Bao, the bun that took the world by storm is now out on DVD/Digital. If you saw Disney Pixar’s Incredibles 2 over the summer (and now on DVD/Digital) you were treated to a little food-centric short that has more historical impact than you’d imagine. We chatted with director Domee Shi who is the first woman to direct a film at Pixar, and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb about bringing the bun to life.
DHK: I’d love to start with what was the most logistically challenging and what was the most emotionally challenging scene?
Becky: Domee do you want to take emotion and I’ll take logistics?
Domee: For me, well I don’t know if it’s emotional, but the hardest thing for me personally making this short was just developing the story for it. The ending specifically was always a very challenging thing for me to sell because it’s such a surprise at the end. It’s a little weird. It’s a little controversial, and it took a lot of different versions to come up with just the right way to reveal the true story behind the dumpling metaphor fantasy and to keep audiences still in the movie after the mom character eats the dumpling. So, just for me, I pretty much storyboarded the whole thing myself over the course of a couple years and I just worked out different versions of it. Different ways to reveal the real son coming in to the room. I tried different versions where maybe she wakes up in the hospital. So for me that was always the hardest part to develop because it was like oh how much do we set up in the beginning? Do we hint at it a little bit more? So yeah that for me was the most challenging part of making the short.
Becky: And then technically once we got into production, doing food effects – special effects of food – was our biggest challenge. We had some sense it would be hard, but I don’t think we knew just how hard it would be until we got in there. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re all experts in what good food looks like, so if it’s a little bit off everyone would notice and it was super important for us to get that right. It was “this is how mom shows her love” so it had to be appealing, it had to be loving. And probably the two biggest challenges were the dough and how the shape changes and that opening shot. It was important for Domee to have it be this one long shot where you’re seeing all these things happen to the dough.
Domee: No cuts!
Becky: Our technical artists would ask Domee “Could this be three shots? Because then we could cheat some things or hide some things?” Domee really wanted that initial shot to be identical to how her mom makes dough for dumplings so it was just really important. It just took a while. Doing organic looking material in the computer is just challenging. Computers are much better at hard, symmetrical, shiny, surfaces. This was just so different.
And then that pork filling that was inside of dumpling. It took us a while. It was a lot of back and forth between our technical artists and our art department artists, our production designer, Rona Liu, to really art direct that. To make it look appealing and really not, you know, gross frankly.
DHK: I was going to ask you to settle something for me, because I was like that’s pork, that’s definitely pork dumpling.
Becky and Domee: Yeah!!
Domee: Pork and chive!
Becky: And you know in real life pork filling, raw meat doesn’t look good in real life, so it was like how do we make this look good and believable?
DHK: Absolutely! I’d actually love to know what the biggest change between the first iteration of the story percolating in your brain to the version we saw on screen was? Or did it kind of stay true to that original concept? I know you just mentioned you were workshopping the end for a long time…
Domee: Yeah, yeah, so the very first version I ever pitched to Pixar was not too different from what the final version ended up being. All the major story beats were there. It always started with a lonely Chinese lady making dumplings in her house. One of them comes to life. She raises it. It grows up. Becomes a jerk. She eats it. In the end it’s a real that it was all a metaphorical fantasy for her son moving away. And those beats were always the same. The biggest differences were just the subtler, the smaller beats. Like in the middle montage part where the mom character and the dumpling character are growing up together and she’s raising it. I was playing around with different ideas and gags about how they could spend their time together.
For me I write with drawings so I just kind of storyboarded many many different beats and ideas. Like I had a beat where they go out and they eat noodles together. Or they go to the park and he plays around with other kids. Or they go to the public pool and splash around, because that’s what I used to with my mom. Or she brings him along to Mahjong night with her old Chinese friends. I would throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. I ended up stripping a lot of it, like piece by piece, I would strip those ideas away. Anything that wouldn’t directly showcase the mother character and the dumpling character’s relationship. Like if it was just a funny gag I would cut it at the end. Or if it didn’t revolve around food in some way I kind of cut it out. We were aiming for a six to seven minute short so in the end I had to kind of cut away any of the shoe leather and just kind of focus on what we needed to tell the story.
For the most part broad picture wise it has pretty much been this story. It’s just the details that’ve changed.
Bao is available now on the Incredibles 2 DVD/ Digital release.
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- A Clip from Bao the Pixar Short that will Play Before Incredibles 2
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- Pixar’s Bao Interview with Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb - November 6, 2018