A Short History Of Pixar Shorts

Pixar’s shorts have a long history– even longer than their features, actually. And with the release of Brave comes the release of La Luna, the twenty or thirty-somethingth short film from the animation studio, depending on what you consider canon. There are the theatrical shorts and home entertainment shorts, as well as the series of Cars Toons and Toy Story Toons.

Theatrical includes all the original stories from the studio, while home entertainment shorts are adaptations or tie-ins to Pixar’s feature films. The Cars Toons and Toy Story Toons are an odd mix, spin-offs springing up recently and on a variety of different mediums. This non-definitive, non-authorized, hopefully informative and enjoyable short history of Pixar Animation Studios focuses on the theatrical and home entertainment categories but there is also mention of some of the ’Toons. VIDEOS DISABLED BY REQUEST

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B (1984)
Although technically not a Pixar short, Andre and Wally B was written and directed by Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith and animated by John Lasseter. The movie marks the first time Lasseter worked on a 3D animated film and its groundbreaking use of the computer tech really sparked interest in the art form going forward. Made by ‘The Graphics Group’ at Lucasfilm, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B finds the titular characters, man-ish and bee, having an altercation.

Luxo Jr. (1986)
After Smith and fellow animator Ed Catmull joined with Steve Jobs to form Pixar Animation Studios, the first film produced was John Lasseter’s Luxo Jr.. The story behind the short is simple: Lasseter used his architect’s lamp as a subject when learning to make models, and soon enough he was using the technology to bring little lamp to life. The result? Not only an Academy Award-nominated short but also the inspiration for Pixar’s logo and the introduction of the ‘Luxo ball,’ an item found in almost every film since. 13 years later, Luxo Jr. played in cinemas in front of Toy Story 2 and is also included on the home release.

Red’s Dream (1987)
Red’s Dream remains the only short to not get attached to one of Pixar’s feature films for either a theatrical or home video release.  It is also the only short to be rendered on the Pixar Image Computer and the first to star an organic character– namely, Lumpy the Clown. Even though it’s credited to Lasseter, the film is a combination of three visions: Lasseter’s clown as well as fellow animators William Reeves’ rainy city at night setting and Eben Ostby’s anthropomorphized bicycle. It could also be said that the studio’s Easter Egg tradition started in Red’s Dream with references to Andre and Luxo included. Can you spot them?

Tin Toy (1988)
The history of short films at Pixar could be described as nothing more than challenges and/or troubleshooting for animators. The results are these wildly imaginative and emotionally satisfying stories, but they at first emerged out of the company simply pushing the technological envelope. Tin Toy is the product of a summit to address cumbersome software and develop some specifically tuned to the animators needs. To test their design, Reeves suggested a baby while Lasseter added the toy and the idea that they would probably see a baby as some kind of monster. Tin Toy won the studio their first Oscar and I don’t need to explain its significance for the feature film future of Pixar. It was included on the home video released of Toy Story.

Knick Knack (1989)
Knick Knack, again written and directed by John Lasseter, is the first time Pixar animated in 3D and also the last short film produced before going full length with Toy Story. Besides the 3D, Knick Knack could be seen as a step back from the groundbreaking challenge of Tin Toy but it’s still endlessly enjoyable, and Lasseter has been quoted as saying that he just wanted to make a film that was “pure cartoony, like a Chuck Jones.” The short was later attached to both the theatrical and home video release of Finding Nemo. Knick Knack also features music from Mr. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Bobby McFerrin.

Geri’s Game (1997)
A lot happened for Pixar between Knick Knack in 1989 and Geri’s Game in ’97 – namely the creation and release of the very first computer animated film with Toy Story, not to mention gearing up for 1998’s A Bug’s Life and 99’s TS2. There just weren’t any short films to go along with it. Pixar again was using the short format for research and development purposes, this time determined to improve the look of computer animated human beings. Enter Geri and his mano et mano, uh, solo game of chess. Geri’s Game, written and directed by Jan Pinkava (co-director of Ratatouille), won Pixar it’s second Best Animated Short Academy Award and joined A Bug’s Life in theaters and home video.

For the Birds (2000)
For the Birds is the first Pixar short film that I ever saw and needless to say, it made quite an impression. Once again earning the studio the Best Animated Short Oscar (shockingly, their last), Birds is a lovely tale ultimately about making friends, or at least what happens to those who only hang on the wire with their own kind. Written and directed by Ralph Eggleston, who serves as Art Director on pretty much every Pixar feature, the film was acclaimed for its incredibly detailed work on the feathers, especially regarding their realistic movement. For the Birds accompanied Monsters Inc. for it’s theatrical and home video release.

