For the Birds

Year: 2000
Genre: Comedy / Short / Animation
Studio: Pixar
Director: Ralph Eggleston

"One by one, a flock of small birds perches on a telephone wire. Sitting close together has problem enough, and then comes along a large dopey bird that tries to join them. The birds of a feather can't help but make fun of him--and their clique mentality proves embarrassing in the end." - Pixar website

Those lucky enough to have seen Pixar's animated short know that this brief description from the Pixar website does not do the film justice. Following in the grand tradition of Pixar's previous animated short "Geri's Game," "For the Birds" has been nominated and is considered the leading candidate for the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

"For the Birds" succeeds without dialog, basing its humor on the classic humor of silent film, but is supplemented with sound effects and music for a tremendously entertaining experience. Bully is the first bird to land on the wire, followed by Chipper, Snob and Neurotic. It's quite a riot to watch the film again equipped with the knowledge of these names - the personalities show through in the animation. In fact, I found the short to get funnier and funnier on multiple viewings, which allowed me to absorb details in the animation that were ignored before. I challenge you to watch this and not end up with a silly grin on your face.

This film is the latest in Pixar's tradition of creating shorts to demonstrate their industry standard RenderMan software. These shorts are often shown in beginning computer graphics classes to show what can be done technically, as well as provide lessons in how to do animation right. Previous shorts, such as "Luxo Jr." (which provided the light in the Pixar logo) and "Tin Toy," can be seen in QuickTime glory on the Pixar site -

Where To See

The short premiered at the Annecy Film Festival in France on June 5, 2000, and subsequently premiered in the United States at the 2000 Siggraph Conference in New Orleans. It made its theatrical debut in front of Disney and Pixar's 2001 hit, "Monsters, Inc." The short is making its tour with Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, and will in all likelihood make an appearance on the "Monsters, Inc." DVD.

The Making Of

After "Geri's Game" won the 1998 Oscar, Pixar's shorts division took a break to help finish the feature length movies "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2." Once these films wrapped, the division once again opened with a company wide solicitation for ideas. 80 proposals flooded in, and these were narrowed to 25 finalists.

Ralph Eggleston, who had joined Pixar in 1992 as Art Director for "Toy Story," pitched an idea he'd had since his Cal Arts days. The head of Pixar shorts and later producer of "For the Birds," Karen Dufilho, remembered his pitch in a later interview. She recalled that the enthusiastic Eggleston was talking a mile a minute, and all of a sudden when the big bird was supposed to make his entrance on the wire, he blew a big horn. It was such a different and annoying sound that it immediately captured the emotional loneliness and awkwardness of a dork in high school.

Moving forward with the idea, the animators at Pixar watched lots of reference video of flamingos and swans for the big bird, Leo. They also watched National Geographic reference video to learn the cartoony attitude and shivers for the little birds. Eggleston videotaped his own green bird for several hours, and the animators learned bird behavior from watching the bird preen itself, shake its feathers, and puff them out. The team also brought in Cornish game hens to study volume and weight.

The film is also technically amazing from a computer graphics standpoint. Keith Gordon was brought in to write new code for the feathers, especially for the little birds. Eggleston had a vision of soft and downy feathers, which of course required more detailed and complicated software. There are over 2800 feathers per small bird in the film. Animation of the feathers to add personality was done last, after all other animation was finalized, because this would provide the birds with the subtle subconscious traits to make the film stand out. To perfect the look, animators often had to try something and wait overnight to see their results because of the long render times.

Watch it.

Thanks to for production details.