If I told you that you were going to cry over a dumpling then you might not believe me. Well, when you go see Incredibles 2 (and you know you are going to if only to see the amazing costume designs) the animated short Bao will preceed it and you might cry. I did. Half the room did and the rest, well, I am pretty sure they waited till later. It was totally lovely and well worth every single awww and every single tear. The creator, Domee Shi, who is just 28-years-old, is the first female director to create an animated short film for Pixar Animation Studios. I had the amazing honor to hear a presentation by her during the Incredibles 2 press trip I was invited on recently by Disney.
Bao means little steam bun or treasure in Chinese. Pronounced /bou/. And the different way you inflect the word infects the meaning which is pretty cool to me. And this short film will show you why this name is perfect for it. Domee told us that her number one obsession besides film animation was food. She loved drawing it and eating it. In 2015, Pixar put out an open call for shorts and Domee pitched the idea for Bao and it was chosen.
Domee Shi always knew she wanted her story to be an empty-nester type of story based on the “creepy, sweet love” of a mom. She based that on her own experience with her mom. Her father traveled a lot so she was often with her mom doing everything her mom did. Her mom treated her like her “precious little dumpling” and it was very hard for her mom to let her go when it came time for her to grow up.
Domee Shi took concepts she knew from her own childhood and used them as an example for her concept art. She tried to include her personal experience growing up as an Asian-immigrant only child with Chinese parents living in Toronto, Canada. She told us, “Chinatown is vibrant and lively and I wanted to honor the equally vibrant “Chinatown Grannies” from Toronto Chinatown where we went shopping for groceries on weekends.” She also said, “I wanted to give mom authentic Chinese mom details that I love so much. Things that made her feel real: her comfy athletic shoes, her floral shirts, her mannerisms. Things that make her so real that you empathize with her.”
Domee brought her mom in to make dumplings for the crew and give demos on how to make the dumplings. She even made her mom a cultural consultant on the film. Production Designer Rona Liu wanted to make things perfect so they had classes on how the dumplings moved and fleshed out and how round they looked. They even looked at the shine of them in different lights. They really put a ton of effort into making them very realistic. She and Domee were influenced by Chinese folk art.
Since they wanted to make it believable and perfect, every element of Bao is designed. They made it perfect by making it imperfect. There are scuffmarks on the shoes and slightly offcenter tiles. There is tinfoil on the burners on the oven in the kitchen and a very authentic feel to every single aspect of the sets. They include bright lights when mom is happy and dark shadows when she is sad.
Bao will definitely take you on a journey and its beautiful. Bao will play nationwide before Incredibles 2. I am happy I got to meet these amazing ladies and enjoy some “bao” with them.
Pixar has released Domee Shi’s mother’s own bao recipe and you can find it here!