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Kitbull Might Be Pixar’s Cutest Short Yet

Short Film, Shorts, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • February 18, 2019

Pixar’s series of SparkShort YouTube releases is coming to an end with their latest short “Kitbull”, and it’s absolutely the cutest one out of the bunch. Even the YouTube thumbnail is enough to make my heart grow a couple sizes.

The most immediately noticeable thing about “Kitbull” is the fact that it’s 2D – it has joined the small and highly respected group of 2D-animated Pixar shorts. It’s not often we get to see Pixar tackling hand-drawn projects (and so beautifully!), but this isn’t the only thing that makes “Kitbull” special.

“Kitbull” follows a tiny stray kitten who is independent but frightened of the unfamiliar. The kitten is also a strong contender for Pixar’s cutest creation to date. You can tell the animators took inspiration from the internet’s wealth of cute cat videos: its playful behaviour, clumsy, unpredictable movements, and ridiculously dilating pupils are all spot on.

The kitten meets a dog – a pit bull – but is too scared to approach it at first. This is partly, and understandably, due to the enormous size difference, but also because of the kitten’s fear of anything new or unexpected. It takes a vital moment of brave empathy and vulnerability for the kitten to finally extend a paw of friendship to the poor dog – a moment that ends up improving both of their lives for the better.

It’s difficult to put into words how delightful “Kitbull” is. The digitally hand-drawn style is beautiful. When you see storyboards and colour scripts from Pixar movies, there’s always this wonderful sense of fluidity and ease to them, and “Kitbull” feels like a collection of these brought to life. Obviously the 3D-animated movies Pixar are famous for are stunning in their own way, but it feels special to see something different, especially when it’s done so well. The kitten is also quite abstract in its design, which is something I feel makes the world of animation so magical.

“Kitbull” is unique in its animation style, but also in its use of darker themes. On the surface, it’s heart-achingly cute, which makes it memorable in itself, but also cleverly adds to the impact of the moment you realise the pit bull is a victim of animal abuse.

As with the other SparkShorts, you can see the Behind the Scenes and Meet the Filmmakers videos for “Kitbull” on YouTube too. It looks like the team had a lot of fun on the project! Writer and director Rosana Sullivan clearly found the whole thing incredibly rewarding, and I think that really shows in the end product. This quote from her was particularly lovely:

“At first, I just wanted to draw something that made me feel good and was fun, but it evolved into something more personal for me eventually. I realised that growing up I was always very sensitive and shy and had actually a lot of trouble kind of making connections…making friendships. So I related to this kitten. Because it never really stepped outside of its comfort zone to be vulnerable and make a connection. So that’s eventually what the story became.”

“Kitbull” is the last of the SparkShorts that we’ll be seeing for a while. At the end of the year, Pixar plan to have them all available on Disney+, along with three other SparkShorts that are already complete – “Loop”, “Float”, and “Wind”.

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Smash and Grab: An Elegant Ode to Robots

Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Simoa • February 11, 2019

Pixar’s second entry in their new SparkSports program continues the studio’s tradition of being dialogue free. You might be tempted to compare it to their 2008 feature, Wall-E, but “Smash and Grab” is an entirely different film.

The short’s title refers to the names of the two robots, who work diligently in the engine room of a sleek and futuristic locomotive. Smash, the taller of the two, has hammer arms, which he uses to smash rocks, while the short and stocky Grab, just has hands to toss the rocks into the furnace. The two are confined to this room, until Smash sees the wider world outside. The robots out there move freely, unlike these two companions, who are bound to their station by a long, fluorescent green rope. Smash is startled to see these robots, but he can see himself and Grab out there, too. And so begins their great escape.

“Smash and Grab” was actually first unveiled in May of 2017 at SIGGRAPH. Back then we didn’t have any more details on the short. Now that the whole thing has been released, it’s much better than what we might have imagined! For one thing, this is a story about defying the status quo. Smash and Grab want more out of life than to toil away at an unfulfilling job, a struggle a lot of human beings and millennials especially can relate too. It’s often a wistful aspiration, because a lot of the time, people just can’t afford to leave their jobs, even if they do hate them. So it’s quite easy to root for Smash and Grab to live the lives they want, rather than be stuck in that cavernous engine room forever.

