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Purl – Pixar’s First SparkShort Is Full Of Surprises (And Knitting Puns) And Hope!

Purl, Short Film, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • February 4, 2019

Pixar released their first SparkShort on YouTube today, which you can watch below:

“Purl” is full of surprises. And knitting puns. And hope! It follows the story of an enthusiastic ball of yarn, Purl, facing her first day in a new workplace. Right from the beginning, it’s clear that the company’s current employees are all practically identical. Pixar’s SparkShorts could be described as creative ‘side-projects’ (but you can tell they’ve been made with just as much love and care as Pixar’s full-length features, if not more). With the shorts being made on a limited budget and schedule, it’s to be expected that some shortcuts will have to be made, but the current male employees all being essential clones of themselves seems like a very deliberate choice: Purl immediately feels out of place.

The more we see of Purl, the more she stands out. First of all, she’s a ball of yarn. All her belongings are beautifully knitted. But even her animation is slightly different to that of her colleagues – she moves a little more ‘choppily’. She behaves differently. She has fresh ideas. Her fellow employees don’t think that’s a good thing, and eventually, neither does Purl herself. Soon, her frustration is literally tying her in knots. The lack of acceptance and understanding is breaking her down.

Purl ends up doing what seems to be the only solution – she attempts to fit in by making herself a clone of the clones. It works, but that’s obviously a bad thing. By suppressing her true self, she suppresses her new ideas and her originality – the company can’t move forward, and life can’t move forward like this either. Finally, it takes a new employee, another bundle of enthusiastic yarn, to make Purl see what’s truly important.

The story of “Purl” will feel eerily familiar to many of us: women being stifled in a male-dominated work environment; people of colour feeling isolated in a predominantly white community. Amazingly, the short could easily be applied to Pixar Studios itself with its recent changes in staffing. The short couldn’t have come out at a more fitting time, and its ending is brimming with hope and diversity. Let’s hope Pixar’s first SparkShort sparks a positive change across the industry, and the world! Every workplace could do with a better balance of knits and purls.

You can even watch Behind The Scenes of “Purl” and Meet The Filmmakers on YouTube! We’re being treated to two more SparkShorts in the next two weeks too – next week we’ll see “Smash and Grab”, and the week after is “Kitbull”! We couldn’t be more excited.

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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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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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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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Here’s Your First 20-Second Look at Bao, Pixar’s New Short

Bao, Domee Shi, Shorts

Posted by Nia • April 12, 2018

Get ready, folks, because you’re in for an incredibly charming and delicious ride, not to mention a cuteness overload. Bao is Pixar’s new theatrical short, directed by first-timer Domee Shi, that will be playing in front of the Incredibles 2 June 15th.

Today the studio revealed via Instagram a small 20-second clip from the film:

 

The clip depicts the initial moments of a baby dumpling springing to life, it coos and cries and looks adorable as it spurts little arms and legs. The mother looks on with wide eyes and is bewildered at first, an honest reaction to someone’s food coming to life, but soon she’s full of love for the baby dumpling as she lifts it close and gives it a good cuddle.

On top of this new footage, Pixar also blessed us with a poster for Bao, which captures the tone and heart of the film while also paying homage to the simplicity of Chinese folk art.

Last week I had the honor of watching Bao at Pixar and although I can’t make any official comments until next week, I’m really looking forward to audiences all over the world experiencing the story that Domee Shi and her team of talented artists so delicately crafted.

Make sure to stop by again after April 16th to find out more about Bao, including story inspiration, facts about the look of the short, and more!

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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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