As massive and business-minded a corporation as it is, Walt Disney Animation leaves room in their pipeline for experimentation. Each year, crew members on any and every rung of the bureaucratic ladder have the opportunity to pitch short films to John Lasseter and the WDA “story trust,” a group of the company's veteran directors, writers, and artists. The goal: Push story and animation technology to places where the feature slate can't go (at least, not until the shorts lay the groundwork). Animator Patrick Osborne pitched “Feast” as a living work of concept art – graphic, fluid, and nostalgic – that also fell into the Disney mold, a sweet story of a dog that loves food. Lasseter took to it, and this November, the fully rendered short hits theaters in front of “Big Hero 6.”
Mimicking the artistic style of illustrator Jeff Turley (who previously art directed “Paperman”), “Feast” chronicles the life of a puppy named Winston, who watches his daily meals – and his master – evolve over time. I saw “Feast” during a short visit to Walt Disney Animation in Burbank, CA earlier this year where Osborne was on hand to explain the complicated process of animating a film with a flat, cell-shaded look. The director's hope was to steer the “Feast” team away from simulations and pre-packaged cel shading. No short cuts. Though it's CG animation, there's still a meticulous approach to designing frames by hand and adjusting lighting with as much care after the fact. Dropping Winston into any location, any lighting setup was the film's greatest hurdle.
“Getting creative with your lighting makes the food look unappetizing,” Osborne said. “All food in advertising, it's all in white light. Food looks good, even when they're saying it's a pizza in a bar, there's still a stream of sunlight coming in.” A scene where Winston navigates through a bar chomping on a slice was actually scraped – if only for the audience to hold on to its own stomach. “When you light with blue on yellow cheese, it starts looking green,” he admitted.
As Walt Disney Animation strides forward in the design arena, its employees still feel that connection to the past, the spirit that makes a “Disney movie” a “Disney movie.” It helps that each animator has complete access to 77 years of studio history at their fingertips. Each Disney computer is outfitted with DPix, an internal streaming system where an animator can pull up any shot from any Disney movie. Every short, every feature, and every live-action thing. Osborne took advantage by studying past animated pooches.
“When I got the pitch together, there wasn't a dog in it the whole time. Then all of a sudden, it's going to be a dog movie. You mention it to one person and they like it so much more than your old pitch. So you watch 'Lady and the Tramp' and '101 Dalmatians'. You have to do that,” Osborne said.
For a first look at Osborne's innovative film, a contender for this year's Best Animated Short Oscar, check out the video below.
“Feast” will run in front of Big Hero 6 in 3D on November 7