Pixar have long personified inanimate objects and animals, just like many other animation studios. But making robots more personable is a tricky task. They can be nefarious, like the HAL 3000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; or friendly and humorous like Star Wars‘ C-3PO and R2D2. But rarely, if ever, are robots soulful. Smash and Grab are, just like Wall-E. I can believe they have hearts beating underneath their cold, metal exteriors. Their longing is palpable as well. The stakes are also high. There’s even a heart wrenching moment in the short that’ll make you gasp, if you’re like me.

And that’s to say nothing of the short’s stunning visual poetry. In the engine room, the rocks glow blue, as if embedded with crystals. Much of the short takes place at dusk, in the red-orange afterglow of the sunset. The lighting has a burnished gleam which reflects nicely on the robots and other surfaces. Take a look at the sea of pillowy soft clouds in the image above; the texture alone is amazing. The designs are impressive too, both of the robots and the train. (Maybe if more of them looked like that in our world, I’d be enthusiastic about public transit).

“Smash and Grab” was directed by Brain Larsen, a longtime story supervisor at Pixar. To see more of the short, check out the filmmakers and behind the scenes videos.

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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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SparkShorts – What Is It And Why Should We Be Excited About It?

Short Film, Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • January 12, 2019

One of the best things about Pixar is their commitment to innovation. We’ve been highlighting the studio’s short films recently, which have been part of its DNA since it was founded over 30 years ago. That legacy continues with their latest project.

Yesterday Pixar revealed their new SparkShorts program – an official title for the experimental shorts department that we found out about in 2017. It was already an exciting concept – for years, Pixar shorts have been a way of trying out new things and giving employees a chance to try their hand at directing. Having a whole internal program dedicated to giving people at Pixar – from all sorts of different backgrounds and departments – the opportunity to create with little to no restriction or pressure is ingenius. It’s what Pixar is all about: encouraging and inspiring creativity.

Now that the program has been officially revealed and titled, SparkShorts is filling us all with that feeling of awe and pride that Pixar fans are familiar with. Watch their video about it below for some sneak peaks of the upcoming SparkShorts (some of which we’ll be lucky enough to see in just over a month!):

“Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of SparkShorts. The program was created to provide opportunities to a wide array of artists – each with something unique to say.” – Lindsey Collins, vice president of development for Pixar.

The first three shorts in the SparkShorts program will be shown at the El Capitan Theater following The Little Mermaid this January 18th-24th. After this, the shorts will even be available on YouTube for us all to see. Pixar have published the titles and descriptions of these three shorts which you can read below.

  • “Purl,” directed by Kristen Lester and produced by Gillian Libbert-Duncan, features an earnest ball of yarn named Purl who gets a job in a fast-paced, high energy, bro-tastic start-up. Yarny hijinks ensue as she tries to fit in, but how far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it? [Available on YouTube on February 4th]
  • “Smash and Grab, directed by Brian Larsen and produced by David Lally, is about two antiquated robots who risk everything for freedom and for each other after years of toiling away inside the engine room of a towering locomotive. [Available on YouTube on February 11th]

  • Kitbull,” directed by Rosana Sullivan and produced by Kathryn Hendrickson, reveals an unlikely connection that sparks between two creatures: a fiercely independent stray kitten and a pit bull. Together, they experience friendship for the first time. [Available on YouTube on February 18th]

Just months after Domee Shi became the first female director at Pixar for her memorable short “Bao”, it’s so encouraging to see more female directors and new talent from all sorts of different backgrounds making their debut. It’s exciting. We’re looking forward to the new shorts, and to the future! There are countless stories waiting to be told by the talented employees at Pixar, and with projects like this going on, we’ll actually be able to hear them!

