Incredibles 2 is in theaters on June 15th and it’s SO good. I’ve already seen it twice and I plan on seeing it for a third time this weekend. Usually when I see a Pixar movie, there’s always a scene that makes me tear up or sob uncontrollably (I’m looking at you Coco and Toy Story 3) but with Incredibles 2, there was no crying from me. But the newest short from Pixar? Bao had me sobbing! We had the chance to interview director Domee Shee and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb about Pixar’s newest short, Bao!
An aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. But Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever.
Inspiration for Bao
Domee was asked what her inspiration was for Bao and she told us, “I came up with the idea over four years ago technically. I think it was in my office late one night and I was really hungry. But I really wanted to do a modern take on a classic fairytale like The Little Gingerbread Man but with a Chinese dumpling. And actually I was just doodling in this image of this mom nuzzling her little baby boy dumpling to death. It just popped into my head. I had to draw it out, and as I was drawing I started developing this story. I was also drawing a lot of inspiration from my own life growing up.
I’m an only child, and ever since I was little, I feel like my mom and my dad have always treated me like a precious little dumpling, always making sure that I’m always like safe and never wandered away too far. My mom is actually over there. [pointing to her Mom by the door] So, I didn’t wander away too far. I want to explore that relationship between this parent and this child and this mom character learning to let go of her little dumpling.”
Producer Becky Neiman-Cobb added, “Fun fact. I’m not sure you all know this, but the title Bao has two meanings. One is steam bun and one is treasure or something precious.”
Say it with me – awwwwwwwwwww!
Domee also shared why she decided to do it from the point of view of the mom instead of the child, “When I’m coming up with stories or when I’m developing any art or anything like that, I wanna learn something new as well. And if it was just from the dumplings point-of-view, like I already know what that is, ’cause that’s me. I wanted to know what it was like for my mom learning to let go of me. So, I decided to explore this idea from the parents’ point-of-view. If it gets too autobiographical, then you get too precious with details and you don’t wanna cut stuff out. So, it was good to kind of do it but from a distance, tell the story from a distance.”
Animating the Dumpling
While making Bao, they wanted to make sure they got the animation of the dumpling just right and Domee’s mom was actually brought to Pixar twice for a dumpling-making class! She even has a creative consultant credit on the film. Domee shared more, “It was really important for us to get all of those little details right and to get the animators and effects artists in there studying my mom’s technique of how she folds the dumpling exactly and kneads the dough and just, you know, poking the dough and smelling the pork filling. It was important to get those details right, just to get them as accurate as possible on the big screen.”
Bao Resonates with Everyone
As I mentioned earlier, I cried at the end of the movie. Bao resonated with me as a Mom and thinking of my little dumplings growing up. Becky shared that it seems to resonate with everyone, “Yeah, we have found that it’s this very unique and culturally specific story, but the themes are so universal. We found that with our crew. You know, anybody who would join would just be like, I am Dumpling. I’m the mom. I’m the girlfriend. You know, when I started, I was the dumpling. I became a mom during the making of this short. And then I related more to the mom.”
Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling and Challenges
Pixar is known for their rules of storytelling and Domee shared a bit more about the process, “We definitely follow one protagonist. I think that’s really important to just pick your main character and then follow them emotionally throughout the whole story. And for us, the main character was the mom character. We tried to tell the whole story from her point-of-view. We tried to get the audience to be feeling what she’s feeling on screen and to never like feel like they were ever ahead of her or behind her emotionally.”
Becky added, “Even when we were working with our composer, that would be the direction that we would give them. Mom feels terrible right now. The music needs to reflect that, or this is a happy time for her. They’re really connected. Even the lighting direction would support that.”
Domee told us, “Everything has to support the characters and their emotion throughout the story. We couldn’t design stuff just for the sake of it looking really cool or colorful. It has to be like, okay, where are we in the story? Is she feeling really low or lonely, or is she feeling really happy? And we would design her clothes to be even more colorful if she’s feeling really happy and close to dumpling.
Becky jumped in sharing, “Or the lighting would reflect the relationship between Mom and dumpling. We would separate them with light and shadow when they were growing apart. And bring them together in like a warm glow when they’re closer together.”
