There’s a new animated short Pixar movie, called LOU, that will play at the beginning of the Cars 3 moving (being released in June), and I personally am just as excited about LOU as I am about Cars 3.
I recently got to hear from Dave Mullins, the man behind the short movie, about what it took to bring the idea to creation.
He explained that John Lasseter, the Executive Producer of all Pixar movies (since Monsters Inc in 2001), requires every Pixar film to have heart and entertainment, right along with a setting and animation. It needs to be funny and unpredictable, exciting and new, and use animation’s full potential (Lasseter, one of the three founders of Pixar, has the artistic formula down to a magical science, right?)
So, when Mullins started pitching to Pixar back in 2005, he had a few ideas. One was about a family of beavers. Another was about a cars cartoon (ha!). Many more ideas followed. And were rejected.
It wasn’t until he started thinking about his own life, his own story, that this particular pitch formed in his mind.
Mullins moved a lot as a child, and told us during our recent meeting, “I was always the new kid, and a lot of times it made me feel invisible.”
That gave him the idea for a character who could hide in plain site.
In his mind, that evolved to a pile of toys.
So, at the end of 2012, he pitched his idea.
He re-thought the core idea…the pile of toys became a literal Lost and fOUnd (get it—that’s where LOU comes from) box and Lasseter’s rule of bringing an inanimate item to life became not just one toy, but the pile, from a lost sweatshirt to an old football, all into one character. They found mood in the objects as they moved the balls (which were eyes), with the different direction of the stitching changing whether he looked sad, mad, or happy.
The story continued to evolve.
He knew he needed conflict, and got it from a main character who played a role in the items that ended up in the lost and found box.
The story was fresh again: a lost and found pile that loves to return toys to those who lost them…and the bully who takes them, JJ (there’s an inside story to the name, which I’ll explain later).
Mullins finally got the green light and started making panels for the script.
While writing, they also started working on the art for character development…
JJ, the bully….needed to be tough, but with an edge of vulnerability. They ended up using a character from the Inside Out movie and being able to plug him in, which helped, since much of the artistic work was ready to go. In fact, they took other characters already drawn for Inside Out and incorporated them, too, which made it possible to have 26 animated children in a short (probably not possible otherwise).
In the short, LOU transfers from the objects to himself.
It all seemed to be coming together, but Mullins quickly discovered the writing portion was far from being done. The studio told him the story he’d developed up to that point wasn’t working, so he had to rewrite, and rewrite some more. He explained the process this way:
Conception, pitching, writing, art, story, sets, story, characters, story, layout, story, animation, story, effects, lighting, sound, music. (See how many times it comes back to the story?)
But in going back, he found more humor and learned a valuable lesson about better ideas always being around the corner.
I don’t want to spoil the short, so I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but trust me, there’s a valuable lesson in it—not just about being bullied, but about bullies, too.
And as Mullins told us, “The kid who felt so invisible not only made a film he was so proud of, but also made a lot of great friends.”
Oh, and he dedicated the movie to his Dad, who he lost to cancer. Meantime, he found out his mom had cancer in 2014, and she is the inspiration for JJ’s name (hers was Joyce Jean).
Watch for it in theaters when Cars 3 comes out…and mark my words, you should also be watching for it in next year’s Oscars.