UPDATE 16/01/19

You can now find out more about each of the SparkShorts on Pixar’s site here. They’ve also released each short’s corresponding poster. “Loop” and “Wind” are my personal favourites, but they’re all very cleverly designed.

It’s already clear that having crews of diverse storytellers and animators has led to these SparkShorts connecting with a wider range of underrepresented communities and cultures: praise has been given to “Float” for being the first Pixar short to feature Filipino characters, and “Loop” will feature Pixar’s first non-verbal autistic character ‘Renee’, who can be seen in the poster.

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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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Toy Story That Time Forgot – The Pixar Special Of The Week

Short Film, Shorts, Toy Story, Toy Story That Time Forgot

Posted by Nia • December 21, 2018

Christmas is in a matter of days, so naturally it’s time to delve back into Toy Story That Time Forgot, one of the most underrated Pixar projects. The holiday special aired back on December 2nd, 2014 on ABC.

Although this is a Christmas special, the film starts off post-Christmas as we open with Bonnie playing with her toys, a comforting and familiar sight. We’re immediately re-introduced to Trixie the Triceratops but we quickly find out she’s constantly disappointed Bonnie never lets her play as the true dinosaur she is; instead she takes on other random roles during playtime. Jessie, Rex, and Mr. Potato Head are quick to offer support for Trixie, mentioning she will get her chance to be a dinosaur soon (as there will be many more opportunities) but that doesn’t lift Trixie’s spirits. Shortly after, Bonnie attends a play-date at her best friend Mason’s house. Luckily for us Bonnie brings along a few of our other favorite toys from the Toy Story universe: Woody, Buzz, and Rex. She even brings Trixie along and a new ornament named Angel Kitty.

As soon as Bonnie arrives she notices Mason enjoying his new video game and before she joins him, she dumps the toys into Mason’s playroom. The video game wasn’t the only thing Mason got for Christmas; he also got a slew of new warrior dinosaur toys called the Battlesaurs. The gang is quickly introduced to Reptillus Maximus and the Cleric, who are in control of the Battlesaurs army. Naturally, Rex and Trixie are welcomed as part of the clan by Reptillus and shown around their Batteopolis but the Cleric secretly takes Woody, Buzz, and Angel Kitty away as his prisoners.

Trixie and Reptillus quickly bond (naturally). Since Trixie is finally around other toys like her and it’s easy to see why she’s so quick to fall head over heels for Reptillus. Trixie can’t help but praise the Battlesaurs and how they’ve made their life work in Mason’s toy room. Reptillus is even captivated by Trixie’s world of make believe. Soon the two dinosaurs are called to the aptly named “Arena of Woe,” where to Trixie’s dismay, this world of dinosaurs isn’t as perfect or as nice as she thought. In the arena, its Mason’s toys against Reptillus; we soon see that Reptillus completely destroys the other toys in combat. No one has a chance against him.

Things soon get worse when Woody and Buzz enter the arena; it turns out the Cleric wanted Woody and Buzz destroyed from the get-go and it’s the reason why they were taken away so abruptly at the start. Buzz and Woody barely escape their fight against Reptillus before Trixie jumps in to help her friends. It turns out, the Battlesaurs are so hostile because they haven’t had the opportunity to play with Mason yet, since Mason has been too caught up in his new video game. Despite Trixie pleading for the dinosaurs to stop fighting her friends, they bring in another massive Battlesaur named Goliathon, who swallows Woody, Buzz, and Angel Kitty. As Trixie tries to free her friends from Goliathon, she’s knocked over and reveals Bonnie’s name written on her hand. To these Battlesaurs, that’s a sign of weakness and equivalent to someone waving a white flag. Suddenly Trixie is no longer welcome as one of them.

The biggest twist of this special is that the Cleric has known the Battlesaurs were toys the entire time. It was the Cleric’s motivation to keep the toys oblivious to this fact so he can continue basking in his power and ruling over them. Now that Woody, Buzz, and Angel Kitty know that information, he takes them off to be shredded in a nearby ventilation fan.

