How did the idea for FEAST first come to you?
It all started with a sketchbook – I have always kept sketchbooks my whole life, ever since I was a kid. You write down ideas and it’s kind of like when you write down dreams, you never know anything in the moment. You just put down an idea that seems interesting and then you look at it a couple months later, and it’s usually bad. You don’t connect to it again. But every once in a while you write down something where you see it and you connect to it again, almost like someone else is pitching you the idea.
This particular thing came from an idea where I thought it would be cool to tell the story of a relationship through meals, this idea of when you’re a single guy you make things that look a certain way, then when you first date you’re maybe trying too hard. Then when you’ve been together a while and comfortable, the meals are a little more comfort food looking. And then there’s little details like you skip dinner and then just have drinks, or you go to a movie and then have popcorn or hotdogs or something. So I thought maybe there was something there, and I’d been playing with this app called 1secondeveryday, which is a thing that lets you record one second of your life per every day and then it cuts that into a movie that’s six minutes long. I did one of those that was just dinners based on that idea. It was after watching that that I thought, there’s something really cool here. If you add a character to it, it could make a nice short.
Did you ever imagine you’d be pitching it to John Lasseter himself?!
I was working as head of animation on Big Hero 6 at the time, and the studio decided to formalise the Short Pitch program, which we hadn’t had before as Get a Horse! was sort of independently pushed through, and this program opened up to just anyone. Even though I really enjoyed being head of animation and I had a great job, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get in front of the directors and maybe Lasseter, and share my ideas. I had to pitch three things, and that was one of them: I wanted to tell the life story of a family through the food on their table, all from the point of view of the family’s dog from when he was a puppy. That was the one sentence pitch. When I got to pitch to John, it got green-lit, and we went straight to the story! That was a year before it was finished.
So a team was assembled – how many of you were there? How did it feel like to direct for the first time?
Because I’d never directed before it was really cool to see all sides of the filmmaking process, I was able to bring on six permanent people onto the short the whole time. Jeff Turley was the production designer, Josh Staub was VFX supervisor, Brian Scott was the Head of character animation, and Marlon West was the head of effects animation while both helped me with production needs, so they were kind of all on it for most of the time. We would then bring on animators for two weeks when we had them because you were navigating these big features and you just have to get staff when you can. A lot of that was us just figuring out: the animator’s ready for a week, and we need to have something for them to do for that week they were there. You get to pick and choose who you’re working with sometimes, but sometimes it’s just who’s available but because this is Disney everybody’s pretty great! That was no problem at all. It’s now pretty daunting that millions of people get to watch it!
Did you employ lots of techniques that picked up where Paperman or even Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella left off?
Yea – I’m on the patent for Meander, I helped develop that software for Paperman, and we just added a few little extra things that we wanted for Feast. It was way less work than Paperman, there was actually only one person who did the whole short in terms of Meander techniques because we made it so easy to use! I loved using that software and it was really fun to make, and I knew I wanted to keep using it somehow, so when I got the chance to direct I said we’re doing it! We’re using Meander again (laughs).
Were there any new techniques or CG approaches used in Feast that you have not attempted before?
There’s a lot of stuff – like we use XGen at Disney for hair and fur in a major way for normal characters like in Bolt and Rapunzel, Frozen. It was a software that was originally in-house but I believe it’s just in Maya now. So we knew we had this design look we wanted to do for Feast where the fur on Winston was just little strokes, it needed to look like little lines drawn on him and we actually used XGen to do that but then in a very sparse way, normally there’s thousands and thousands of hairs on a character, but we only had a couple hundred little lines on him, and they couldn’t be texture mapped because they’d stretch and you’d see that, so each of those lines is actually one brush stroke done with the hair engine we would normally use. So it’s kind of a neat way to get this little line work in there!
We also had this cool advanced technique that I talked about at SIGGRAPH where I always thought the aliased films, like where things get that aliased and crunchy that there’s something cool about it, but it’s sort of uncontrollable, so we did this ripped paper edge technique in Nuke to make all of the edges just be a little imperfect and have a slight human touch to them, that was another new thing that Josh Staub developed. You have to be pretty particular about that stuff because you don’t want it to look like it’s moving through a glass window, you need the texture to stick. With CG animation we can make things so totally real, but one of the great things about that is that once you can make something totally real, you can choose to make it unreal, about things like how the edges are treated and what’s in focus and what’s not. I actually think it’s important to not base it on reality, when you can.
…and on Patrick Osborne’s beautiful blog at http://www.bighappyaccident.com/blog/