’ll find that none of edges actually meet perfectly together, lines are wibbly wobbly. The mother’s house in particular had to reflect that she was an immigrant, a “blend of East meets West.” Rona had decided all the built-ins in the mother’s kitchen would be Western, while all the things the mother buys would be Chinese. 
  14. According to producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, the pork filling was the hardest thing for the effects artists to figure out. “It took two months for them to master the look and feel of the pork filling for the short.” What made the food effects so challenging was that, “we’re all experts as to what food looks like.” And food is the star in Bao, so “if it didn’t look perfect or believable it would pull the audience out of the story.”

Make sure you save lots of room for dessert because Bao is coming to theaters June 15th!

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Spoiler Free Review: Pixar’s Bao Is A Delicious And Heartwarming Treat

Bao, Domee Shi, Review, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Nia • April 23, 2018

Earlier this month I was one of the first audiences to watch Pixar’s new theatrical short Bao. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the film since then, and I’m still 100% certain it might be one of my favorite shorts to come from the studio.

Bao is directed by Domee Shi and she just so happens to be the first female to direct a short film at Pixar. Although that fact alone is unnerving, considering the studio has been around for 30+ years and their Brain Trust has been notoriously male dominated; it’s inspiring to see the studio finally moving forward and giving others the opportunity to tell their stories.

Domee was born in China and raised in Toronto, which heavily influenced the setting and aesthetics for Bao. Domee is only 28-years-old and landed a Job at Pixar after graduating from college in 2011. Before her directorial debut, Domee was a story artist and had worked on The Good Dinosaur and most recently Inside Out.

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Bao’s initial story started over 4 years ago – while working on Inside Out Domee was feeling that itch to make something herself, a film that was ultimately weird and uniquely hers. Domee had initially intended for the short to be her weekend gig, but when Pixar had an open call for short pitches, she decided to throw her story into the mix and see what would happen.

She first pitched it to Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out, Up, and Monsters Inc., to get his feedback. He was so passionate about the story and enthusiastic about her idea that she decided to pitch it to the studio. And obviously through their support and feedback Bao was green-lit as their next theatrical short.

Bao tells the story of a Chinese mother who’s dealing with an all too familiar feeling among parents: figuring out what to do with their life after their children have grown up and moved out. The empty nest syndrome soon evaporates when the mother discovers that one of the dumpling’s she’s about to eat suddenly springs to life. She’s given another chance at parenthood as she watches her baby dumpling grow up in the world around her. As the story progresses the mother realizes that what she wished stayed precious and innocent soon matures and grows bigger and “doesn’t stay cute forever.”

©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Without giving anything away, here’s what I absolutely adored about the short:

  • As with most of Pixar’s shorts, the entire film was done without any dialogue. There’s always so much that can be said with a glance or a simple touch that 10+ pages of dialogue can never achieve. There were so many precious and heartbreaking moments throughout the short between the mother and her baby dumpling that were conveyed beautifully through the animation, lighting, and overall character design. I don’t think I can even picture this film with even one line of dialogue.
  • The character designs were unique and definitely stood out from previous Pixar films. The characters depicted in the short, from the mother to some of the other human people she interacted with, had massive heads that were un-proportioned to their bodies, sort of like living breathing caricatures. While watching I sometimes wondered how these characters were able to keep balance and walk from one room to the other without tipping over. The overall design of the baby dumpling was both scrumptious and adorable, even when it got older and started growing a little scruff around its chin.
  • I loved the fact that FOOD was the star of this short. OK, baby dumpling aside, there were so many gorgeous close-ups of noodles and vegetables and delicious Chinese desserts that my mouth was watering for the duration of the short; I even had to look around to see if anyone heard my stomach grumbling. The amount of detail that went into the food was mind-blowing – there’s a scene towards the middle of the short when the mother prepares an epic feast for her and the baby dumpling and I still can’t get over the steam rising from the food as it sat on the table, waiting to be eaten.
  • I loved that we were able to be immersed in a different culture, albeit only being for 8-minutes. In Sanjay’s Super Team, the short that played in front of The Good Dinosaur back in 2015, we got a unique look into Sanjay Patel’s childhood and the Hindu traditions of his family. And the same happens in Bao as we experienced an inside look at Domee’s own relationship with her mother as she depicted the Chinese customs she was familiar with growing up.
  • Bao’s story was simple and effective; despite it focusing on Chinese characters and their culture, the messages and heavy themes depicted were universal. In Coco, the film relied on it’s story being told through Miguel and his Mexican culture, but the themes of death and importance of family heritage were both prominent and relatable to everyone all over the world. With Bao, the same can be said with the mother and her Chinese background but the themes of struggling to deal with an empty-nest and accepting your child will one day grow up could be understood by people from all walks of life. I’m not a parent, but I could relate to everything the mother went through based off when I first moved away from home.

