Rewatching Pixar short films

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I rewatched lots of Pixar shorts the other night. So much of Pixar’s storytelling is fixating on parenting, growing up, child development. Also it seems like each Pixar short is some kind of experiment in animation or storytelling.

A great example is Piper, the story of a sandpiper on a beach learning to find shells in the sand. The animation of the surf, and the sand with all its different consistencies and levels of water saturation is amazing. Also, there’s experimentation with really pushing the virtual camera’s naturalism. There’s a shallow depth-of-field to emulate a macro lens like we’re used to seeing in nature photography of small subjects; it helps us get a sense of scale. When the subjects move quickly and suddenly, the frame struggles to catch up as if a camera operator on the beach has been take off-guard. The focus is sometimes over-pulled and brought back, implying a human hand on the dial trying to keep up with the action.

Because the shorts are developed contemporaneously with the feature length Pixar movies and presented at the front of the theatrical release, it’s fun to guess which feature films the short was attached to if you don’t know. There’s often clues in the technical experimentation, character design, and settings of the short films that point to a feature film’s world.