The audiences flocking to see Pixar’s Finding Dory are receiving an extra treat in the previews before the main feature. Piper, the charming, six-minute film that plays before Finding Dory is the brainchild of long-time Pixar animator and 1996 graduate, Alan Barillaro.
Barillaro, who marks his directorial debut with the short film about a hungry baby sandpiper, has worked alongside Finding Dory Director, Andrew Stanton, on several films, including A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo and WALL•E.
The idea for Piper came to Barillaro while he was working with Pixar’s software group, exploring new technologies. After encouragement from Stanton and John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, Barillaro went on to develop Piper for roughly a year. “The technology aspect of the project remained as part of our production philosophy and contributed to the final, hopefully unique, look of the film,” says Barillaro. According to the New York Times, “Pixar’s place on the vanguard of animation is affirmed by Piper. It also makes astonishing strides in the vivid and detailed rendering of feathers, foam and sand.”
Just as important as the innovative visuals that bring the plucky bird to life is the story, which centres on facing and overcoming fears, adds Barillaro. “There are moments I remember as a kid when the world felt so big and daunting. I wanted to explore this from the parent’s viewpoint - how you support your children, but ultimately try to instill in them the self-confidence to tackle whatever comes their way. I love storytelling that is relatable to both adults and kids.”
The future of animation continues to excite and inspire Barillaro, who is a member of the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “I believe it’s an important time for the art form of animation. In comparison to painting or literature, animation is still in its infancy as an art form. Computer animation techniques are evolving quickly in favor of artists. This can only mean more personal expression and diversity of storytelling. There is no need to drum up inspiration when you think of the possibilities and what types of films could be out there in five to 10 years. You can only hope to be a part of it.”
Barillaro made the decision to enter the animation industry during his high school years in Markham, Ontario, when he worked cleaning 2-D cells at The Animation House. Countless people helped him along the away over the years, including Sheridan instructor and 1976 grad, Charlie Bonifacio. “He was everything you could hope for in an animation teacher and I believe he was the reason so many Sheridan grads are in feature animation today,” says Barillaro, who is happy to count Bonifacio’s son, Evan (a 2008 grad), as a colleague at Pixar. “Evan is a very gifted and thoughtful animator and animated some of the most memorable scenes in the film. It meant a lot to me to have a Bonifacio work on Piper. I’m not sure I would have been at Pixar if it wasn’t for Charlie.”
Click here to watch the Piper trailer.
Click here to learn more about Sheridan’s Bachelor of Animation
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