“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
They all love the rain so much
they start to sing a song.
gurgling rain pipes,
bus stop shelters…
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.