Legend has it that dumplings were first developed in China more than 1,800 years ago by a master physician who sought a way to warm up frostbitten villagers. Just like this, Pixar aims to warm audiences hearts with its new short film, Bao.
This movie tells the story of an empty-nesting Chinese mother in Toronto who finds a new purpose when one of her homemade dumplings comes to life. It’s the first of Pixar’s 20 shorts to be directed by a woman. The short at nearly eight minutes is the longest one to date.
Bao’s maker is 28-year-old director Domee Shi was born in China and was raised in Toronto, she grew up an avid fan of anime and manga. Upon graduating from Sheridan College’s renowned animation program, she interned with Pixar and was hired by the company the same year. She worked on films Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and Toy Story 4 as a storyboard artist.
In 2014 as a side project, she began combining the ingredients for her first short film, inspired by classic fairy tales and her own life growing up. She wanted to play with the idea of loving something so much that you never want to let it go.
“Bao is a tale of food and family and how the two meld, creating a potent emotional resonance.”
Of course, it was super-challenging for the FX artists, they needed to take the same principles as food photography: The team had to exaggerate and emphasize stuff that isn’t there in real life. “They had to up the saturation of the colors and there’s a lot of complicated stuff happening in that shot where she’s folding the dumpling. It all had to look good”, explains Miss. Shi.
The animators had tons of references to Japanese animations and they really wanted to honor the fact that a dumpling is made of dough, so he’s squishy and organic already. All the produce in the Chinatown shots were oversized, every edge is not completely straight.
“The imperfection in the world had to feel more handmade, personal and warm.”
Artist Rona Liu led the charge when it came to the design, art, and look of Bao. This Chinese-American artist drew inspiration from her personal life and wanted to make sure that the design and the feeling of the world felt authentic. Making this short, brought the team more empathy toward parents who experience empty-nest syndrome.
“Your whole life is raising this kid, and they’re your everything, and then they’re gone…” –Domee Shi