Finding Dory opens in theaters this summer, and we all know what that means: a new Pixar short film is on the way. The company’s latest short, Piper, follows a baby sandpiper that must conquer its fear of the water in order to eat. Alan Barillaro directed Piper, which he was inspired to make after witnessing thousands of birds flying away from waves, only to then return to the ocean to eat.
Below, Barillaro discusses his experience of making the Pixar short Piper.
The director has worked at Pixar since 1998, beginning as an additional animator on A Bug’s Life. Since then, he’s collaborated with Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton numerous times. After Barillaro showed Stanton his animation tests for the short, the director told him to keep working on it (Source: Entertainment Weekly):
You always want to show directors, ‘Hey, are these cool tools you’d like to use to make films?’ So I showed Andrew the Piper tests thinking I was very much just showing him a test, but he kept poking at me, like, ‘It’s a cool test, but keep working on that story.’ And then John [Lasseter] did the same. There’s remarkable encouragement at Pixar that when you think of an innovative idea, don’t forget the story. It was their encouragement or else I would have stopped at the test phase.
A lot of Pixar’s shorts are born out of that encouragement. Back in 2011, Peter posted an interview with Enrico Casarosa, the director of Pixar’s La Luna, and his experience of making that short was similar to Barillaro’s. They were both supported to develop their ideas into real stories.
As a personal challenge, the Piper director was initially just playing around with the concept, to see if he could make a short about a non-speaking character. Then Barillaro, as Stanton instructed, figured out the story:
It’s the kid at the playground feeling. You fall down and you feel so small, but you look and see someone even smaller than you brush themselves off and tackle something, and learn from that in your own way. It was important to me to stay in the kid world and see the world from Piper’s eyes, and not be from the human perspective.
The director added:
Seeing the way these sandpipers react to waves and run, I always felt, ‘Gosh, that’s a film, that’s a character. It’s always fun to show a world we’re familiar with but from a different perspective. We’ve all been to the beach, but have we ever viewed water from just an inch off the sand? That could be very fearful from a bird’s perspective.
The story continued to develop. Barillaro describes Piper as “a tale of a child learning from a parent about the way of the food chain — and a child learning from another child.” We won’t spoil who that other child/animal is, as we’re only a few short months away from actually seeing the short film. Until then, all we got is this first look at the titular character, who is, unquestionably, quite adorable:
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