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A Pixar Vet Gets Directing Shot With 'Boundin’' Short

A banjo-strumming, high-stepping Pixar short marks a turning point for traditional animator Bud Luckey the artist responsible for designing Woody.

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Bud Luckey created the singing and dancing lamb of Boundin after childhood memories of growing up in Montana. © 2003 Pixar.

Heres a story on how strange is life with its changes.And it happened not long ago.On a high mountain plain, where the sagebrush arranges a playgroundsouth of the snow.Lived a lamb with a coat of remarkable sheen - it would glint in the sunlight all sparkly and clean... Such a source of great pride - that it caused him to preen. And hed break out in high steppn dance.He would dance for his neighbors across the way. I must say that they found his dancin enhancin, for theyd also join in the play.

It turns out that Destino isnt the only animated short competing for the Oscar based on a song. Bud Luckeys new Pixar film, Boundin, the story of a once proud lamb that mopes around after losing its wooly coat, only to regain its infectious spirit with the help of a sagacious Jackalope, also took flight as a catchy tune.

For some, Boundin is a cross between the vibrancy of Mary Blair and the buoyancy of George Pal. For others, including Pixars Pete Docter, who recruited the 69-year-old traditional animator from Colossal Pictures in nearby San Francisco in 92, Boundin recalls the short films about counting Luckey directed during the first season of Sesame Street. But to the very humble and self-effacing Luckey, who attended Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) and was mentored by Art Babbitt at USC, the roots of Boundin go all the way back to his childhood in Billings, Montana.

The first thing I needed was a sympathetic character, Luckey explained. The best thing I had seen as a kid in Montana was a naked lamb that had been sheared. And then Montana is Jackalope country this mythical creature thats a cross between a rabbit and a deer a bunny with horns. And then the prairie dogs were everywhere. The owl used to hang out in the prairie dog holes, and there were rattlesnakes and fish came up stream.

Once the song began to take shape, Luckey pitched the idea to Pixars shorts department, where it was embraced and nurtured by producer Osnat Shurer. Luckey did some sketches and eventually made a storyboard reel and recorded a scratch track playing the banjo. I remember when he pitched it we were all charmed by it it didnt take much convincing, Docter remarked. Bud had these amazing drawings that were so charming. There was no cynicism at all, which is pretty rare these days. A number of us had been familiar with his Sesame Street work and it had a little taste of that.

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The character of the Jackalope became fleshed out during the animation process. © 2003 Pixar.

Although a traditional animator by trade whos dabbled with computers over the years (he first used a Commodore 64 when working on educational games), Luckey, one of Pixars original gang of five (along with John Lasseter, Docter, Andrew Stanton and Jeff Pidgeon), is best known as the artist who came up with the original design of Woody in Toy Story. Originally, Woody was a ventriloquist doll, Luckey recalled. Disney found them spooky, so I came up with the idea of a cowboy. In my head, it was more like Gabby Hayes than John Wayne. I did something like 150 Woody drawings. Since then Luckey has done design work on all of the Pixar features, bouncing around from the art department to the story department to animation.

Because Boundin adhered closely to the song, the story became locked in early on a rarity at Pixar, according to Docter, where stories are always changing and improving. However, the personality of the Jackalope was one of the aspects that blossomed once they started animating. I first had Hoyt Axton in mind, but he died; and then John Hartford, and then he died. I did a rough and John [Lasseter] told me that I should do it.

Production on Boundin began in January 2003 and took 10 months to complete. In addition to writing and directing, Luckey also served as production designer and sang the song, which was recorded in Nashville at OmniSound Studios with Riders in the Sky, the country band heard previously on Toy Story 2 and For the Birds. Joey Miskulin of the Riders produced the music. I didnt want western swing, Luckey insisted. I wanted more Smothers Bros. or The Kingston Trio. I know three chords on the banjo, but these musicians really know what theyre doing.

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There were lots of research and preparation, including tap dancing lessons. They even sheared a lamb in front of Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California. I managed to miss that one, Luckey chuckled.