Mike’s New Car (2002)
Mike’s New Car is the first feature-related short film from Pixar and seemingly also the first one produced without a specific technological advancement or challenge in mind. Nope, the companion piece to Monsters, Inc., which can be found alongside For the Birds on its home video release, was conceived by Pete Doctor even before the full length film featuring Mike and Sully. Co-directed by Doctor and Roger Gould, Gould also helped craft the story with two other Pixar regulars Jeff Pidgeon and Rob Gibbs. Mike’s New Car also marks another Academy Award nomination and is the first of their shorts to feature dialogue.

Boundin’ (2003)
Although co-directed by Gould, Boundin’ is very much Bud Lackey’s baby. The long time animator, and the man credited with designing Woody, wrote, directed, scored and narrated the short about a singin’ Sheep in American West who suddenly loses his confidence after being sheared. Not to worry because the Jackalope soon appears to teach the Sheep a little something called Boundin’. The short was attached to the theatrical and home release of The Incredibles and earned Pixar yet another Oscar nomination. Oh, and the Cars DVD contains a version of Boundin’ but instead of a Sheep and Jackalope, it’s Lightning and Mater.

One Man Band (2005)
After the studio’s first two shorts to use dialogue, One Man Band returned Pixar to the world of the wordless with the story of a street performer. But it did include another key Pixar player–Michael Giacchino, the Academy Award winning composer behind many of their feature film scores. And the score was so important to the story that you could even consider giving Giacchino a writing credit. Written and directed by Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews – the former a digital artist on many Pixar movies. and the latter happens to be the helmer of BraveOne Man Band was nominated for the Oscar and played in front of Cars in cinemas and home release.

Jack-Jack Attack (2005)
Jack-Jack Attack is the second franchise-related short and also the film to stop Pixar’s streak of Animated Oscar nominations at five in a row. Director Brad Bird originally intended for a sequence revealing the youngest Parr son’s powers in The Incredibles but instead opted for an expanded, standalone version of the story. One of my personal favorites (probably because The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar feature), Jack-Jack Attack is based on characters by Bird but actually written by Mark Andrews, Rob Gibbs, Teddy Newton and Bosco Ng (the first two are future shorts directors while Ng never worked with Pixar before or since). Jack-Jack Attack joined The Incredibles on DVD. And there’s also this ‘non-canon’ Incredibles related short The Adventures of Mr. Incredible directed by Roger Gould.

Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)
Mater and the Ghostlight is yet another franchise related short and another to not receive the honor of an Oscar nomination. See a pattern here? The spin-off of Cars was conceived during a road trip to research the feature when co-writers/directors Lasseter and Dan Scanlon heard the tale of the ‘Ghostlight’ who haunts the famed Route 66. Included on the Cars DVD with One Man Band, the short is also the first to include a post-credit sequence. Gotta love those easter eggs. Scanlon is also the director charged with the upcoming Pixar sequel sorry, prequel, Monsters University so after watching the short, check out the first teasers.

Lifted (2006)
The fact that Lifted returned Pixar to the Academy Award race should come as no surprise since it was written and directed by the sound designer Gary Rydstrom. Why do you think the console looks so much like a mixing board? Rydstrom has won seven Oscars for his work with sound and has mixed most of Pixar’s feature films. He’s also the director of the Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation short as well as the English language versions of Studio Ghibli’s Tales from Earthsea and The Secret World of Arrietty. Lifted appeared theatrically with Ratatouille and was also included on the home video release.

Your Friend the Rat (2007)
What a coincidence, another feature film tie-in and another short film not invited to the Oscars. A shame though, because Your Friend the Rat, which is obviously linked to Ratatouille and accompanies Lifted on the DVD, is in many ways a celebration of animation techniques. Oh, and rats. The short is the first to feature traditional animation but also has sections that employ 2D techniques, stop motion, CGI and even live action. Directed by Jim Capobianco, and written by Capobianco, Jeff Pidgeon and Alexander Woo, Your Friend the Rat has Remy and Emile lecturing us with a lesson in rat history.

Presto (2008)
The goal with Presto, a short about a troubled magician and mischievous rabbit, was to produce a classic cartoon sensibility (similar to Lasseter’s goal with Knick Knack) in the modern and gorgeous Pixar environments. Written and directed by Doug Sweetland, an animator on pretty much everything the studio’s done feature-wise and also set to direct The Familiars for Sony Pictures Animation, the film nabbed a nomination at the Oscars and was included with the theatrical and home video release of WALL-E. It’s another favorite of mine, partly because the experience of seeing Andrew Stanton’s feature for the first time was memorable.

