The title of the last Pixar short film, Bao has two meanings in Chinese: "steamed bread" or "precious treasure". In the short term, it could easily mean both. The bathroom in this movie is a nice homemade ball of dough that comes to life, becoming a small and strange baby that delights the Chinese mother who nests in the void and who did it. From there, the baby bao begins to grow. That sounds surreal on paper, and the execution is just as jarring. Writer and director Domee Shi described it as a "magical and modern fairytale, like a Chinese Gingerbread Man . " But there is more than just another fable about runaway food.
Bao was recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and will be presented before the Pixar feature The Incredibles 2 due out on June 15. Shi, a Chinese-Canadian storyboard artist, has worked at Pixar on Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and Toy Story 4. Started at the company as a storyteller in 2011 and now she's the first woman to direct a short in the studio's history. I sat down with Shi and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb to talk about the challenges of animating food and creating a story that can be related, and about how Isao Takahata and Japan Studio Ghibli influenced the short film.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
T h is short made me cry, which surprised me. I asked myself : "Why do I sympathize so much with the m or here ? I am not the mother of a Chinese bow." Aspired t or has viewer  s relate more to the mother than to the child here ?
Domee Shi: Definitely. I'm like you; I'm not a mother either. I'm the steamed bread in this story. I thought it would be a really great exercise for me to put myself in this mother's point of view, I think to better understand my own mother. I am an only child, and I have been pampered and protected all my life, but I wanted to understand "Why did my mother always act this way? Why was she always so protective?"
Becky Neiman-Cobb: I am a new mother, and I was impressed by Domee's total understanding [of motherhood] as, "How do you know that this is a mom? This thing?" This was mom's story, so everything she talked about, and all of Domee's address was about that. According to our composer, Domee gave him notes and said: "This has to feel like mom feels at this moment." Follow your emotions. "
The composer, Toby Chu is Chinese-American .It was important for you not only to have a representation of Asians on screen but also behind the scenes?
DS: For sure, the production designer, Rona Liu, is also a Chinese-American artist, specifically I turned to her, not only because she was Chinese-American, but because I love her I knew that this short would require an art director who knew the specifics of a Chinese home: Asian parents, food and Chinatown, to make the short feel as authentic as possible. on research trips to SF Chinatown and Oakland Chinatown, we would visit our families' houses and take tons of photos of their grandmother, my uncles and my aunts, we made sure that every detail felt like home with which we grew up
Although Chinese culture plays such a dominant role in the film, it remains a universal story.
BNC: What tells the story is that it is very personal. Because history is so personal, genuine and authentic, it becomes identifiable. Yes, it is culturally specific, but those issues of family, food and love are so universal and easy to identify. The more specific Domee was with the details, he just wanted to say that he felt more real.
DS: I never felt that I should water anything. There was a discussion in which a non-Asian person asked: "Why is there a roll of toilet paper on the table?" And I was like, "We must keep it there, it's very important and a basic element in all Chinese parents." houses to have it there. "
I definitely made sure to show the first versions of the short film to different groups of people (Chinese groups, non-Chinese groups at Pixar) just to make sure the story was clear, I wanted the details to be specific, but I wanted the people came out of the movie feeling the same, that food brought this family together and that this is the universal story of a mother who lets her son go in. She definitely wanted everyone to understand, but they also learned something about a world that They were used to it
I understand that your mother was a dumpling consultant in the movie What was how to work with her?
DS: ] It was great! We invited her to Pixar twice to do dumplings for the crew because she really wanted the animators and the effects artists to touch the dough and fold it, and watch my mother do it, so that we could replicate your technique exactly on the screen. I definitely learned more about making dumplings by watching my mother. While growing up, I made meatballs all the time, but I did not appreciate how much work was involved.
Do you have food particularly difficult to cheer?
DS: It's one of the hardest things to do to look good on the screen because the raw pig does not look so good in real life.
BNC: We are all experts in what the food looks like, so if it's a bit off, it shows. So, it was really important that we do it well.
DS: I felt that we had to exaggerate many things. We had to make it brighter, more saturated. Something like how food photographers have to improve food. We had to do that on the big screen too.
Given that food connection, w there crew members f r om Ratatouille Who also worked on this film?
DS: We consulted with a guy who had worked on her, and her advice to us was: "One thing that makes food look really good is that shiny coating of fat that it covers." That was a breakthrough for us. There is a very quick shot of Mom stirring the pork in the wok, and we made sure it was shiny and oily because we wanted that good, shiny fat.
I saw your tribute to the co-founder of Studio Ghibli Isao Takahata in his Instagram . You said it was an influence on the story and it looks like s to the father in Bao . Was that intentional?
DS: That was completely involuntary, but maybe his spirit was pushing me to design the father to look like him. [ Laughter ] But yes, it was a great influence. I love My neighbors the Yamadas . The style of Takahata in general, and how it explores the unique moments of these families. I wanted to incorporate that spirit in Bao. At the opening, I wanted to get every detail of Mom preparing the meatballs, and I wanted the dining room to shoot dad and mom having breakfast together, to develop in a very natural way, as if you were watching your own parents having breakfast in the morning .
BNC: When our animators first came to the team, we had a screening of My neighbors the Yamadas for all of them. Domee refers to that so much, so we wanted to make sure we all saw it.
DS: I love the subtlety in the way their characters are animated, how they can be so expressive. Their mouths can be so big, but they also feel so human and real. And I really wanted that in my short too.