I feel so honored and humbled to be in this position, for Pixar to have liked this weird idea I pitched to them and to get behind it. Yeah, I just think it was a combination of just timing and really awesome support from really cool people, and embracing my weirdness and not being afraid to show it. Because at first I was kind of hesitant to pitch this idea, but then [Pixar veteran] Pete Docter — who has been kind of my mentor figure this whole time, I worked with him on Inside Out — he was really an early supporter of the short, and he encouraged me to stick to my guns to pitch the original version of the short. And I'm so glad I did because that was the reason why Pixar chose that idea.
On how she came up with the idea for Bao
I think I was probably really hungry one night, and I've always been a huge fan of classic fairy tales. And I wanted to do like a Chinese twist on "The Little Gingerbread Man" with a Chinese dumpling, instead of a little cookie, that comes to life. And I drew a lot of inspiration also from my own personal life. I'm an only child, and I feel like ever since I was little my Chinese mom and dad have always treated me like their precious little dumpling.
On the short's rather extreme ending (which we won't give away)
I feel like any time you look at something really cute — like, even if it's like a baby or a puppy or a kitten — you think it's so cute, and it's almost awakened something violent and animalistic in you. Like, you want to eat it up or you just want to consume it or just squeeze it to death or something. ...
And also, growing up, my mom would often hold me close and be like, "Oh, I wish I could put you back in my stomach so I knew exactly where you were at all times." And like, "Oh, mom, that's creepy, but sweet." ... I just want to explore that feeling more — like, why does she want to do that to me?
On how her mom helped Pixar animators with their research
We brought her in twice to do dumpling-making classes for the whole crew. Yeah, and it was great. Like, we got the animators and effects artists right in there, and they studied my mom's techniques and they poked the dough and smelled the pork filling. ... It was really important for us to get every single detail right ... so we can put it on screen.
On what her mom thought of Bao
She saw it ... for the first time at the wrap party and she really liked it. I think she got emotional. She's like me, she is very like subtle with her emotions. But I definitely took a peek to my left during the short and I think I saw her eyes getting misty.
Danny Hajek and Melisa Goh produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.
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