BURN-E (2008)
Joining Presto on the home video release of Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E is BURN-E. The spin-off short was directed by Angus MacLane – lead animator on Stanton’s feature who would also helm Toy Story Toons: Small Fry – and written by MacLane, Stanton and Derek Thompson. The director’s vision for the film was to pay homage to his favorite science fiction films of the 70s and 80s, for example the floor grating in particular references the popular Alien franchise. BURN-E‘s adventure, with his trusty companion SUPPLY-R, takes place during the events of WALL-E and therefore features footage from the film.

Partly Cloudy (2009)
Partly Cloudy is the first original Pixar short since 1989’s Knick Knack to not get nominated for an Academy Award. Written and directed by Peter Sohn, a veteran Pixar animator, the voice of Emile in Ratatouille and rumored to be co-directing the upcoming The Good Dinosaur for the studio with Up co-director Bob Peterson. Speaking of Up, Partly Cloudy was shown before it in theaters and is also included on the DVD. The film is an odd story about a cloud who gives birth to some temperamental baby beasts and the stork charged with taking them to their parents. While perhaps less impressive in the animation department, it has an ending that’s pure Pixar.

Dug’s Special Mission (2009)
Another companion short made to accompany Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson’s Up for its home video release, Dug’s Special Mission was directed by Ronnie del Carmen and co-written by del Carmen and Peterson. de Carmen also illustrated a children’s book based on the canine star, “My Name Is Dug,” and was quoted as saying, “he must be up to something and I want to see what that is.” And let’s be honest, everyone wants to see what Dug was up to before meeting Carl and Russell because the character, voiced by co-director Peterson himself, is one of the all-time fan favorites. The short’s credits run over Dug’s first encounter with the Up and end with his famous introduction, “Hi there!”

Day & Night (2010)
Written and directed by Teddy Newton, the aforementioned co-writer of Jack-Jack Attack, Day & Night uses both 2D and 3D animation to tell the tale of the two anthropomorphized times who eventually switch roles. While the outlines are drawn by hand and rendered in 2D, the insides of the characters are done in 3D. The short played in front of Toy Story 3 and is also included on the DVD release. Day & Night earned Pixar that Academy Award nomination that was missing with the last three shorts. Oh, and the radio broadcast is a recording from self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer.

La Luna (2011)
Possibly the most technically daring attempt in quite some time, Enrico Casarosa’s La Luna used watercolors as an inspiration and scanned paintings to be able to capture the textures and tone digitally. Pastels were also used directly for the mattes to add to the more human, less computerized feel of the aesthetic. Screening in front of Brave, well, right now, La Luna was nominated for the Oscar earlier this year. The latest in the long line of Pixar shorts, the film written and directed by Casarosa looks absolutely beautiful. And his work must have instilled confidence in the brass since the Italian animator has been made head of story for The Good Dinosaur. I would bet he’ll be behind a feature for the studio before too long.

Brave opens Friday, June 22.

P.S. Cars Toons and Toy Story Toons: Small Fry

Pixar has also been busy making a bunch of shorts and spin-offs based on their two most successful franchises, Cars and Toy Story. Dubbed the Toons, a few of the films have been released theatrically – Cars Toons: Tokyo Mater with Bolt, Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation with Cars 2 and Toy Story Toons: Small Fry with The Muppets – and a few on various home video releases – Hawaiian Vacation was joined by Cars Toons: Air Mater on the Cars 2 DVD, while the rest on various Disney networks.

The rest, by the way, includes: Rescue Squad Mater, Mater the Greater, El Materdor, Tokyo Mater, Unidentified Flying Mater, Monster Truck Mater, Heavy Metal Mater,Moon Mater and Mater Private Eye (as part of the DVD Mater’s Tall Tales), Air Mater and Time Travel Mater. I think they like Mater. There are also plans for more Toy Story Toons with Toy Story Toons: Partysaurus Rex supposed to come out sometime this fall and more after that. We’ll be seeing Toy Story and Cars for a while. “To infinity and beyond!”

Everything you need to know about Pixar shorts (and features) can be found on the studio’s website. Check it out, there is so much more great stuff to explore. And make it a point to own all of Pixar shorts on DVD and Blu-ray. Order them right here on Amazon.

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