Disney Producer Kristina Reed Serves Up The Goods On New Animated Short “Feast”

By November 4, 2014
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One of the highlights audiences will be treated to as a part of the theatrical experience of viewing Big Hero 6 in theaters is the short film that will accompany it. Feast, directed by Patrick Osborne (Paperman), is a six minute long love letter to food and romance told through the eyes of a junk food-loving puppy named Winston. During the Big Hero 6 press junket we attended a few weeks ago, we were treated to a candid and informative conversation with the film’s producer, Kristina Reed.

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On the inspiration behind Feast:

What came first was actually the food. Patrick [Osborne] had been taking one second videos of his meals for a year. Just his dinners. It’s part of this whole fascination with people taking photos of their food. It seems logical, but I couldn’t have imagined that even 10 years ago. He shot all of his dinners for a year. And then he sat down and he watched what amounted to about six minutes of footage. He realized that he could see what had been going on in his life just through what he’d been eating. You know, he could see when he was in production crunch. He could see when his fiancé moved in. He could see the different things that were happening for him. And he started to wonder if it was possible to tell a broader story just through food. It’s really hard to just literally show food and have the audience come along, so he needed some other vehicle to bring us along that journey. And when he came up with the idea of a dog, it really struck him as the right choice, because dogs live in patterns.

She continued on about the process in finding the right dog to encapsulate the character of Winston:

It just became finding the right dog and the dog we picked was really for a lot of practical reasons. We wanted a dog that had never been in a Disney animated film. There’s a lot of dogs in our history. So that eliminated quite a few right there. We wanted a dog that was little because you want to see it eating on the floor, then getting promoted to the couch, then getting promoted to the table. And then you want to see it demoted again. That doesn’t work when you have a German Shepherd. We needed to pick a small breed. And then the style of the short – because the models are rendered so flat, you won’t necessarily know when something that’s all one color is turning. So we needed a dog that had different colors on its face and the Boston Terrier just seemed bright and perfectly made for us with those black patterns. So that’s how he got picked. Very practical reasons.

On the positive reaction the film has gotten from across the animal welfare community:

During production, we sought out veterinarians and screened the film for them. 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 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.

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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.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.

On the similarities between Feast’s animation style and that of Paperman:

It’s building off a similar aesthetic. There’s actually a little less hand drawn art up on the screen. All the models and everything are rendered fairly flat but then they’re putting lights in the scene in a three dimensional way. 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 – a sort of hard edges, and perfection. I’d like to say we just made it on Etsy.

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On the future of more traditional forms of animation:

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.

On the challenges of producing animated shorts at Disney:

The biggest challenge with shorts in general at the studio is that our business is features, so the resources go to features first. 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 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.

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On Disney’s overall philosophy regarding the short films they create:

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 potentially for a film.

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. 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.

On Disney’s process in accepting pitches for their Shorts Program:

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 – 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.

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. Then you kind of just go along for a while and then one day you’re gonna pitch to Lasseter.

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On the possible thematic connection in pairing up Feast with Big Hero 6 during its theatrical run:

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 Paperman, 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 Paperman 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.

Disney’s new animated short Feast opens in 3D with Big Hero 6 this Friday, November 7th. Go check it out!

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.