Blue Umbrella serves as cover for Monsters U.

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The Blue Umbrella

The Blue Umbrella

To be released just before the new fea­ture film Mon­sters Uni­ver­sity on June 21, the six-minute short Blue Umbrella will be the first Pixar film to be made by one of its tech­ni­cal artists.

Cam­era and stag­ing artist Saschka Unseld is the direc­tor. Amidst the rain in a singing city, two umbrel­las -– one blue, one red -– fall eter­nally in love.

The blue umbrella notices and takes a shine to the red umbrella. Dis­tance and nat­ural forces halt their attrac­tion, but objects on the street — such as con­struc­tion signs and a mail­box — come to life to help bring them together again.

Unseld, 36, is a Ger­man native who began work­ing with Pixar in 2008. He got the idea when walk­ing in San Fran­cisco and spot­ting an umbrella lying in the gut­ter on a rainy day.

It was the sad­dest thing. I stood there and won­dered what had hap­pened to him. I think that was when I got the idea of giv­ing him a story,” he recalled.

At first, Unseld got ideas for char­ac­ters by tak­ing iPhone pic­tures on San Fran­cisco and New York streets. He asked col­leagues to do like­wise when they went to such places as Chicago and Paris. One char­ac­ter in the film was inspired by his photo of a man­hole cover just two from his San Fran­cisco home.

Mean­while, he was lis­ten­ing to singer Sarah Jaffe’s music. While shoot­ing an ani­ma­tion test on his iPhone, he timed it to her voice.

Jaffe can be heard in the final film: “She’s been there for me since the inception.”

A pho­to­re­al­is­tic look was needed, accord­ing to Unseld: “If we made it styl­ized and car­toony, the magic of those things com­ing to life would be com­pletely gone.”

This entailed tech­niques not pre­vi­ously used by Pixar: global illu­mi­na­tion, in which light is sim­u­lated as being emit­ted and reflected off sur­faces, and deep com­posit­ing, where images hold­ing three-dimensional data are lay­ered. This results in deeper plays between light and shadow, and greater depth of field.

As well, Unseld slowed film­ing to 12 frames per sec­ond — half the usual rate for movies — at some points. He also var­ied expo­sure times, thus result­ing in dif­fer­ent rhythms of rain.

Unusu­ally, Unseld was direct­ing some of his ear­lier cam­era and stag­ing co-workers. Often, he said, he felt guilty when he would send them back with many notes for revi­sions after they had show him their work.

If you give some­one all that feed­back to do all that work, I was used to doing part of that work. Here, I just had some­one go off and do all that work by him­self. That was a very new expe­ri­ence for me,” he said.

At the same time, how­ever, he con­sid­ered his back­ground advan­ta­geous for good com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them. “If you work in one of those tech­ni­cal depart­ments, it’s really nice if you have a direc­tor who really under­stands you because you can talk the same lan­guage,” he said.

A clip from The Blue Umbrella can be seen on our web­site now.

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About Paul Anderson

Paul is an old-timer here at BCDB- his contributions go back to before the site! Paul is widely regarded as a Disney historian, and is also on staff at the Disney Museum in San Francisco. Paul is also a contributing historian for D23, the Disney Club. Paul has published several books and magazine articles on Disney history, too. You are welcome to drop Paul a line here.

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