Review: Piper (Pixar Short)

Piper (Pixar)

Pixar’s latest short gives us their most realistic animation to date, but never sacrifices story for style.

The first thing you’ll notice about PIPER is just how real it looks. The Pixar short is a tradition that goes back to The Adventures of André and Wally B., before the group was even called Pixar, and they have become a staple before each new feature. Yet rarely have they looked this close to reality, with every grain of sand or bubble of water perhaps even transcending the real world to become more real than real. In a six minute short that took animator and director Alan Barillaro and his team three years to put together, we follow the misadventures of a young sandpiper foraging for food on the beach, who learns from a hermit crab to stop fearing the ocean and try new things.

Based on studies of the movements of sandpipers, the movement in PIPER is naturalistic, mimicking the actual birdlike movements of the sandpiper, rather than the more human gestures that you would see in their bigger features. Barillaro even added faux lenses to what we see to give the illusion of a nature documentary, with Norman Rockwell an apparent touchstone for colour and texture, adding to the sense that what we are seeing has been captured rather that created. Yet every element we see on screen has been manufactured, with a reported seven million feathers rendered on screen. It is so full of life and character as we watch the titular piper running back and forth from the ocean that you may find yourself forgetting that the short is completely wordless. However, it is far from silent, with a score surprisingly supplied by King Crimson’s Adrian Belew.

PIPER is one of the most exciting pieces of original animation to come out of Pixar in a decade. If you’ve been following Pixar’s shorts, you’ll know that these are often training grounds for new directors, pulled from the their own ranks. PIPER is no exception, as Barillaro has been with Pixar’s animation department since 1998’s A Bug’s Life. On the strength of this short, Barillaro is the next name to watch for Disney·Pixar’s future franchises.

PIPER screens with Finding Dory, in cinemas around the world now from Disney.

2016 | US | DIR: Alan Barillaro | DISTRIBUTOR: Disney | RUNNING TIME: 6 minutes | RATING: ★★★★★ (10/10)