| 03.17.2018

“Piper,” a film about fear — A tiny bird conquers a vast ocean


The sandpiper, a common enough bird, can easily be found if one spends enough time by the water. Dull brown in color, they flit around the beach looking for morsels to snack on. 

The short film “Piper,” produced by Pixar Animation Studios, follows a baby sandpiper on its journey to conquer the beach.

What makes “Piper” such a great short film is the combination of lifelike animation and an irresistibly lovable character.

Alan Barillaro, the film’s creator, packs much life and emotion into only a few minutes of content.

Piper’s struggle to conquer their fear of water feels human and is relatable for most.

Short films must overcome the lack of time inherent to their genre.

This presents a unique set of problems that the best creators will use to their advantage.

In six minutes, Barillaro connects the audience with a tiny bird and captures the spirit of success.

One reason why “Piper” is successful at doing so is the visuals. Piper has wide, curious brown eyes that are the fixture of every scene.

Piper’s mouth mimics the excitement felt when swimming through the ocean.

The animation team even conveys fear when the mother watches her baby swim for the first time.

These very real and human emotions elevate Piper from a wildlife bird to a lovable protafonist the entire audience is rooting for.

The addition of emotion adds depth to the film by breaking the barrier between relatable and foreign. This depth is much of what makes Piper impactful, not the overarching story but instead the different emotions felt.

Fear and relief from the mother are contrasted with excitement and curiosity from her baby.

These tiny details combine to make an imaginative and beautiful short film.

One aspect that goes unnoticed, especially with short films, is sound design.

While “Piper” contains no dialogue, it has a discourse between the ocean and the bird.

The crashing of the waves upon the shore are rebuked by the shakes and squeaks of baby Piper. The soft sound of sand crunching underfoot elicits an almost real physical sensation from the audience. One can experience exactly what wet sand underfoot feels like.

The moment Piper conquers their fear and swims for the first time utilizes sound in a nuanced way.

Immediately the sound is muffled to near silence, and this punctuates Piper’s success.

The viewer is captured by what’s on screen, and the lack of loud audio makes one focus more on the picture.

Piper premiered before the 2016 film “Finding Dory,” which focuses on the ocean and a cast of sea creatures.

Intentional or not, providing the audience with a short film dealing with the ocean prior to such a film seems like a genius move.

Six minutes is not enough airtime fwor a cute character like Piper. Once the film ends and “Finding Dory” begins, audiences will be hungry for similar content.

This priming of the audience will often affect their opinions on the content they watch second, not that “Finding Dory” needs any help to be considered great.

There is a reason “Piper” was voted best short film of 2016. The raw human nature and simplicity lends itself to becoming an easily liked film.

Barillaro captures the essence of adorable Pixar characters audiences know and love while incorporating a fresh and imaginative twist.

The use of nuanced sound design to create dialogue without words and stunning visuals that haven’t been seen before turn a standard story into something remarkable.

Griffen Winget can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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