The Blue Umbrella is a completely animated short that comes to you before you watch Monsters University. The Blue Umbrella is a sweet romance or at least it felt like a romance to me as the Blue Umbrella hopped from street to street amongst the mundane of the everyday. And everywhere his smile went everything on the screen was watching. You’ll never every believe that it’s fully animated when you see how real the streets and people look. I actually thought it was real and animation was added after the fact but nope, the amazing animators at Disney/Pixar have outdone themselves again. The Blue Umbrella is stunning, moving and just amazing. After watching the Blue Umbrella we had the opportunity to interview the director Saschka Unseld.
Q. Was it really Animated?
Q. How did you do it?
There was new technology stuff. I mean, some of that stuff is being used slightly less photo real in Monsters, the global things, and stuff like this. And generally on every movie that comes out. There’s new technical innovations that are being used. Especially with the short films, you can test something out without putting into jeopardize the production schedule of a feature, which if you don’t hit the theatrical release date there, that’s a bigger problem.
I think a lot of it was just approaching it creatively differently. I’ve done photo series on this. I love details in reality. I did a photo series of just sidewalk asphalt plates, and the way cracks one there, and they way they kind of, in some areas there’s more kind of these black dots from chewing gums, and on the side there’s something from a tree which probably stands 10 meters down the street.
And just the, the complexity and, and the beauty of all these details you can see in the city. And a lot of it was me and the team going on trips into the city and looking at all these details, like, on the side of a newspaper box there’s streaks of probably someone tying their shoelace, and then you have the streak of the black rubber from the shoe there.
Or the way these things are moved around has a certain way. There’s scratches on them. Everything kind of tells a story to it. And a big, big struggle in the beginning was getting people to change how they work. Like, it was amazing how much people are used to doing things in a more stylized, cartoony way. The first version of the mailbox, which you see in the beginning. We gave photo references to the modeler to build it.
Relatively straight forward, you would think, and then we looked at it, and it was, like, somehow this looks, doesn’t look real. Something is wrong. It was really hard to tell. And we had to really look into the details, and it was… The size of the screws were slightly too big. it was the way since a mailbox is made out of this kind of folded metal, the sharpness of a bend has certain physical restrictions.
And that was just wrong. It was like all these details that are based on a manufacturing process of these things, or how thick something is, or all these things were slightly off, and all that gave the overall picture of this doesn’t look real. So a lot of it was figuring out, no, why are certain things in a certain way, and kind of making people not… So much of what you do is kind of, this is how I used to do it the last 10 years, and you’re not even aware of it.
Um, you put tiny details in there and there and there and stuff like this. And it’s kind of like when you paint, you have certain mannerisms. And it was kind of getting rid of those mannerisms, and really having people look at those things. And I think that made the… At least for me, that made a big difference between it looking like a normal Pixar film and looking so different.
Q. Does The Blue Umbrella have features of more than one city?
I mean, there is clearly New York, because I went on two trips there to take photos. There is some of the characters from the city characters out of San Francisco, because that’s just, like, the very first one on the sidewalk. We called her Lisa. They actually have all names because you couldn’t say, like, you know that weird metal thing in the 15th shot? They actually all have names. So Lisa is two blocks down from where I live. And Lisa was part of a test I shot on my iPhone as well.
During my pitch, I said the city comes to life, and everyone’s, like, yeah, okay. And then, after the pitch I said, oh, by the way, when I said that, this is what I mean, and I showed a test I shot on my phone and animated on my computer at home. And that was exactly the character two blocks down from me, and we kept that character. So that’s from San Francisco. There’s a building that is from toy research trip. I looked through all the photos I had done from Paris at the time, the building where you see just the rooftop with two windows being the eyes, and then the, the rain pipe being the mouth.
That’s a building, um, in Paris that, Harley Jessop had taken pictures of for the research. So I think it’s mostly New York, San Francisco, and then a bit of sprinkled stuff. Like, the building that looks after the blue umbrella with the eyes and the mouth that’s actually… I don’t even know where that is from. But I know that it’s, like, we started at one point having this folder where everyone was photos that kind of had, or friends of them had, and stuff like this. So it’s a big mash up.
Q. Where does the story come from?
The core of the story was… I was living here already; four years or something like this. And it really rarely rained. And then finally it was raining. And I went for a walk through the city, and I saw an umbrella someone had thrown away on the side of the street. Um, and I took a picture of it. I think, on the Tumblr blog I have, the first post of that photo I had taken. And, I had this weird, incognito blog called Rainy City Tales on Tumblr that I actually was running during the production.
Um, and that picture stuck with me and, and I was thinking about stories I wanted to tell. I just… It’s this weird thing. You see this umbrella and it’s just an object, but it looks so sad, and it looks kind of so down and drenched and, like, some, some kind of the ribs are sticking out, and it just, I don’t know. It’s a super sad sight. I wanted to tell a story with that.
I thought about first the umbrella wants to get back to the owner, and it’s kind of a break-up story, like, someone broke up with you and you still want to be with that person, and I couldn’t find a happy ending to that, sadly. I abandoned that story, and then it became, the owner wants to move to somewhere where it never rains, and the umbrella doesn’t want to, but I couldn’t find a happy end for that either. And then I was thinking of why do I like the rain so much? And it became me thinking about where I grew up it rains much more than here. And I really like cities in the rain a lot. Um, I think they become beautiful. In Hamburg, in Germany. The north.
I really really liked being there to listen to how this amazing movie came about. He found an abandoned umbrella and he notices all the details and he came up with a story around the details and the umbrella. What comes across on the screen is nothing short of amazing and I hope you like it as much as I do. You can see The Blue Umbrella in theaters June 21st before Monsters University.