Bao is also important to me because my family are immigrants. I was born in the United States but my Grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in WWII to escape the Nazi occupation. I’ve seen similar tales told in live action, but now with the help of Bao, Coco, and Sanjay’s Super Team, it’s helping those types of stories become accepted in the world of animation. I’d love to see more unique films come from the studio moving forwards and I only hope they’re giving more opportunities to talented artists like Domee Shi and Sanjay Patel so that they can tell stories about their families and life experiences.

I really can’t wait for you to see Bao in cinemas June 15th! Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post about the making of Bao, complete with more story and design inspiration.

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Yummy New Look at Pixar’s latest short

Bao, Domee Shi, Short Film

Posted by Simoa • March 30, 2018

“Bao,” the short film set to premiere with Incredibles 2 this summer, got us plenty excited with its short synopsis and the fact that it’s Pixar’s first film (feature length or otherwise), to be directed by a woman. Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, we now have more details on Domee Shi’s directorial debut, as well as some lovely art work!

Much like Sanjay Patel and his directorial effort, “Sanjay’s Super Team,” Shi was inspired by her own childhood as the daughter of Chinese immigrants.

“Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff. I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story. The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.”

Truly one of the most encouraging things is the variety of stories coming out of Pixar, which have been long overdue. And it’s especially wonderful that Pixarians like Patel and Shi are given the opportunities to tell these very specific stories informed by their lives and families. We can’t wait for more updates on what will surely be one of Pixar’s most charming shorts, and can’t wait to see it on June 15th!

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Pixar’s first female-directed short ‘Bao’ to play before Incredibles 2

Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • March 28, 2018

A new Pixar short has been announced! The short film ‘Bao‘, directed by Domee Shi, will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21st, and has been confirmed as the short being paired with Incredibles 2 this June. The Tribeca Film Festival site has provided us with the following synopsis, which has completely piqued our interest:

An empty-nesting Chinese mom gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life. But she must come to terms with the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever.

There is so much encouragement to be taken away from this one 8-minute-long short (which, for the record, will be the longest Pixar short yet). It’s tackling a very real and common experience that is not often spoken about, it’s contributing towards a more diverse representation of different cultures and ethnicities in mainstream media, it’s featuring a female protagonist, and it’s the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman. And a dumpling springing to life has definitely added to our interest in ‘Bao‘ too.

Domee Shi at Pixar Animation Studios, 2015. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

March is Women’s History Month, highlighting and celebrating women’s contributions to our society, both past and present. What better month to receive the news that the next Pixar short will be directed by Domee Shi? Shi has worked as a story artist on Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and Toy Story 4, and has been nominated for an Annie Award for her work as a storyboard artist on Inside Out. We cannot wait to see what story she has to tell when we see Incredibles 2 this summer.

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Review: Lou is Compassion, Lost and Found

Cars 3, Dave Mullins, Lou, Review, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Simoa • June 15, 2017

A lost and found box on the school playground looks very ordinary on the outside, but it’s teeming with life and magic within.

Like most of Pixar’s canon, Lou personifies an inanimate object, or in this case, a handful of lifeless, every day objects. All the lost toys and clothes are assembled into a playground guardian, who is otherwise invisible beneath. Lou is one day challenged by a bully who swipes the belongings of the other children. What begins as a funny battle between Lou and J.J. (the bully), evolves into a tender, moving story about compassion. Bullies hurt others because they’ve been hurt themselves. But rather than simply excuse J.J.’s behavior, Lou offers him the opportunity to give and receive compassion.

