By Bill Desowitz | http://billdesowitz.com June 11, 2014 at 9:00AM
Disney's latest animated short, Feast, which highlights the importance of food and is uniquely told from a dog's POV, premiered Tuesday at Annecy, but Animation Scoop got an early sneak peek and an exclusive interview with director Patrick Osborne (head of animation on the Oscar-winning Paperman and co-head on the upcoming Big Hero 6 feature). In fact, Feast will fittingly open in front of the Marvel superhero adaptation on Nov. 7.
If anything, Feast is big leap forward from both Paperman and Get A Horse! and will be a prime Oscar contender for best animated short. The hand-drawn/CG hybrid technique is more polished and accomplished and the narrative more ambitious and compelling. Winston has a great life with his master and best friend, James, stuffing himself with scrumptious plates of food until a girlfriend, Kirby, comes between them.
Feast boasts quick montage-style cuts (edited by Jeff Draheim of Frozen) and contains a distinctive look exemplified by the use of flat shapes and colors and shallow depth of field. Winston's perspective is further accentuating by low angles and floating particulate matter. It's like a minimalist's approach to Lady and the Tramp. And if you look closely enough, you'll notice that it takes place between the mid-'90s and today.
Feast was spawned by Disney's artist-driven Spark program four years ago in which Osborne and production designer Jeff Turley created a new technique in 20 days for applying hand-drawn lines to CG characters in motion, which first led to Paperman. A more crucial influence, though, was a series of dinners Osborne shot with an app over the span of several months to convey the importance of food in his life. The fact that they were one-second snapshots of various plates of food made a big impression on John Lasseter. But so did the idea of marrying the concept to the winsome dog's POV.
"To me when you're working on a piece of artwork, you're constantly interacting with it, and we've been developing our tools on the CG side where you're not waiting for stuff while you're working," Osborne explains. "The computer is fast and it's interactive and you're able to design as you go for every frame, so you're not influenced to make other choices just because it's slower. In fact, when animators were working, they didn't see shading and shadow: they only saw silhouette and shape. They were able to be fast and only shapes went upstream, not dimension. It's just shapes moving around in the plane in the end. And what the animators were seeing was pretty close to what we ended up doing -- just changing the colors.
"It's about finding your spot early and then designing your frame very specifically about what needs to be worked. So there are certain things that are cool about a crafty technique like this where you're breaking tools a little bit to be explicit about every composition.
The vecter-based Meander interface from Paperman was used more lightly because there is no edge line at all. "Part of the design rule of the short was we were going to use flat, solid shapes in their silhouettes almost entirely. When you think about what animation is, it's really shape design over time. And there are all kinds of ways to get that shape. The 3D is just a way of organizing shapes and keeping things on model. It's a lot easier to make Winston look like Winston the whole time. The edge treatment we put on everything makes it feel more textured and every frame is hand-crafted, whether it's a pencil on screen or in Photoshop or on paper. It's a very flexible rig."
Food is a representation of Winston's emotional state, according to Osborne, and Feast is warmer in the beginning and green only comes into play with the introduction of Kirby, who's a foodie of a different sort. Indeed, there's a remarkable use of rack focus involving a sprig of parsley that leads to an epiphany for the canine protagonist.
Not surprisingly, Glen Keane's shape and design influence continues to be enormous at Disney. "You try to make tools that let you understand design in animation as you go," Osborne adds. "I didn't want to layer in all this simulated stuff on top of everything. And the tools we were making for Big Hero 6 also make the rigs faster. It's real-time so you can interact with it and that feedback loop lets you always react to what you see. Big Hero is very real compared to what we're doing in a textural, photographic way. It's also designed and shaped but it's just about whether it looks curved on the surface or not in the end.
"Our end goal was this flat shape: What do we need to do on the texture side to support that? I think people enjoy stepping out like that. You make a set of rules and you stick with it."
And the set of rules for Feast are fascinating with such iconic yummies as pizza, french fries, and, yes, even spaghetti and meatballs taking on a whole new experience with this style of animation.
Best of all, Disney has officially launched a new shorts program with Feast, which is another reason to rejoice about the turnaround at the studio.