Pixar has been quietly producing inspirational shorts and attaching it to their feature films since the original Toy Story. The shorts consist of four to seven minutes of magic and have single-handedly pushed several other studios to bring back the celebrated practice of having a short lead into the feature presentation. This year’s Pixar short is The Blue Umbrella and its story, characters, music, and visuals are all incredible. In a conversation with the short’s director, Saschka Unseld, I learned several fascinating details about the short film’s development. Read on for more about the short’s history and take a look at an exclusive image from the short we are debuting today!
- The Blue Umbrella was not actually the director’s first idea for a short. Pixar asks those employees who want to pitch an idea for a short film actually come up with three ideas. Unseld’s last idea was for a short that involved an abandoned umbrella he had seen lying on the side of the road over a year ago. He had animated the umbrella just for fun after he saw it and was inspired by it, but had not thought to have a short starring the umbrella until much later.
- The city and the rain were originally larger characters in the film’s story. Unseld is quite fond of rain, which he describes as a beautiful thing. In the short’s original story, the umbrella would try to get back to its owner while it was raining. After going through other story ideas that involved making it more about the city and the rain, the story was ultimately developed into a love story between a blue and red umbrella.
- Unseld describes John Lasseter as having the ability to step back and view a film objectively because he is not “emotionally invested in being right.” For 80% of the short’s production, the city was going to be a greek chorus for the love story between the umbrellas. The city would sing throughout the short, adjusting the song’s mood according to the story’s tone. After a test screening, Lasseter suggested that the city not sing because it was overshadowing the love story – the audience would be more fascinated by the city’s singing and would no longer care for the umbrellas.
- Unseld wanted to make the short look real by adding history to all the objects that are seen on screen. Unseld went out and looked at everyday objects and gave them a story. He says that objects that do not have imperfections and other marks on them do not feel real to the audience (like the uncanny valley), so he provided the objects with a history. In describing a mailbox, he says that not only would it have grooves from being opened and closed, but it may also have black marks from people having stopped and placed their shoes on it in order to tie their shoelaces.
- Although the city no longer sings, the music of the short is still immensely important. After meeting with composer Jon Brion, Unseld was convinced he was right for the short’s music because he understood the emotion in the story. Brion also was able to succinctly describe what made writing music for a short challenging – the short is very small in length, yet the score needs to go through a variety of emotions rapidly. Brion developed a 5-note melody that was versatile enough that it could be slightly adjusted and played as a variety of emotions including sadness, happiness, and excitement. The vocalist that sings along with the score is singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe. Unseld states that not only did she give the short its soul, but her beautiful singing voice made the story feel more intimate.
The Blue Umbrella opens in theaters nationwide with Monsters University on June 21. You jaw will drop at the sight of the visuals and you will be amazed by the heart-warming story. It is the latest in a string of short masterpieces from Pixar.