The new Pixar Animation Studios six-minute short Piper, in theaters with Finding Dory, tells the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest, for the first time, to dig for food by the shoreline. When little Piper discovers that the food is buried beneath the sand, where scary waves roll up onto the shore, she must find a way to overcome her fears.
During a presentation at the press day for Finding Dory, director Alan Barillaro and producer Marc Sondheimer talked about the extensive research, technical testing, the themes explored in the story, inspirations, and finding Piper’s personality and sound. We’ve compiled a list of 12 things that you should know about the making of Piper, but before that, here’s a first look at the adorable short:
- Piper director Alan Barillaro has been an animator at Pixar since 1997. He was a supervising animator on The Incredibles, WALL-E and Brave. After Brave, he wanted to further explore how to better express himself with CG.
- At Pixar, they’re very close to the water, and as Barillaro went on his morning run, he realized just how many sandpipers there are. He decided to explore how much character is in a little bird running across the sand to the water.
- Barillaro did a technical test to explore the bird’s personality and showed it to Andrew Stanton (the director of Finding Dory, which the Piper short is in theaters with), and was encouraged to develop the story of a sandpiper scared of the water more deeply.
- With the story, Barillaro also wanted to dig deeper about parenting, as the father of three kids. At Pixar, they’re taught to be really honest about the story they’re telling, and to make sure it comes from the heart.
- The idea of conquering your fears is not only the story Barillaro wanted to tell with Piper, but it was the way he felt about beginning filmmaking and being a first-time director. Not only did Piper have to face the wave, but so did Barillaro.
- The entire film had to be expressed from the point of view of a sandpiper that’s four inches tall. To figure that out, the filmmakers got out to the beach as often as possible, so that they could emotionally capture the story in the correct way. Barillaro even went to Hawaii with a Go-Pro camera for further research.
The touchstones of storytelling for Barillaro are Rockwell and classical paintings. When you look at a Rockwell, you don’t realize how manipulated it is. It comes across as realistic, but the focus is directed at character, and that’s the factor he was hoping to achieve with animation.
- One of the things that makes Piper unique is that everything is a character. Not only do you have the little bird as a character, but the waves are a character and the bubbles are a character. The timing of everything has to be right, and there’s an interplay in the performance.
- Even though you can’t lean on the normal gestures you can use with people, birds are so expressive. The moment you start studying birds, you see the choices of personalities that are possible to explore.
- You realize that it’s really all about the feathers. By posing the feathers, you can really bring out and change the personality. Each bird has four to seven million feathers, and they have to be animated, placed and shaped by hand.
- For the vocals, they had to pick a language and realize it. Piper’s vocal range is not that wide, so she had to have single syllable sounds, like a child who has one-word answers. They used a broken squeaky toy as reference for the sounds that Piper makes.
- In comparison, the mother is warm, graceful, caring and calm. To express that, they used warmer vocal sounds.
Piper is in theaters with Finding Dory on June 17th.