As Woody and Buzz are trying to escape the Cleric, Trixie nearly unplugs Mason’s video game, in an attempt to thwart his attention and get him to play with the other Battlesaurs. Reptillus intervenes and tries to stop her but Trixie has an epiphany of her own. She manages to persuade Reptillus that it’s almost a blessing being a toy; she speaks to him about how important and meaningful it’s been to be a toy and play with Bonnie every day. She even shows Reptillus the box he came in, which changes his whole perspective.

Reptillus turns off Mason’s video game and “surrenders” to the humans. Soon Bonnie and Mason find Reptillus, and the children agree to go to Mason’s playroom to continue their play-date. The duo arrive just in time, saving Woody and Buzz from being destroyed in the ventilation fan.

Reptillus and the other Battlesaurs are changed by their play-date with Bonnie and Mason; they’re quick to accept their fate as toys and learn to enjoy a calmer life in Mason’s home.

Towards the end of the special, Trixie realizes how important she is in Bonnie’s life and she professes to Woody, Buzz, and the other toys how she would be anything Bonnie wants her to be during playtime, even if that never is a dinosaur.

One of the most impressive elements about this film is the fact it delves deep into the toys existence. It touches the surface of their psychology and how they view their lives when it comes to interacting with characters like Bonnie and Mason. The toys obviously realize they’re toys and figure out their purpose in life, but through that they learn the importance of their existence and that they have these unique gifts; each toy offers something different to children. It’s also interesting to see the differences in how a toy acts before they’ve had the opportunity to be played with or to have a child “mark” them with their name – the Battlesaurs were almost savage, like untrained cats, before they were played with for the first time. I’m curious to see how they will continue this theme in the upcoming Toy Story 4 film, especially with Forky.

Some fun facts about Toy Story That Time Forgot:

  • When it comes to the Toy Story timeline, this film is set before the story that’s going to be depicted in the upcoming Toy Story 4 film.
  • This film was initially set to be a 6-minute short, but it was John Lasseter who suggested it be a holiday special because he loved the story so much and wanted to explore the themes and characters more.
  • It took 3 years to create; 2 of those years were spent on story development.
  • The special was the last time Don Rickles voiced the iconic Mr. Potato Head; he died in 2017.
  • This was Pixar’s second Toy Story-esque TV special; the first one was Toy Story of Terror!
  • Don’t forget that in the first Toy Story film, Buzz was the one who first refused to believe he was a toy. It’s funny seeing that shift in this special; he was almost outraged that the Battlesaurs didn’t know they were toys.
  • There is a reference to Star Wars in Toy Story That Time Forgot, when the Cleric says the line, “I find their lack of armor disturbing.” Can you Star Wars fans figure out the line it’s referring to?

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Oscar-Shortlisted Bao Available On YouTube For One Week

Bao, Oscars, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • December 18, 2018

A lot has been said about “Bao”, Pixar’s most recent short, this year. It’s Pixar’s first short directed by a woman (Domee Shi), and has been deservingly praised for its personal and heartfelt representation of Chinese culture. It has also sparked a lot of conversations – the story of “Bao” is equally beautiful and weird, which is probably exactly the feel Shi and the crew were going for.

It’s not surprising, then, that “Bao” has been shortlisted for the 2019 Oscars. The final list of nominees for the “Best Animated Short” category will be released on January 22nd.

In other news, while Incredibles 2 did pick up some Annie Award nominations, “Bao” has been overlooked.

If you’re needing a reminder of “Bao”‘s unique story, then you’re in luck! It’s currently available on YouTube for one week. This is something that doesn’t happen very often. The only other short that Pixar have released on their YouTube channel is “George and AJ” back in 2009.

It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a trend. For now, though, we’ll just have to savour this one week of “Bao” in YouTube form – including the comment section! The YouTube comment section can sometimes be a dangerous place, but it’s great to see so many comments full of interesting insights, praise and adoration.

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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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