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How New Pixar Short ‘Lou’ Stretches the Limits of Animation

With its follow-up to the Oscar-winning "Piper," Pixar conquered a unique animation problem with a wacky pile of lost and found items that achieve a memorable metamorphosis.

“Lou”

Animation

After the photo-real wonders of its Oscar-winning “Piper,” Pixar tackled a more abstract animation challenge in its latest short about schoolyard bullying. In “Lou,” which plays in front of “Cars 3,” a pile of lost and found items in a box coalesce into an anthropomorphic character who harasses a bully when he steals from other kids.

Baseballs become Lou’s eyes, a book becomes his mouth, a baseball mitt and slinky become his hand and arm, and a hoodie becomes his body.  However, Lou manages to hold together since the objects constantly shift around. The result is a wacky chase around the schoolyard and a surprisingly emotional comeuppance.

“We’re cramming so much stuff into the film that people don’t get a break until [a revelation]
toward the end,” said director Dave Mullins, an animator at Pixar since “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001. He has since worked his way to supervising animator after contributing to “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Up,” and “Inside Out,” among others.

Feeling Invisible

Mullins moved around a lot as a kid and always felt invisible on the schoolyard. This served as the starting point for “Lou,” the lost and found pile that hides in plain sight before coming to life. Mullins found a willing mentor in director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc., “Up,” and “Inside Out’), who executive-produced the short along with John Lasseter. One senses the allure of “Lou” for Docter, who specializes in loose, odd-shaped characters. And Mullins was definitely influenced by the anthropomorphic creativity of both Docter and Hayao Miyazaki.

“Lou”

“The big promise of the short is when I pitched it, everyone fell in love with Lou’s character,” said Mullins. “John Lasseter and Pete Docter said this would be a character that was a metamorphosis. He’d always change shape and always be something new. And whatever he needed to do, that’s how he’d get himself out of a situation.”

At first, Mullins lost sight of that in the first few reels when he focused more on the story, he said:  “John pushed on me really hard: ‘Hey, you promised that there would be this crazy
thing — go back to it.'”

Making Lou Come Together

The animated process of splitting Lou apart and bringing him back together was excruciating for Mullins and his shorts team. After all, the character was comprised of more than a dozen items.

“It was like stop-motion where each pose was done on frame, Mullins said. “There were some attachment points. For example, the baseballs were attached to the hoodie, but as soon as you moved the hoodie, it started intersecting the baseballs, so you had to sculpt every frame by hand.”

“Lou”

And since Lou changed so many configurations, there was no rig that would work for that so Pixar came up with a series of separate controls. When we put his eyeball inside of his mouth and the other one on the outside, he wasn’t designed or built to do that,” said Mullins. “There were like 360 controls in the mouth.”

As far as new tech, Pixar used some of the sand simulation from “Piper” for the fuzzy hoodie, along with the rig from “Finding Dory’s” octopus, Hank, for the arms.

It was all part of what made “Lou” take shape with magical physics and gravity.

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