As for directing, Luckey said there wasnt anything to it. He may have acted out a few simple performances, but gave the animators all the credit. They knocked me on my ass every morning. But then I didnt think it was going to be edgy enough for them, but when I first presented the idea to them, they clapped. Ive been impressed with their work ever since I came here.

Luckey also credited supervising animator Doug Sweetland with really pushing the envelope (hes the one who captured the G-force implicit in Luckeys storyboards with Woody and Buzz on the rocket in Toy Story). Its all better than what I had in my head. One little scene where the naked lamb does a dumb little dance I think thats a wonderful piece of animation. It really grabbed the personality. Subtle things closeups of the lamb eye movements head moves are perfect.

The one short Luckey singled out for inspiration was Reds Dream, the story of a red unicycle that conjures a clown owner and juggling act. The mood of the water and the rain and the lonely little bike really caught his eye.

In animation, Ive always tried to do three-dimensional stuff. Id be up all night with a magic marker and be out on the street and throwing up. I used to come to work around 6:30 in the morning and wed be working on Toy Story. Id go down the hall and see the frames as they were coming in. I first saw that scene where Woodys in the crate and Buzz is tied to the rocket, and that rain is just dripping down. That was incredible.

On Boundin, Luckey suggested that the lighting is different. Its a more complicated lighting system. It has to do with ambience. The water people on Finding Nemo came in handy for the waterfall. The fish that are swimming around in the stream was used to good effect. And if you look at the lighting in the scene where the lamb is after the prairie dogs that have been giving him raspberries, and you turn around in the cubbyhole, the water is amazing with the ripples and pinpointing drips of water.

The Montana landscape is a visual highlight of the film. © 2003 Pixar.

The Montana landscape is a visual highlight of the film. © 2003 Pixar.

However, Docter maintained that the real achievement of Boundin is more artistic than technical. The biggest success is that Bud and the animators were able to capture his drawings. It felt so fresh and simplified in a really appealing way. The animation is still complex its organic and three-dimensional, but its nice and simple. Very refreshing.

When asked why Luckey didnt find the time to do any animating on Boundin, he simply shrugged, You know, I was going to do some animation. They put a whole system in my office, and I couldnt even remember how to turn the damn thing on. The system had totally changed, and it wouldve taken me three months to learn how to do it. So I let more capable people animate it.

And as far as the Pixar staffs of digital animators and the technicians, Luckey concluded, I used to teach youngsters about numbers using animation; now I learn from youngsters about animating with numbers.

BOUNDIN CREDITS

Written and Directed by

Bud Luckey

Co-Directed by

Roger Gould

Produced by

Osnat Shurer

Executive Producer

John Lasseter

Production Manager

Doug Nichols

Supervising Technical Director

Bill Polson

Supervising Animator

Doug Sweetland

Editor

Steve Bloom

Production Designer

Bud Luckey

Art Direction Consultant

Tia W. Kratter

Set and Lighting Supervisor

Jesse Hollander

Animators

Alex Orrelle Bobby Boom Beck Billy Merritt Carlos Baena Matt Majers Rodrigo Blaas Roger Rose

Technical Artists

Erik Smitt Ewan Johnson Fareed Behmarram-Mosavat Gabriel Schlumberger Holly Lloyd Jason Bickerstaff Jeff Pratt Jessica Abroms Jonathan Paine Josh Qualtieri Justin Ritter Kevin Edwards Lisa Forssell Patrick James Ziah Fogel

Music and Lyrics by

Bud Luckey

Sung by

Bud Luckey

Music Producer

Joey Miskulin

Sound Design

Tom Myers, Skywalker Sound

Recorded in Nashville at

OmniSound Studios

Sculptor

Jerome Ranft

CG Painters

Yvonne Herbst Randy Berrett

Assistant Editor

Chris Vallance

Technical Manager

Marcia Savarese

Production Coordinators

Dan Goodman Dana Murray Gabrielle Siegel Sheri Patterson Alice McTigue

Title Design

Andy Dreyfus

Production Assistants

Omid Amjadi Scott Walker

Assistant to Producers

Erin Cass

Post Production Supervisor

Paul Cichocki

Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.com.