“Weekends,” the latest off-the-shelf Pixar short, offers childhood memories of divorce to evoke the clash of painterly beauty and emotional confusion. (The indie was made by Pixar artists under its co-op program to allow them to work on their own time.)
Story artist Trevor Jimenez directed the Oscar and Annie hopeful by recreating how he was shuttled from one parent to the other as a youngster in Toronto during the 1980s.
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“It started as a series of drawings from a sketch book that I posted online,” said Jimenez, who worked on “Coco,” “Finding Dory,” and is currently boarding the latest feature from Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer. They included memories of meeting a woman his dad dated in the kitchen, and, opening the door and seeing a man with flowers for his mom.
Pixar’s co-op program has resulted in Oscar nominations for the shorts “The Dam Keeper” and “Borrowed Time.” For “Weekends,” Jimenez wanted a rough, hand-made texture evocative of childhood, taking inspiration from the live-action feature, “Yi Yi,” for the use of wide shots, and the painterly quality of the Oscar-winning animated short, “Father and Daughter.”
Jimenez recruited Chris Sasaki, who contributed concept art before becoming the production designer. He lent his influences from Japanese photography and comic books along with European graphic novels.
“Chris experimented with many styles, settling on the charcoal line on every shot,” Jimenez said. “He felt the film was personal and wanted my thumb print on every frame. That would help harmonize it. I did all of the charcoal background drawings, and he scanned that in, found the texture, and dirtied up the line more, made it pretty, and then painted over it with light glazes in Photoshop with specific texture brushes.”
They utilized around 30 artists both inside and outside of Pixar, and and Jimenez did most of the animation. “I did a color key and started to pick things,” he said. “Red for the dad’s condo and pale green for the mom’s place. And then naturally desaturated one and saturated the other. It actually made me see, structurally, the relationships. As one fades, the other becomes stronger. And that helped me edit by focusing more on the color scheme.”
Two soothing memories that served to be useful were his mom playing the piano and his dad constantly playing Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” during trips in the car. “I had the mom play Erik Satie but in reality my mom liked playing show tunes, and it took a while to get the rights to the Dire Straits but we did.”
However, Jimenez couldn’t hide from the subconscious turmoil of childhood nightmares. Two, in particularly, found their way into the short: A fire in his mom’s house started by her boyfriend’s head turning into a candle and falling over, and and an even more surreal flying dream in which objects in the family home prior to the divorce swirl in the air and leap out the window.
“With the candle, I did a drawing with half a head and a candle burning, and it’s based on a personal experience that I had,” said Jimenez. “But I had no idea where that would fit into the film. And then I thought of something volatile that can create havoc. And if a candle gets knocked over, it can burn a house down.
“With the flying dream, I had some foggy memories of a window flying into my bedroom and clothes flying in through the window and suffocating me.”
Yet the dream doesn’t end there: Jimenez wakes up in the morning to find his parents gone but their clothes are there and wave to him in a moment of strange delight. “So the dream is pulled from that visual feeling with warm light coming in,” he said.