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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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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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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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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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