Thursday, April 26, 2018


Tuesday afternoon there was a free masterclass on animation held at the SVA theater. The subject of the talk was the newest animated film from Pixar BAO. It was conducted by director Domee Shi and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb and it rocked the the house.

The talk began with a screening of the short.

The film is the story of a Chinese woman who is left alone by her husband eds up creating a little steam bun or dumpling that comes to life. We watch as the bun grows up and the relationship between mother and bun changes.

It is a near perfect little gem of a film  told with out any dialog. We do hear the baby like sounds of the bun early on and late in the game the wall to wall music ceases for a deeply moving reason. I was moved to tears both times the short was screened. There is one shot in the film that will cause anyone with a soul to weep.

This is a truly great film and one of the best films Pixar has ever done.

Before I discuss the talk I have to say that it was a full illustrated talk full of preliminary sketches, animation tests and other goodies but I was asked not to include them because no one has seen the short. The only reason I am including the above still is simply because it is the promotional image being used to promote the film.
Director Domee Shi and Producer Becky Neiman-Cobb

The talk itself covered most of the basics of modern animation process. Showing us how animation goes from sketches to finished product. It is so wonderfully done I'm hoping that the  talk has been recorded or will be recorded for inclusion on a home video release because it's an excellent primer on how it's all done.

Mixed into the animation process there was talk about the creation of the film

Domee Shi said that the film started as a personal project after she had finished her work on INSIDE OUT where she was a story artist.  She said that she wanted to do something for herself and began to do sketches that evolved into the film. The sketches were of anthropomorphized food.  She then shifted the story to include a lonely Chinese woman.

She said that she would periodically run ideas by friends at Pixar including Pete Docter who told her to pitch it to the company. She did and the film was accepted which was when Becky Neiman-Cobb was brought on.

The designs were based on Isao Takahata's MY NEIGHBOR THE YAMADAS and the anime/manga of ONE PIECE.

Shi said that she and Neiman-Cobb dove head long into the Chinese ex-pat culture in order to rally be able to create a believable world. She said that as a result she loves sun visors and floral prints. They took photos of Shi's mother's house in Canada  for reference and even brought her in to teach everyone how to make dumplings.

They told the story of how when they were making the film it took several animators months to get the pork dumpling filling to look exactly right. They would have no problem with crashing cars or skull shaped fireworks but dumplings stumped them.

Several discarded bits from the story were discussed like a dumpling girl friend and a whole dumpling world that were discarded for various reasons. We also got an illustrated explanation of how difficult it is to translate 2D animation , which was how the film was conceived, into 3D which is how it ended up. She said that the modelers she had had made doing it easier since they didn't need a ton of sketches  to be able to model her 2D images in 3D.
The signing line

A brief Q&A  followed the formal presentation. People asked how long the film took. The ladies said that it took about 18 months to do it. It was the result of not having a full time crew to work on the film. They had to make do with people in between feature projects. Additionally in the middle of it all Neiman-Cobb gave birth to her own child which stalled things briefly. They added that had production had run straight through it would have taken about 9 months to do the film.

The ladies also fielded question about what people should study in school and applying for a job in animation. Regarding that last bit they said that everyone should keep trying to get in the door. Both has taken multiple tries to get hired at Pixar so no one should give up. It was a mantra that was repeated though the talk and after when the pair signed posters for BAO.

This was a great talk and a great way to spend an hour at Tribeca.

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