“Feast,” a new short from first-time director Patrick Osborne (head of animation for “Paperman”) and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is the story of one man’s love life as seen through the eyes of his best friend and dog, Winston, and revealed bite by bite through the meals they share.
In this interview, we sit down and chat with “Feast” Producer Kristina Reed, as we discuss the search for a new Disney dog, the philosophy behind Disney shorts, and adopting a dog of your own. Follow #BigHero6 for more interviews and behind the scenes information celebrating this great movie's upcoming release Nov. 7th, 2014.
FEAST will open in theaters in front of Walt Disney Animation Studios' new action-packed, big-screen adventure BIG HERO 6 on November 7th.
Interview: Feast Producer Kristina Reed
Q: Where did this idea come from? I loved the short.
Kristina Reed: The idea came from something that Patrick had been doing in his life, which is using a one second a day app, and filming his dinners. And you watch the film now and it's just plates of food, plates of food, plates of food. You know. He looked up after a year and he sat down and he watched all of his meals in one sitting, in about 6 minutes, and he realized he could see what was happening in his life through the meals. He could see when he was in production crunch, he could see when his fiancee moved in with him, he could see how the meals were changing. How his life was changing just by looking at the food. And he started to wonder if it was possible to tell a broader story, one that any audience could figure out, and that was the genesis of Feast.
One of the things he did to make it broader is, he realized dogs are creature of pattern and when something changes for them, they note it. So, he realized that would help the audience see the changes more quickly in the story beat, so that's how he realized he needed to tell the story with a dog. And then it became an issue of just finding the right dog.
And the first thing did was look through all the Disney films and say, well we want a new dog, we want a fresh dog, we want to pick a breed that has never been done before, which is, Disney's had quite a lot of dogs so it took a little while. We wanted a small dog, because you want to see his meals are moving from the floor, to the couch, and then to the table. And then when the girlfriend comes, he's going right back down. So you sort of see this promotion and demotion happening, And then because Patrick new he wanted that really flat rendering style, when the dog turns, you wouldn't necessarily really be aware of that unless the dog had some kind of markings on his face, and so that led us to the Bostons because they have that really distinct pattern.
Q: This film uses the same blend of traditional and computer animation as Paper Man did.
Kristina Reed: It’s building off a similar aesthetic. There’s actually a little less hand drawn art up on the screen. The consistent… through-line is both John Carr’s and Patrick Osborne, and Jeff Turley, who is the production designer on both, are really captivated by the idea of very flat looking geometry. All the models and everything are rendered fairly flat. But then they’re putting lights in the scene in a three dimensional way. And the result of that is that both shorts have a very handmade feel about them. Neither of them has what is typical in computer graphics of sort of hard edges, and perfection. It is very much a feeling of – I’d like to say we just made it on Etsy.
Q: Do you see a future for more traditional forms of animation?
Kristina Reed: No, you know what? I don’t know about the rest of the world, but very much at Disney Animation, we believe the style of the film is up to the director. And if a director decided tomorrow that he wanted to tell his story with paint and we were gonna animate paint, we’d figure out a way to do it. Directors can decide they want to work in CG, they want to work in 2D, they want to work in some combo style, etc. We get together and we figure it out. We have a technology department that’s committed to whatever that look wants to be. So…
That’s the only thing. It’s what the directors are feeling at the time.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of producing FEAST?
Kristina Reed: The biggest challenge with shorts in general at the studio is that our business is features, and so the resources go to features first. And your challenge as a short producer is you’re just running along, like this person’s free for two weeks? Great, come on to my show and do this. There’s a little animation team that has four weeks available? Come on my show and do this.
You’re trying to sort of thread through and make a consistent, consistent progress with random resources becoming available at random moments in time. That’s a challenging way for a director to work on the short, but your job as a producer is to try and make that as smooth for the director as possible.
Q: How many dogs did you guys have running around when you were doing this?
Kristina Reed: We found two employees with Boston terriers that were willing to bring them in, and willing to let us feed them junk. We had two different dog days. And literally brought the dogs in, had the animators, the riggers, the fur team, everybody who needed to see live dogs just invited to come see it. And one of the funniest things is looking up and realizing that half the people in the room were not on the crew. And they were just there because they wanted to be near a dog.