A wordless short, Lou is one of the studio’s most innovative creations. As Dave Mullins revealed at the press junket last week, the character was animated entirely by hand, with “no computer shortcuts or simulations.” The animation here is truly impressive, as Lou morphs into a variety of clever shapes and disguises.

You can catch a glimpse of Lou’s immense charm in the exclusive clip below.

See Lou with Cars 3 this Friday!

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More ‘LOU’ details

Dave Mullins, Lou, Pixar, Short Film

Posted by Joanna • June 2, 2017

Some new details about Pixar’s next short ‘LOU’ have surfaced this week on CinemaBlend in the form of “5 fascinating facts”.

LOU will feature a soundtrack written by Christophe Beck, who composed the memorable scores for Frozen and the Disney short Paperman, so we’re definitely in for a treat. By using a very interesting ‘round’ method, with musicians exhibiting great coordination skills, the soundtrack is sure to sound amazingly unique.

In addition to this, many of us will have already seen the character J.J.’s design: he appears in the background of Inside Out in Riley’s classroom! It’s not unusual for Pixar to recycle previously rendered characters and objects (a certain pizza delivery truck comes to mind).

Perhaps most excitingly, in response to the initial pitch for LOU, John Lasseter is reported to have said:

“This character looks like a pain in the ass to do, let’s make it.”

It’s always inspiring to see Pixar deliberately tackling challenges like this. LOU is a character made up of a mass of lost and found objects, and it’s easy to understand how difficult it must have been to animate him as a single living thing and not a collection of disconnected items. They’ve succeeded in doing this in the past – think of the school of fish in Finding Nemo, or the cute Lego character in Toy Story of Terror, or even the 7 limbs of Hank the septopus in Finding Dory – but animating LOU may just be their most impressive effort yet.

Ever since A Bug’s Life, all Pixar feature-length films have been coupled with original short films. The creation of these shorts is a way of encouraging creativity within the studio, and providing new and upcoming directors with confidence and experience. It’s clearly become a tradition that Pixar are particularly proud of, especially with their new internal short film project. It therefore comes as no surprise that the short film preceding the main feature is often equally as magical and compelling. Cars 3 is being released in North American theatres in just a fortnight, but the simultaneous release of LOU is just as exciting! ­

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Pixar Launches New Experimental Shorts Department

30 Years of Pixar, Behind The Scenes, Luxo, Jr., Short Film, SIGGRAPH, Smash and Grab, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B

Posted by Nia • May 28, 2017

It was recently revealed that in August, Pixar will be hosting a panel at SIGGRAPH titled, “Smash and Grab: Off-The-Rails Filmmaking at Pixar.” The summary of the panel gave us some insight into what some of the talented folks have been up to in between projects at the studio:

“Pixar launched an internal, experimental storytelling initiative to create short films without executive oversight, to explore new creative visions and increase studio opportunities. This talk shares Pixar’s six-month journey of creating seven-minute shorts, with limited resources, amidst the backdrop of a busy studio, juggling multiple feature productions.”

Cartoon Brew reported the first film produced through this new division is aptly titled Smash and Grab, and will be directed by Brian Larsen. Larsen himself has plenty of experience at Pixar in the story trenches – serving as Story Supervisor on Brave and Head of Story on Piper, just to name a few.

Pixar’s first few short films, The Adventures of André and Wally B and Luxo JR., initially put the studio on the map and showcased what was to come with technology driving animation. The fact that the studio is continuing to push the boundaries of storytelling with their famed short films, and finding time to make new projects with an already grueling film schedule is quite impressive and inspiring.

We can’t wait to find out more about Smash and Grab, and their new shorts unit.

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Pixar’s New Short Film “Lou” Will Tug At Your Heart Strings

Cars 3, Dave Mullins, Lou, Short Film

Posted by Nia • April 28, 2017

During a press event at Pixar last month, the studio showed some new footage from Cars 3 and Lou, the short film that will accompany the feature this June. A few months prior to the press day, Pixar released only a brief synopsis of the film and a still that showcased the box of toys that will play a pivotal role in the films story.

