Audiences who see the upcoming Disney animated feature Big Hero 6 in theaters will get a little bonus appetizer before it starts in the form an all-new short titled “Feast.” I had a chance to see “Feast” recently at a press day for Big Hero 6 and got an inside look at the process of making the short from director Patrick Osborne himself.
Disney has been on a roll with its short films in the past few years, releasing the technically ambitious 3D Mickey Mouse cartoon “Get a Horse!” in theaters with Frozen and the Oscar-winning “Paperman” alongside Wreck-It Ralph. This latest offering continues that tradition of quality, with a heartfelt story and a striking visual style that sets it apart from anything you’ll see in the main feature.
The short takes the point of view of a Boston terrier named Winston and tells the story of his life and his relationship with his owner through a series of meals. Along with the standard kibble there’s fast food, fancy food, party food, healthy food, just about any kind of immediately recognizable dish you can think of. The humans remain mostly in the background, but their story is also cleverly told through Winston’s eyes, and his stomach. Osborne told us he got the idea for the story from watching YouTube videos featuring images of different meals all cut together.
“There was something pretty cool about the amount of light that you see just in showing your meal, meal after meal, cut after cut,” he says. “And there’s something neat about the potential in sound design and color. It just felt like there was something to center a short around there. … The only thing missing was a through line to kind of follow through with it. It felt like maybe we could get a dog under the table and show his life with his new family and kind of let the human life be in the background.”
When it came time to pitch ideas for the next studio short, Osborne submitted his idea and some early concept art to studio head John Lasseter and a panel of directors. It was a nerve-wracking experience, he says, but once the project was green lit he didn’t have much time to agonize over it.
“I waited and continued working on Big Hero 6 for a couple months,” he recalls. “And then one day they said it was mine, they were going to make this one. And instantly everything changes, and I’m no longer working on Big Hero and I have a deadline of story, which I’ve never done. So you start to work on story and figuring out how the actual short’s going to play out, but at the same time you’re also starting to figure out what it’s going to look like.”
An artist by trade, Osborne didn’t have much experience storyboarding before working on “Feast.” It was one of the biggest challenges for him, made even more daunting by the fact that he was working with John Lasseter, one of the most successful talents working in animation today.
“My first professional board was shown to John Lasseter,” he says in a tone that’s both reverent and incredulous. “It’s a crazy thing. It’s not something you should do. That was entirely the challenge for me of learning this process. Jeff Turley was the production designer and John knew what his work was like, but John didn’t know what my story was going to be like. So every meeting we had John would be like, ‘The art is beautiful, can’t wait to see it when it looks like that. The story just needs to work. You need to do something to make this work. It’s not good yet.’ And that happened several times.”
In the end, it all came back to that pitch and living up to what Lasseter saw in it back in the beginning.
“You realize after a while that he’s green-lit this idea because he believes in something,” Osborne says. “It’s your challenge just to deliver on the promise of the pitch. You promised something when you did this pitch and it hit something emotionally for him and it felt right in some way. And you just have to get back to that story. So it was amazing.”
The finished short is equal parts touching and visually appealing. Besides a parade of delectable dishes (I’d advise eating before you get to the theater), there are also some nice, subtle effects like dust particles in the soft light and other shallow-depth-of-field tricks that give the image some depth when it’s shown in 3D, and a sentimental climax that might have viewers going into the feature with misty eyes. It’s the perfect starter course for a meal of great animation.
You can see “Feast” and Big Hero 6 in theaters beginning November 7.