Leadership And Career Advice From Domee Shi, First Female Director Of Pixar Short Shown Before "Incredibles 2"
Incredibles 2 dominated the international box-office and launched this week to more than 4,400 locations around the world with an easy $180 million. But while the world raved about the worth-it wait for the animated sequel, there’s that animated short that was shown before the film that’s actually catching attention as well.
In the last years, Pixar has come into the habit of showing short animated films before their full-length feature films. This year, with the launch of Incredibles 2 is the launch of animated short Bao, a cute short film that tackles the story of a Chinese mom who experiences empty nest syndrome and adopts a dumpling who magically comes to life.
The short was a real hit, and is a story that’s meant to seen and enjoyed in the large screen in itself. But behind the amazing animation, the great storytelling, and the heartwarming ending that has gripped the moviegoers and the critics, is the woman who made all of these come into reality that really stands out.
The creator and brain behind the short is Domee Shi, and she is the first female director that’s produced a Pixar short in the company’s history. Her success in the animation industry and in the company is a huge feat in itself, as Pixar was just exposed last year to have had cultivated some anti-women tendencies under the helm of its long-time animation leader John Lasseter.
Domee Shi started in Pixar as an intern in 2011, and was hired immediately by the company that same year. Since then, she has worked as a storyboard artist for hit Pixar films such as Toy Story 4, The Good Dinosaur, and Inside Out.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Domee revealed that she has been working on the concept of Bao since 2014, and it took time before she got the courage to pitch the idea to Pete Doctor, the director of the Pixar legends Up, Monsters Inc., and Inside Out. Domee says that Pete has been encouraging and supportive from the beginning, inspiring her to stay true to her cultural roots, and even embrace her weird and dark side. This has been the primary reason why Bao turned out to be a slightly darker short than usual Pixar shorts—and it stands out precisely because of that.
According to Domee Shi, living her life as a team member, it was hard for her to really step up and own up to the leader role when she was tasked to direct Bao. Talking to Real Simple, Domee says, “I think the anticipation and the fear of being a leader, being a director, was worse than when I did become one. ‘Oh God am I ready for this, am I ready to lead large teams of people, many of whom are older than me, with more experience than me?’”
Domee continues that one of her biggest learnings while working on Bao is that being the leader does not have to mean having to know everything all the time. “It’s about collaborating, and admitting you don’t know everything. There’s people in the room who are smarter than you, who can do the job. And it’s about trusting them and communicating to them your vision and working together to achieve that vision.”
Domee also looks back at her childhood, and credits the hard times that she and her parents had to go through for her to push herself to succeed, saying, “My mom, she was raising me but also studying to get a PHD, while my dad was studying to get a Master’s degree. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto and just watching them work so hard everyday to provide for me really taught me to, ‘Okay, I have to work really hard to do whatever it is I want to achieve in my life.’”
In the end, it seems like Domee’s heart really was in the right place and following her dream of becoming an animator soon became a reality. Now, she has also set history and became the first and only woman in Pixar’s roster of animated short directors.
Her one tip, she shares, is to continue practicing and to continue immersing yourself in the world that you wish to enter everyday, whether it is film and animation or something else. Because if you think it’s impossible, there’s always a first—just like how she did it.