Lou

Lou is directed by animator Dave Mullins and will focus on a monster, aptly named Lou, who lives in a lost and found box at an elementary school. The monster is a unique design composed strictly of all the items placed in the box, such as a red hoodie, a baseball, a shoe, some buttons, a slinky, and even a handheld video game. It’s certainly interesting to see in the footage and the images released how much Lou was personified – after all, he’s composed of a plethora of inanimate objects. It’s clear that Pixar’s challenge with technology this time around was bringing this character to life and making him just as convincing as the toys in Toy Story or even the umbrellas and the city in The Blue Umbrella. The items that make the monster aren’t threatening at all, which make him even more lovable and less like a monster – just a mythical creature composed from children’s lost toys. At the end of recess every day, Lou collects all the lost items that are found in the playground and takes them back to the box for safe keeping. It’s then that he notices a bully who has been snatching his classmates personal items, so Lou takes it upon himself to handle the situation (in a perfectly Pixar fashion).

Dave Mullins initially came up with the idea of Lou based on his childhood. As a child, he moved around quite a lot and often felt overlooked when it came to making new friends in each location. “It made him feel invisible, and it gave him this idea for some kind of character who felt invisible and desired to be accepted by other kids. That’s when he came up with the concept of a character who looked like a pile of stolen toys, but was actually a little kid underneath.” He was also inspired by John Lasseter and his set of story guidelines, which, “once explained were the ingredients that a Pixar movie should have. They include heart, meaning there should be a main character who is flawed and experiences personal growth; entertainment, meaning a story that is unpredictable and funny; a unique setting that transports viewers to a place that is exciting and new; and the film must call for being animated and use the full potential of the medium.”

Based on the above images and the information we’ve learned in the last few weeks, we’re excited for you all to see Lou during Cars 3 this summer. It’s a refreshing short film that pushes the boundaries of storytelling, has a boat load of super fun animation, and shares a fantastic message about learning how to be compassionate.

Don’t forget to catch both Cars 3 and Lou on the big screen this June, 16th.

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Here’s Your First Look at Lou – The Short to Play in Front of Cars 3

Cars 3, Dave Mullins, Lou, Short Film

Posted by Nia • February 2, 2017

LOU_Pixar

Since last year we’ve known that Lou was a new short being developed by Pixar, but we didn’t know when it would be premiering or much about the story – aside from the fact it focused on a lost-and-found box and would be directed by Dave Mullins.

Yesterday the studio released more information regarding the short and that it will be playing in front of this year’s film, Cars 3.

The short, in the usual Pixar fashion, will be centered on Lou, a hidden creature in a lost-and-found box at a school. The creature, created from mismatched baseballs and a beaten red hoodie, watches the school children play and secretly protects them against the local bully, J.J.

From a USA Today interview, Mullins discussed that the inspiration for this short was his childhood and the fact he never spent much of his time in one place as a kid.

“You either feel invisible because you don’t know the other kids or you’re embarrassed and you want to be invisible. I thought it’d be really cool to have a character who could hide in plain sight.”

Since Lou’s main motivation is to protect the other children in the school and give back to those who need it the most, he felt J.J. being a bully would help push the story forward while making it relatable to everyone.

“They’re usually just acting out because they’re awkward or young and don’t have their moral compass set. In a weird way, the bullies sometimes feel invisible, too. If you can find out what their motivations are, maybe you can solve some things. That’s what I like about Lou: True happiness comes from giving, He gets J.J. to understand that and through that, what J.J. wants really is to be accepted by the other kids.”

You can catch Lou on the big screen this summer in front of Cars 3.

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Latest Pixar short announced!

Dave Mullins, Lou, Short Film

Posted by Simoa • September 28, 2016

Finding Dory has continued breaking box office records and Brad Bird revealed that The Incredibles 2 is happily moving along in production. Now the title and a teaser video for a new short film has been revealed!

Dave Mullins announced via instagram that he is set to direct the new short, titled “Lou.” The brief video clip can be viewed here.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-07-14-pm

 

Mullins is a short film director and animation supervisor. He’s been at the studio since 2001, with credits on every Pixar feature. Lou is in a lost and found box, which means he could be a toy. Even with the soundless clip, the short promises to be very intriguing. His bugged out eyes make him appear anxious. We can’t wait for more concept art and story details to drop! No word yet on whether this will open with Cars 3 next June, but it most likely will.

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