Did The French Short Film Above Then Beyond Inspire Pixar's Up?

In 2005, students of the French academy ESRA (Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle) started production on a computer animated short film called Above then Beyond. The film was completed a year later. In 2009, Pixar released their tenth computer animated feature film Up. A year later, people have begun to notice the similarities between the two films. Was Pixar inspired by this French short film, or is it all just a coincidence?

First, watch the short film Above then Beyond embedded below:

Here is a side by side comparison of screenshots from Up and Above then Beyond:

Pixar's Up vs. Above then Beyond

After watching the short film, you might be calling "bullshit". This was just a short film created after the release of Up so that students could accuse Pixar of stealing their work. That would be a good theory, but there is evidence to suggest otherwise While the short film was completed in 2006, the footage was uploaded to Daily Motion in August 2007. That was before anyone outside of Pixar even had an idea of what Up was about. If you look at this /Film posting from December 2007 (the same year), we were still speculating that Up was a Retelling of Don Quixote. It was not until January of the next year that we even saw a glimpse of concept art from the movie, and not until May 2008 until it was revealed that Up was about a man who flys away in a house using balloons.

youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com contacted one of the students involved, Yannick Banchereau, and asked if Pixar bought the rights to their concept or if it was purely a coincidence. This is what he said:

"Well, no, none of us went to work at Pixar, if you know someone who is in Supinfgraph, you should know that ESRA has a partnership with Pixar, so we concluded that for Pixar to see our film among those that ESRA had sent them, and they "kept" (stolen?) the idea into a feature film ... Unfortunately the film does not belong to us because this was done as part of our studies, so we can do nothing ... Thank you for your interest, it's good to see that someone has acknowledged our film (even if the quality is far from the Pixar)"

To make things even more complicated, director Pete Docter's story on how he came up with the idea has inconsistencies. In March 2009, Doctor said the following in an interview with SciFiWire:

We came up with this idea of a floating house, and we worked backwards from that, thinking, "How did this guy get into the floating house?" And we came up with this whole backstory of him meeting this girl, and they fell in love, and they had this whole relationship. And this failed promise, that they didn't ever get to go down to South America to live this adventure that they always wanted to do. And so it was kind of based on that.

But the official production notes for the film list a completely different story:

Following his directorial debut on the 2001 blockbuster film "Monsters, Inc.," Pete Docter began searching for his next project. The notion for his first feature derived from his childhood curiosities and fears about the monsters under his bed. After spending some time developing the story for "WALL•E" and a few other projects, Docter once again turned to lessons from his own life to craft the idea for "Up." With co-director/writer Bob Peterson on board, the duo began playing with some fantastic new ideas. "Bob and I started having some fun thinking about an 'old man' character like the ones we love from the George Booth cartoons and all those great Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau type of guys who are grouchy but you still like them." ~ Pete Docter, Director/Writer

"Sometimes, at the end of a tough day at work when you're just so overwhelmed with people and the chaos of the world, I would have this fantasy of being shipwrecked on a desert island in the Pacific," says Docter. "Bob and I began playing with that idea and started having some fun thinking about an 'old man' character like the ones we love from the George Booth cartoons in The New Yorker, and all those great Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau type of guys who are grouchy but you still like them. We came up with this image of a floating house held aloft by balloons, and it just seemed to capture what we were after in terms of escaping the world. We quickly realized that the world is really about relationships, and that's what Carl comes to discover." Peterson explains, "Pete was the first one to put down on paper the idea of a grouchy old man holding a bunch of happy, fun, colorful balloons. We started brainstorming because we both liked the idea of having an older character. It's something you don't see very often, and we think that old people have great stories to tell." Docter credits much of his creative influences to some real-life "old men"-animators who worked on the Disney classics. Though not one of the legendary "nine old men," Joe Grant was part of the 1937 team that created "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and has served as a source of inspiration to Docter, who names Grant in the film's dedication to the "real life Carl and Ellie Fredricksens who inspired us to create our own Adventure Books." "I got to know Joe when he was in his 90s. He was a friend of mine-this great old wise guy," says Docter. "Every time I would show him something we were working on he'd say, 'What are you giving the audience to take home?' That was his way of telling me it's the emotion-the character-based emotions that people are going to remember."

So what came first, the idea for Carl or the idea of a house floating with balloons? Because Docter definitely came up with the idea of Carl Fredrickson beforeAbove then Beyond began production.

First Sketch of Carl from Pixar's Up

Docter's first sketch of Carl is dated April 5th 2004. But the earliest concept image of a house floating with balloons in The Art of Up book is dated "2006". That said, there is an image dated "2004" which shows Carl's house surrounded by skyscrapers:

First Sketch of Carl from Pixar's Up

The Art of Up gives us more insight into the development of the film, with the following quote from Docter:

"After Monsters Inc, I started developing a couple projects. Bob and I were working on an idea that was rather abstract. It was about these two brothers who lived in a mythical, Muppet-like world- a floating cloud city. There were a lot of elements in it that we loved and people responded well to the idea, but the story wasn't really clicking. The emotional foundation was not solid. We took a step back and realized that the most intriguing thing about this floating city was the appear of isolation, like when you've had enough of people and want to go live on a desert island by yourself."

The book states that the story then evolved out of the sketch above with the cranky old man selling ballons, and the movie because about a cranky old man who uses the balloons to escape reality.

Carl Fredrickson was definitely created before the release of Above then Beyond, and other elements (like the house surrounded by skyscrapers above) of the Up story also have some proof of existence before the French film was released. It is unknown if Pixar saw the short film during the development of Up, and I doubt we'll ever get a real answer. But I think the evidence points towards this being an insane coincidence, and not much more.

What do you think?

Thanks to /Film reader Tyler M for the tip.