Director Patrick Osborne wanted the right breed of pooch for "Feast," his Oscar-nominated Disney animated short chronicling a young man's love life as seen through the eyes of his beloved dog, Winston.
Because Disney has a long tradition of animated canine superstars — Pluto, Goofy, pampered cocker spaniel Lady, Tramp and the 101 Dalmatians, among them — Osborne watched the studio's films to make sure he wasn't repeating a character. He also wanted a dog that wasn't too big and that had a light-dark pattern that would make its movements more visible.
The compact, intelligent Boston terrier — a.k.a. the American Gentleman, known for its amusing, bright and friendly personality — fit the bill.
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"One of our story artists had a couple of Boston terriers he brought in to observe their motion," Osborne said. "Observation in animation is important."
The six-minute "Feast," which opened in November in front of the Oscar-nominated animated hit "Big Hero 6," marks Osborne's debut as an animation director.
He joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2008 as an animator on "Bolt," worked on the 2010 feature "Tangled" and the 2012 Oscar-winning short "Paperman," for which he was head of animation. Osborne also made the experimental short "Pet."
"Feast," which won animated short honors at the Annie animation awards last month, was born out of his interest in developing a project based on meals. Three years ago, Osborne filmed one-second videos of meals he ate for several months.
"I thought there was something cool about it," he said by phone. "You could hear the restaurant ambient noise or the TV in the background, or if I was eating on the plane. I could see all of those meals kind of connected."
Osborne noted the space around and below the table. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we saw a puppy go through from being a young dog to grown up below the table as part of the family and enjoying these meals together?'"
Dogs, "Feast" producer Kristina Reed said, "live their lives in patterns. So they really pay attention when that pattern changes. The core idea allowed us to whip through 10 years of a dog's life in six minutes. We are showing you when patterns change, so the story moves along really quickly, even though it's taking place over a really long span of time."
Osborne pitched "Feast" at a new short-film program at the studio.
"They opened it up to everybody at the studio who is an employee. Anybody who is interested in telling a story can come forth and pitch their idea," Reed said. "Patrick's was the first one that was green-lit."
Osborne was working as co-head of animation on "Big Hero 6" when he learned that "Feast" had been put into the production pipeline.
He knew that one of his favorite artists, production designer Jeff Turley, worked in the same building on the lot.
"I put aside the fandom and introduced myself and asked him to collaborate," Osborne said. "I love his taste. I had a few suggestions here and there. As far as shape and design, I wanted him to run with it."
The typical way studios make 3-D animation is beautiful, but it's not the only way to do it, he said. "You can put more of the production designers' and art directors' paintings into the work," he said.
Most of the animation on "Feast" was done between "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6."
"You don't have a team that a feature does," Osborne said. "You're working with a few people you pull on that you trust, and most people are doing their particular jobs for the first time." Brian Scott had never been head of animation before, Osborne added, and Josh Staub, the effects supervisor, had never held that job before.
"Feast" made good use of trainees on their first assignment, Reed said.
"We grabbed them and put them into service. It was kind of running around and seeing who you could convince to help you out," she said. "It wasn't hard, because people knew Patrick and knew the idea of the short and were eager to help."
Ironically, Osborne doesn't have a dog.
"I grew up with dachshunds," he said. "They are all gone now, but there is a little bit of them alive with the short, because of my memory of how they moved and acted."
Osborne said he felt like he had a dog for the last year in Winston.
"I spent a lot of time with him."
The other four Academy Award nominees for animated short film:
"A Single Life": Clay animation from the Netherlands was directed by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen. It's about a young woman who discovers that a mysterious vinyl record allows her to shift back and forth in time.
"The Bigger Picture": Daisy Jacobs directed this stop-motion, hand-painted short about two brothers taking care of their elderly mother. It won an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
"Me and My Moulton": 2007 Oscar winner Torill Kove directed this tale from Canada about three Norwegian sisters who want a bicycle.
"The Dam Keeper": Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi directed this fable about a young pig that takes care of a town's dam while being bullied in school.