Q: What is the larger philosophy of short films?
Kristina Reed: The philosophy is completely internal. Number one, we all get to practice our storytelling. It’s really hard on a 90 minute film. For 400 people on the crew to weigh in. We actually try and do that. There are lots of times where the filmmakers will ask questions. But when you’re on a small crew, and you’re making six minutes of film, then it’s really fun for the crew to engage in conversation with the director.
Number two, it’s a chance for us to try people in new roles. It’s a big deal to put somebody in an associate producer position that’s never done it. And now suddenly they’re doing it on a massive feature film. Well, they get to take that step and try it on a short. And proud to say, our associate producer is now APing the film. I have a visual effects supervisor who had never done the role before. He gave it a try. He was fantastic. We’re teeing him up for potentially a film.
You know, so there’s an opportunity to give people a chance in a much lower steaks place to try a role they haven’t gotten to try. And then the third thing is, it’s not mandated, but you feel the pressure to do something unique. To put forth a unique look, a unique design, a unique style of animation, different camera work. You’ve got to try something. The stakes are – you can get your arms around this. And if you can’t figure it out, you have time to fix it generally. There’s this just kind of wild newness of it. That’s really exciting. It’s like we’re all people and doing new things, telling a different story with a director who’s never done it before. We’re just on this ride, and we sort of all know it’s gonna come out, because we’re all so passionate that we’ve got to make it work out. But it’s one of the very few experiences in life where you get on, and you don’t know where it’s gonna go.
Q: Did you notice food trends in the production when you were making it?
Kristina Reed: You mean the fact that we all got fatter? Yes. Yes. We worked on a test shot for, like, three months, and all of us were obsessed with pizza at the end, because it was all around a piece of peperoni pizza. And we were working on the steam and the melting cheese, and just getting the look right, and literally we would all go home and have pizza night after night after night because it’s so hard to watch cheese stretching, and not want a piece of it yourself.
Q: It’s great that they pair these shorts with features…
Kristina Reed: [OVERLAPPING] That is the coolest thing of all, by the way. Because shorts can disappear easily. It’s hard to get them in the theaters. It’s hard to get people to come watch them. As a format, it isn’t necessarily like a common thing. And so now Big Hero 6 will carry Feast, over 30 countries will translate into multiple languages, will be seen by millions of people, and that’s part of what makes the energy around the shorts so exciting- we’re not just crafting something that will get put away, and was a lovely experiment. We could have an audience.
Q: But has a market emerged where people are interested in shorts?
Kristina Reed: I don’t know. It’s funny that you say that, because I was just in another round table in which one writer told me the shorts are becoming this incredible format, and it’s you, Disney Animation. You did that. And I was, like, okay. Awesome. Wow. Okay. So I guess I don’t know. I don’t have enough perspective on it. I’ve had the good fortune to work on Paper Man, which I sense was seen by many people all over the world. Get a Horse was a brilliant short as well, and also seen by many people and I’m excited to put one more that can stand next to those two with complete pride, and continue the tradition here. So I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to your question.
Q: In terms of pairing shorts with feature films, is there a conscious decision made of what kind of story you want to put in before the feature?
Kristina Reed: No. There’s no thematic connection formed at all. They are just the shorts program, they just pick the best idea, the idea that’s gonna yield the best six minute film. And the goal is really that you go into the theater and you get to see two really good films. If we think of it sort of as a gift, a little gift. You came to see Big Hero Six, and we’re gonna let you have a Feast beforehand. That’s kind of the way we think about it.
I remember when we were making Paper Man, there was a lot of question about whether it fit in front of Wreck It Ralph. A lot of questions. Wreck It Ralph was this boisterous film in the video game world, and Paper Man was sort of this very sophisticated and beautiful black and white piece of art. And it went out into the world, and you never heard audiences say anything other than wow, that was really cool… It’s really cool to see both of those. So it’s kinda how we look at it.
Q: So has anyone from the animal community objected to the feeding of dogs?
