With excitement over Incredibles 2 skyrocketing, there has been speculations over which short film will premiere with the long awaited sequel. After the previous controversy over Coco’s lengthy Frozen short, I’m sure audiences were curious to see what else the studio had up their sleeve.
Pixar revealed the premise of their new short Bao and man, does it sound like a treat.
The 7 1/2 minute short is a culinary fable about a Chinese-Canadian woman depressed over an empty nest, who gets a second chance at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings springs to life.
Not only does the short sound fantastic, the director – storyboard artist Domee Shi – will be Pixar’s first female short director in the studio’s history. Shi was inspired to write and tell a story rooted in her upbringing as the only child to Chinese immigrants.
“Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff. I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story.”
Shi also revealed the meaning and significance to the title Bao:
“The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.”
After Shi presented concept images at a studio-wide meeting, employees that had familiarity with Chinese and immigrant parents contacted Shi and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, yearning to work on the film.
“It felt like a really universally appealing story that a lot of people could identify with. We got a ton of e-mails from people identifying with the mom character, or the dumpling character, saying, ‘Wait, that’s me,’ or ‘That’s my parents,’ or ‘I’m dealing with this right now.’”
Shi’s mother, Ningsha Zhong – “a dumpling master,” raves Shi – served as a cultural consultant on the short film. She gave the crew close-up hands-on dumpling-making demos which the animators studied intimately.
“Our technical directors and special effects team put the camera super close to her hands and recorded every single little detail of how she folded the dough, how she cut each piece, how she rolled each wrapper into that perfect little bun shape. We [basically] recreated those shots with her hands and used them as the reference for animation.”
We can see from the concept art that the exterior design of Dumpling is absolutely adorable, but we forget that dumplings are usually filled. The crew from 2007’s Ratatouille warned the Bao team that designing food would be a difficult feat.
Neiman-Cobb revealed the intricacies of designing the delicious pork filling.
“You know Pixar and you know the special effects we can pull off here: explosions and water and splashes and fire and fireworks,” says Neiman-Cobb. “One of the biggest challenges, and what brought our effects department to their knees, was Dumpling’s pork filling. That was hard. We learned there’s a very fine line between looking delicious and appetizing and looking wrong or gross. Making our food look delicious was a big triumph.”
Pixar loves to do their research, and in Bao‘s case, that meant eating lots and lots of buns.
“We did a lot of ‘research’ and ate so many buns, and as soon as I felt like I couldn’t eat another dumpling, I would go to a Bao review, watch a shot of the dumplings being made, and be like, ‘Oh my God… I’m hungry again.’”