Domee also shared with us the challenges of telling an emotional story with no words, “It was challenging, but I really loved the challenge, ’cause my background is storyboarding. I just love visual storytelling so much. So, it was a conscious decision for us early on to take out the dialogue completely from the whole short so that the story could be understood more universally. Anybody from any country and any age could understand what was happening. And I think animation is such a cool visual medium, too, that I thought it’d be a cool challenge for the team to just push themselves to just tell the story and emotions through the acting and through the set dressing, through the colors.”
Domee’s Journey to Pixar
Domee is the first female director of a Pixar short. She shared with us about her journey of how she came to work for Pixar, “I came to Pixar as a story intern in 2011, and the story internship, it’s a three-month storyboarding bootcamp, and you just do assignment after assignment. You pitch to a whole room full of like veteran story artists, supervisors, directors every week. And that was kind of my way of training myself to be up for this job. And then I didn’t know if I was gonna get a position afterwards, but they offered me a full-time position as a story artist on Inside Out after.
So, I worked on Inside Out for about two and a half years, and then I moved on to The Good Dinosaur. Then I moved on to Toy Story 4. I even did a small stint on Incredibles 2. Then it just so happened that one year Pixar did almost like an open audition at the studio. Anybody who has ideas for short films, you can pitch ‘em to us. Me, me! I then signed up. I pitched three ideas. Bao was one of them. And then, yeah, the rest is history.”
Sharing with us her feelings about being the first female director of a Pixar short, Domee said, “I feel super honored and humble, but hopefully I’m the first of many female short film directors and feature film directors. I’s been awesome. I was telling Becky, it almost didn’t hit me that I would be the first, because making the short I was just focused on finishing it and hoping that people liked it or understood it. Now I can kinda sit back and bask and be like, wow. We’re blazing that trail.”
Becky added, “It’s happening. We had a really strong female leadership team. It’s us, but it’s also our editor, our production designer, our sound editor, our production manager, technical manager. We had a ton – it was super inspiring for us.”
Toward the end of Bao, you see the dumpling grow up and get a girlfriend. We asked if Dumpling’s girlfriend was always going to be a white girl and Domee told us, “Well, the whole purpose of that story point was to present to Mom a woman the complete opposite of her, so someone who was younger, someone who wasn’t Chinese. And she was almost presented as like almost like Mom’s worst nightmare. But with this Mom character, we’re putting her through the ringer basically. She has to adapt to change.
This character, this female Caucasian girlfriend character is the most different thing that she’s ever seen ever. And she’s gonna come in and swoop in and take her baby son away. So, Mom has to kind of go through that hurdle and accept her at the end.”
Bao in Incredibles 2
Domee mentioned earlier that she worked a bit on Incredibles 2 and I had the chance to ask her how she felt when she found out Bao would be in front of Incredibles 2! She shared, “Oh, my gosh. It was amazing. We had no idea.”
Becky added, “When we start on these things, we’re not even sure that they’ll, you know, green light it. Two, we’re not sure we’ll be able to finish it. So, we’re definitely like the indie wing of Pixar, the shorts programs is where we’re — you know, the feature films are what need to get made. And so, oftentimes we’ll have to stop production so that artist can go work on those. So, we had a lotta starts and stops. Then we don’t even know if we’ll be able to be in theaters.
We only just found out like within the last year that we would be attached — well, that we could finish it and that we’d be attached to Incredibles 2. We could not believe it. We know that this feature is so highly anticipated and so that just means we hope more people will be able to see it. And the thing too is that we’ve noticed is on the surface they look like very different films, but they both feature strong super moms. We feel like there’s this really sweet connection between two. So, it’s been awesome for us.”
We had such an amazing time being able to interview Domee and Becky. Make sure to see Incredibles 2 on June 15th so you can see Bao before it!
Bao Dumpling Recipe
Want to make your own dumplings? Click on the image below to check out the adorable recipe to create your own Bao dumplings at home!
Watch the Bao Clip!
Incredibles 2 in Theaters June 15th
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Disclosure: A huge thanks to Disney for bringing me out to the #Incredibles2Event.