Kristina Reed: During production, we sought out veterinarians, and screened the film for them. We were just concerned about that very thing, and Disney takes its social responsibility pretty seriously. And all the stuff we’ve done to not promote kids eating fattening food, and then here we are feeding a dog pizza. You know, we wanted to sort of, like, make sure that we weren’t gonna get backlash about that. So we approached several veterinarians, brought them in to see the work in progress, and ask them what they thought about the short.
And what’s interesting is, collectively, they were all identical responses. The first was, how fantastic it was that we were showing a story about what a pet can bring to a human being’s life. And because we’re Disney, they knew that it would get out to a lot of audiences, and that would carry that message. Then secondly, they all noted that Winston is adopted off the street.
Which is another thing that the veterinary community is passionate about getting adoptions to happen. And then we’d say, okay, that’s great. And how do you feel about all the nachos and pizza and spaghetti going on there, and they consistently said the same thing, which was, sharing food is a huge part of human culture. We have these holidays that are dedicated to getting together to eat. There’s a moment that happens whenever you’re starting a relationship with someone where you feel comfortable enough reaching across to their plate and eating off of it.
I mean, there’s something about sharing food that really equates to love for us. And so they know that people give their food to dogs. And it’s too tied up in so many other things about being human and, and being in love that they’ve sort of collectively decided to guide humans to keep it to less than 10 percent of the dog’s diet. So the short takes place over 12 years of the man’s life.
And it’s six minutes long. And we like to think that in the 11 years and however many months and hours and minutes that are left over, the dog is not only eating dog food, but they’re running on the beach…
And they’re walking a lot. And we’re very conscious about the fact that Winston does not gain weight. James gains weight because, you can’t eat like that and not gain weight. We didn’t have time in a six minute short to show all those other moments.
Q: I love that you put the thing at the end about adopting an animal.
Kristina Reed: We offered that because with each veterinarian we talked to, we said, now that we understand how important that issue is, we would be willing to do this. And they were thrilled. They were thrilled. So we’re happy to do whatever we can to promote pet ownership.
Q: Were there any food items you were going to put in that you found out were toxic to dogs?
Kristina Reed: So we had done what we thought was pretty good research. We knew not to have chocolate. Obviously the dog’s not gonna drink alcohol because this is a Disney film after all. We knew not to do grapes, but we had onion rings in a scene. And we learned that onions are actually… can be poisonous. And so those now are donuts.
Q: Is there a single time when filmmakers have their chance to pitch ideas?
Kristina Reed: No, it’s this crazy thing. They announce… First of all, the way the program works is anyone who’s an employee can pitch, which I just think is unbelievably cool.
It doesn’t matter what your day job is. If you have a great idea, come forward and pitch it. You pitch to a collection of story trust folks who are in our story trust is directors, screenwriters, some of our senior story artists. And at any given moment, that population changes depending on who’s available. So they listen to all the pitches, and then whittle it down to the top four or so who go on to pitch to Lasseter.
And out of that, he picks the one that’s gonna get greenlit. Well, just by schedules and life, Patrick describes it as literally, he put in his application online, and the phone call came 10 minutes later, tell us more about your short. And he’s like, I just made up two of those sentences a minute ago. You know? And then you’re on deck to pitch to Lasseter, and then to pitch the story trust, and then the schedule shifts.
And then you kind of just go along for a while, and then one day you’re gonna pitch to Lasseter. Oh, and then he gets busy, and so it’s kind of engineered to find a person who’s incredibly flexible, and just down with whatever’s gonna happen which is kinda who you need to be if you’re gonna direct a short.
About Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6 is directed by Chris Williams and Don Hall, produced by Roy Conli, and features the talent of Ryan Potter (voice of “Hiro Hamada”), Scott Adsit (voice of “Baymax”), Damon Wayans Jr. (voice of “Wasabi”), T.J. Miller (voice of “Fred”), Genesis Rodriguez (voice of “Honey Lemon”), Jamie Chung (voice of “Go Go Tomago”). Big Hero 6 opens in theaters everywhere Nov. 7th, 2014.