Q & A with Patrick Osborne of Oscar and Annie Nominated Short “Pearl” – Animation Scoop

Q & A with Patrick Osborne of Oscar and Annie Nominated Short “Pearl”

Former Disney animator Patrick Osborne won an Oscar in the Best Animated Short category for his 2014 film Feast. Now, just two years later, he’s heading back to the Academy Awards thanks to his groundbreaking Google short Pearl.

Jackson Murphy: First of all, congratulations on the Academy Award and Annie Award nominations.

Patrick Osborne: Thank you. It’s always nice to make a film, and to get something made that feels like it’s creatively what you wanted – but then to have you and the team recognized, especially with the Annies with the production design and music side of it being noticed as well, which I do like – it’s just really cool to see that happen. So I’m excited.

JM: The Oscar nomination announcement presentation was much different this year than in the past. Were you watching that on TV when you found out the news?

PO: I was watching their livestream on my phone. I set an alarm for one minute before that. I left the website open in my browser on [Google] Chrome to click into it as quickly as possible. I like my sleep, so to wake up early – that was a tall order. But then I stayed up. I made it an early day.

JM: Two years ago you won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for Disney’s “Feast” – which is about a dog who loves food AND love. What was Oscar Night like for you?

PO: It was really amazing. The coolest part of that night was that my parents were having an Oscar viewing party back in Cincinnati. And backstage I got to FaceTime them and introduce them to Kevin Hart and The Rock and Idris Elba and all the people who were hanging out. So it was really fun to share a little bit of it with my parents and family and friends back there that were watching. You try to take that all in, and it’s kind of hard to remember specifics of the moment or whether or not you spoke well or anything like that. It’s definitely a one of a kind experience and really cool.

And it opens up a ton of doors. From working inside of a studio – first Sony Animation and then Disney – for your entire career, you don’t really meet a lot of people that can get your things made. But then The Oscars opens up that door for sure, where almost anybody in town will sit down and talk to you for a little while and listen to ideas. And you start to figure out who wants to make stuff and who shares you sensibilities and who would be good partners in trying to get things made. It’s been the past two years in the career-end of me driving around Los Angeles and pitching a lot and trying to be passionate about stuff and remember why you love making films.

JM: When it comes to “Pearl” – this is a story about a father and a daughter and their hatchback. But the events in the short are accompanied by an original song called “No Wrong Way Home”. It’s rare for an animated short to be carried entirely through a song. So was having a song as a main element part of your initial concept?

PO: Yeah – these people at ATAP [Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects] offered me complete creative freedom. Do what you want. Make something that means something to you. I love folk music. I go to South by Southwest every year. I try to see the latest in what singer-songwriters are doing – and people in Americana. And I thought, “Well, if I can’t make a folk musical now, when these people are saying they’ll let me make whatever I want, when am I gonna be able to do that?” Especially an animated one – I don’t know if it’s ever even happened. So the idea: making a modern folk musical seemed cool. And then setting it in a car – the reason initially is because we were making the 360 [degree] video version (that was the core version that started the pitch), and I wanted to be able to cut through time and have different lighting scenarios and weather – and you need something to ground you spatially. You don’t want to lose your directionality when as you’re watching.

An automobile is a really familiar choice, so combine that with wanting to make a folk musical – and it’s like, well – it should be on tour at some point, and maybe there should be a “Giving Tree” element where the car gets worn out. And you kind of add things together. It really ended up being about passing things on – physical objects like a car, but also talent and passions. That’s kind of how the story unfolded in my head. And then the song side of it – I threw a bunch of storyboards that were not really the story, but in the interest of getting the idea across to musicians. The amazing guys at Pollen Music Group – these three San Francisco musicians and recording artists that run this group – they actually sent my drawings and my initial pitch out to a bunch of artists. And we got about 10 demos back of original songs. I picked one that I loved and then we worked together. They wrote the lyrics inspired by what was happening in the story, but not directly. It’s an abstract version of the story – and that’s even getting radio play on SiriusXM Coffeehouse, and that’s amazing that can happen just from a few drawings.

I’m a musician. I’ve played piano my whole life. Being able to collaborate with talented musicians was really cool.

JM: You talked about the collaboration with Google and the 360-degree experience and using Virtual Reality technology to bring “Pearl” to life. VR has one of the biggest crazes for the past year. How exactly did you use it for “Pearl”?

PO: Well the VR and the theatrical versions were made sort of simultaneously. We would work on one for two weeks, and then realize we were hitting a little bit of a wall with software or figuring out what to do next with a certain cut. So we were like, “Oh – let’s figure that out in the theatrical version.” So we’d work on that for a couple of weeks. And we’d cut the song to that version. But then we realized the song needs to stretch, because the VR version is actually not a consistent length of time to watch, so the song has to be able to loop and stretch and carry itself through, because if you’re not looking in the right spot, the VR version actually wastes for you to look. So there was a ping-pongy back and forth between the two versions that I actually thought was very informative for both versions. And then to be my own little mini James Cameron and go into VR and record cameras with a finished piece of animation and make the film documentary style with a documentary editor was really neat.

What you see in the theatrical version that’s actually nominated is almost like a home video cut together of the adventures of two characters. And the VR side – this technology was evolving as we were working on it. So I would try to create a lot more of it in VR if I had to do it again.

JM: Would you do another VR animated short film?

PO: Yeah. I’m working on various things. We’ll see what’s up.

JM: You couldn’t submit the VR version for The Academy Awards. You had to submit the theatrical version. Did that frustrate you – that you couldn’t submit all of this VR effort for The Academy Awards?

PO: No. The Academy is a sort of champion and protector of the theatrical experience. It’s fundamentality about watching movies together – in a theater – in Los Angeles particularly – in the heart of moviemaking. That’s what it is. To be able to make several different versions of the story and learn the differences between telling a story one way and another is an amazing gift and luxury that you don’t get on many projects, so I was excited just to do that. I’m happy to play by the rules and have it compete as a film against other films.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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