Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Cannes Review: Gaspar Noé's Hardcore And Softhearted 'Love' Cannes Review: Gaspar Noé's Hardcore And Softhearted 'Love' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Cannes Review: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is An Epic Visual Poem Cannes Review: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is An Epic Visual Poem The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever Roger Deakins To Shoot Denis Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner' Sequel Roger Deakins To Shoot Denis Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner' Sequel More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement More NSFW Posters For Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' Plus The Official Director's Statement Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image Cannes: Watch A Three Way Makeout In The First Clip From Gaspar Noe’s 3D ‘Love’ Plus New NSFW Image Simon Pegg Worries That Adults Obsessed With Comics & Sci-Fi Have Become "Infantilized By Our Own Taste" Simon Pegg Worries That Adults Obsessed With Comics & Sci-Fi Have Become "Infantilized By Our Own Taste" Cannes Review: Denis Villeneuve's 'Sicario' Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin And Benicio Del Toro Cannes Review: Denis Villeneuve's 'Sicario' Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin And Benicio Del Toro George Miller Says He Courted Heath Ledger To Lead 'Mad Max' In 2006, Reveals Title For 'Fury Road' Sequel George Miller Says He Courted Heath Ledger To Lead 'Mad Max' In 2006, Reveals Title For 'Fury Road' Sequel Watch: Michael Fassbender Takes The Stage In First Trailer For 'Steve Jobs' Watch: Michael Fassbender Takes The Stage In First Trailer For 'Steve Jobs' George Miller Says 'Interstellar' Came Close To What His Version Of 'Contact' Would've Been Like George Miller Says 'Interstellar' Came Close To What His Version Of 'Contact' Would've Been Like New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Exclusive: Jon Brion Scores Pixar's 'The Blue Umbrella' Short

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist January 29, 2013 at 2:24PM

While we first mentioned back in the summer of 2012 that producer and composer Jon Brion would be scoring what was then "the untitled umbrella short" for Pixar (to play ahead of this summer's "Monsters University"), it was never confirmed by the studio… until now. The short, now entitled "The Blue Umbrella" and set to have its worldwide premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival next month, is indeed scored by Brion. What's more, we got to talk to first-time director Saschka Unseld about the short and about working with the estimable talent that is Jon Brion.
3
The Blue Umbrella Jon Brion

While we first mentioned back in the summer of 2012 that producer and composer Jon Brion would be scoring what was then "the untitled umbrella short" for Pixar (to play ahead of this summer's "Monsters University"), it was never confirmed by the studio… until now. The short, now entitled "The Blue Umbrella" and set to have its worldwide premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival next month, is indeed scored by Brion. What's more, we got to talk to first-time director Saschka Unseld about the short and about working with the estimable talent that is Jon Brion.

Firstly, the short itself is stunning – just shy of seven minutes, it tells the story of a major metropolitan city ("like New York or Chicago" is how Unseld pitched it, refusing to specify one location) that comes to life in the rain. Grates start to smile, there's a spritely quality in the blinking of lights, windows seem happy, and two umbrellas – one blue, one red – fall in love with one another. It's a beautiful story, deeply profound and imaginative, and should be one of the studio's most memorable entries into their catalog.

Unseld pitched the idea after shooting some test footage that illustrated what he had intended. "Most of the story I just pitched verbally but I also showed two animation tests I had done on my free time," he explained. "One of them was kind of city characters singing – faces you see in the city that I thought could come alive and I animated that to a song by Sarah Jaffe, who interestingly ended up also being the vocal in the final film. And John Lasseter loved it and he especially loved the tests as well and from there it was picked up as a full-on short film production at Pixar."

The filmmaker is unique in that he comes from the more technical side of the Pixar divide and not from the story department, which is where most of the short film directors originate, but this gave "The Blue Umbrella" a freshness that you can definitely feel. It's the first Pixar film to be done in a completely hyper-real visual style, making it closer in look to "Blade Runner" than "A Bug's Life." This aesthetic choice was in place from the beginning, included in those initial tests. "That was the thing, in this test, that the moment the first blinking starts to happen, you feel it sort of surprise the audience," Unseld explained. "We all agreed part of that was because we didn't expect it. And if you had it stylized and cartoon-y, it would have taken away that surprise. That was the basis of, 'We should play this photo-real.' It should be – is this live action? Is this animation? And then have this magical moment of things coming to life."

And now on to the magical musical genius of Jon Brion – when you see the short you realize that there would be no "Blue Umbrella" without Brion. It is part of the short's genetic code, and the thing that really carries you through this amazing emotional journey. So it wasn't a huge surprise to know that he was there almost from the beginning. "We brought him in super early and that was partially to do with the change in the story that we had," Unseld explained. Initially, the city characters (the grates, windows, mailboxes, etc.) actually sang, sort of like the Enchanted Tiki Room. "For that we of course needed to bring in the music as early as possible, hashing out melodies and themes and how we could do vocal singing without lyrics." That, ultimately, proved to be the wrong move. "We felt like it was too much of a distraction from the main story of the umbrellas if they were all singing. We then put the music on hold until we had a more final version of the short and then went back to Jon so he could see the final picture and get inspired by those things and put the finishing touches on that." Brion's finished music is absolutely spellbinding, despite the somewhat difficult process.

When we asked Unseld what made him decide on Brion, as opposed to someone like longtime Pixar confederate Michael Giacchino, he was quick to point out a specific score that inspired his decision. "A big reason for me choosing Jon Brion was 'Punch Drunk Love,'" Unseld said. "The reason is that there is this beautiful collaboration between music and sound design and that is something I was really interested in." Brion also has a unique skill perfectly suited for short films. "He has this ability in creating these really catchy short melodies that stay with you. And that was something that we really needed for the short – a short is such a tricky thing, music-wise, because you need to change the emotion on a dime. Jon Brion's ability to have these four note melodies gives you the possibility to switch the emotions at such a quick speed. That was something that he talked about when we first met him."

In fact, the music was such a success that there's a possibility Disney will release it as a single. "We were thinking about it," Unsel admitted. "I guess it depends on the interest that there is. But every time we were in a review or watched it, everyone walks out with this melody in their head."

Unseld will now tour the short to various film festivals around the world before it gets its worldwide debut in front of "Monsters University" this summer, in a 3D-ized version ("you can push a lot of how much depth you want to see, so we re-imagine how those things will look in stereo," he said). After that he'll return to the studio, and looks forward to getting his "hands dirty" on a couple of projects that, of course, remain shrouded in mystery. "Monsters University" (and "The Blue Umbrella") hit theaters on June 21st. 

This article is related to: The Blue Umbrella, Pixar , Jon Brion


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates