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‘Piper’ Short First Look: A Pixar Photoreal Adventure

'Piper' Short First Look: A Pixar Photoreal Adventure

“Piper” is the perfect companion short to “Finding Dory” (opening June 17). It’s about fear and water with a baby sandpiper learning to go underwater as part of his rite of passage ritual.

However, animator Alan Barillaro (“A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E”), who was mentored by director Andrew Stanton, began “Piper” as a further tech experiment in photorealism (“The Blue Umbrella” short was the first).

But Barillaro didn’t want to be boxed in by pitching a story without first perfecting the technique, so he dabbled in some R&D.

“I loved birds that run along the shore and I shot footage like a documentary with long lenses,” he explained at a recent “Finding Dory” press junket in Monterey.

What fascinated Barillaro was how a flock of birds would flee from the water and then return to eat when the waves were gone. He found working in this regard “more poetic but caricatured with an emotional quality. No arm gestures.  It’s about believability,” he said. “And when he’s creeped out and scared, he has his own little hair style.”

But feathers posed the biggest challenge. “How to animate between 4 and 7 million feathers? We had to come up with region controls. And what we realized was it influenced our acting.” A further experiment involved hand-animating some of the feathers. 

Then there were the bubbles: “This is the first as far as I know an animator shaping the bubbles as 12 separate sculpts that he filmed and referencing that. ” The simulated bubbles were then mixed with many different styles.

“I wanted to start in software to take some risks.” It’s back to Pixar’s tradition of tech innovation for shorts.

Stanton was so impressed that he said he wished they had those bubbles on “Nemo.”

‘Piper’ Short First Look: A Pixar Photoreal Adventure

Pixar vet Alan Barillaro marries different animation techniques in this story of a bird overcoming hydrophobia.

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