Bao is an adorable appetizer ahead of Incredibles 2. The newest Pixar Animated short is one-of-a-kind and will touch moms’ hearts in the most unexpected way.
The Making of Pixar’s Bao
Think making a Pixar animated short film is a quick and easy process? Think again.
Director Domee Shi proved quite the opposite during an Incredibles 2 press day presentation.
When a passion for food sparks an idea, a Director is born
The beginning of the Bao production started 4 years ago, when Domee Shi had been working as a story artist for Pixar for Inside out for 2 years. Note that this was Shi’s first big gig out of school. Impressive, no doubt! Shi felt an itch to make something of her own. She began working late in the office making an animated short of her own outside of Pixar. Call it her side hustle to lay out some creative steam she confesses.
“I enjoyed drawing food related stories. I loved food, eating it and drawing it.” Shi says. ” It’s a very universal pleasure that people from all over the world can relate to.”
Shi also explains her thought process behind the original concept of Boa.
“What ever short I was going to make I was going to spend years and years on had to revolve around food having always loved food folktales. Cute and strange stories like the Gingerbread Man. I was inspired to do a Chinese version of that with Bao. It was a perfect fit because in Chinese culture, food and family go hand-in-hand.” Shi said.
“When you want to show someone you care about them, you ask them if they have eaten yet”
Bao started out as a side project but when an open call for short pitches at Pixar became available Shi threw her idea in the mix. After pitching her idea to the Director of Inside Out, she received the positive feedback to pitch it to the studio. Through his encouragement and support, Bao got green-lighted as the next Pixar theatrical short.
“I never expected it to be picked! When it got picked I rolled onto the floor for five minutes.” Shi said.
The ingredients needed to create the story of Bao
According to Shi there were three ingredients needed to bring the story of Bao to life.
The first ingredient of the idea of Bao was tapping into what she loved which was food.
Shi further explains,
“The second ingredient was using what I knew which was my own personal experience growing up as an only child. My mom treated me like I was her precious dumpling. My Dad worked away from home a lot. I spent a lot of my childhood with my mom. My mom was very present in my life. When I started to grow up it was hard for her to let go. She would often say, ‘I wish I could put you back in my stomach so I would know where you were at all times.’ The creepy sweet love of the mom that learns to let go of her little dumpling was the inspiration for Bao.”
“I was inspired by my mom herself – she is the dumpling Queen. We had a special connection making dumplings together. I involved my mom as much as we could during the research process. I brought her in to make dumplings for the whole crew so they knew how to make and fold dumplings properly.”
The third ingredient for creating Boa was Toronto, Chinatown.
“This is where I would I go shopping with my parents for groceries on weekends.” explains Shi. “Chinatown is such a vibrant lively nostalgic place. I wanted to honor the setting and the equally vibrant residents specially the Chinatown Grannies.”
It takes long hours to create a short film
From 2015-2017 Domee was working full-time as a Story Artist for Toy Story 4, she spent evenings and weekends hammering out the story boards for Bao.
“I discarded more drawings. Way more than I kept,” Shi said. “I got rid of a lot of ideas that didn’t focus on Mom and the dumpling’s relationship.”
“The story reel is a rough and sketch draft. They are very useful in seeing the big picture of the short film and helps with clarity.”
Combining 2D and 3D Elements
After the story reel is complete the Bao team moves on to layout and animation where the characters are brought to life.
“Mom was super challenging to animate due to her big squishy head and small chubby body.” Shi said.
When they moved to animation they soon realized that some animations that work well in 2D are not so successful in 3D.
“I would give notes through drawings to the animators. It took a lot of discussion and trail-and-error from the team to figure out the animation language for Bao. We landed on a fun, visual style that was pretty successful in combining 2D graphic design and 3D modeling that gave Mom a range of appealing expressions in the short.”
Dumpling was a really fun challenge for the animators due to all of his motions and squishy nature.
“It was a fun challenge to balance cartoony exaggerations with believability. We really wanted this short to be fun to watch but an accurate portrayal of a Chinese mom’s life.”
After seeing Bao twice I can tell you it is fun to watch! Although, it did have me craving some dumplings! Bao is a great appetizer to the main course, Incredibles 2. Watch Bao when it hits theatres June 15.