Directed by Dave Mullins and produced by Dana Murray, the Pixar short Lou tells the story of what happens when a toy-stealing bully ruins recess for a playground full of kids. With all of the kids on the playground sad about their missing toys, the Lost and Found box decides to take matters into its own hands.
At the press day for Cars 3, Mullins and Murray gave a presentation about the long road from pitch to short, and how the story and look for the character developed. We compiled a list of 12 things that you should know about the latest Pixar short, Lou.
- Pixar films have very specific ingredients. They have heart, meaning that the character is flawed, in some way, and experiences personal growth, over the course of the film. There’s entertainment, which means that the story has to be unpredictable and funny. There’s a setting, which means it needs to take the viewers to a place they haven’t been before and that’s exciting and new. And then, there’s animation, which means that the film could only be done in animation and it must use animation’s full potential. It’s those ingredients that appeal to a wider audience, so that everybody gets something out of the story you’re telling.
In 2005, Dave Mullins started coming up with ideas for a short film. The first was about a family of beavers that represented his family. The second was some Cars ideas that he had. And then, he had ideas about a pirate and a mermaid. Nothing took hold until he started to think about his childhood and how they moved around a lot (every year or so), and he had to leave his old friends behind and make new friends at every new school, which sometimes made him feel invisible. That gave him the idea for an invisible character who could hide in plain sight at an elementary school, that was part funny and part creepy.
- In 2012, he pitched a short called Lost & Found, about a pile of toys that steals from kids and eventually learns to give them back, finally becoming accepted by the other kids at school. The problems were that the creature was a thief and not really likable, and there was a little boy under all of the stuff, which just made it weird. When he went back to the drawing board, the pile of toys literally became the lost and found box. To bring something inanimate to life, you have to think about its intended purpose in the world, so returning the lost items to their original owners gave the character a built-in sense of purpose and an element of surprise.
- Ultimately, they had to change the name of the short to Lou because there’s another property out there with the same name. So, the letters for Lou came out of Lost & Found, and it gave the character his own name.
- To come up with the conflict for the story, the best adversary for a character who believes that true happiness only comes from giving is a thief, so JJ was born. So, when the bully starts stealing from the other kids, Lou has to fight that.
As Inside Out was wrapping up, producer Dana Murray was paired up with Mullins to make sure that he was able to tell the story that he wanted with Lou. The first challenge with the main character, Lou, was figuring out what to build him out of. The second challenge was building and animating a schoolyard full of kids.
- At Pixar, the feature films are always the priority, so they had to shut down production on Lou for awhile because The Good Dinosaur was being made. And after a six month pause, they were up and running again.
- The look for Lou is a Muppets meets Akira feel, and he constantly changes shape, but they had to find a way to build him that wouldn’t drive the animators crazy. Every piece of Lou had to be animated by hand, with no computer shortcuts. And Lou is the only red thing in the film, so that he’ll stand out.
- To design the bully, JJ, they started with a cross between Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story and John Connor’s friend from Terminator 2, but that seemed way too tough-looking for their story. So, they looked at Jonah Bobo from Crazy, Stupid, Love, who has a tough look, but also looks really vulnerable, at the same time, which was perfect. For the animation, they took a character from Inside Out and repurposed him into JJ, which allowed them to make a really appealing character in a much shorter amount of time and with fewer resources. Many of the other kids in the short appear in the background of Inside Out and Finding Dory.
JJ’s initials stand for Joyce Jean, which is Mullins’ mom’s first and middle name. And the film is dedicated to “dad” because Mullins’ dad passed away during the making of the short, and other members of the team had that same experience, so they wanted to honor all the dads that were lost.
- The audience needs to be with the bully of the story, so you have to care about him. They needed to find what motivated JJ, and what motivates a bully is attention. JJ constantly disrupts other kids to get attention, but when he’s forced to be more compassionate, it changes how the other kids see him.
- The filmmakers wanted to use timeless and classic toys throughout the short, that really mean something to kids, as opposed to anything too specific to a time.
The Lou short will play before Cars 3 in theaters, starting on June 16th.