SIGGRAPH: Pixar Artists’ Short ‘Borrowed Time’ Gets Awards-Season Boost

Borrowed Time Screenshot H 2016
Screenshot/The CGBros/YouTube

The animated short Borrowed Time — made by two Pixar artists as a side project during nights and weekends over the past five years — is screening this week as the best of show winner at the 2016 SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival. But the filmmakers admit that all the attention isn’t as nerve-racking as when they first showed the short, which wasn’t a Pixar production, to Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter and the studio's brain trust.

“It was the most scared I have been,” admits Andrew Coats, who directed Borrowed Time with Lou Hamou-Lhad. “They were so supportive. John Lasseter gave us hugs and said, ‘Good job.’ He was complimentary about the storytelling, [which meant a lot because] it’s what we toiled with the most.”

The pair could next find themselves in this year’s Oscar race, since the film has earned honors at SIGGRAPH as well as the Nashville Film Festival and St. Louis International Film Festival, all three of which are events that can qualify films for awards consideration under Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules.

In Borrowed Time, a weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget, and the memories come flooding back.

“We started with a story about forgiveness, but we changed it to a story about finding closure with something you did in your past that you might regret," Coats told The Hollywood Reporter. "Finding a way to move on with the life — ultimately it’s about self forgiveness."

He and Hamou-Lhad studied film at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and, while there, came up with a few story concepts that included a rough idea for a Western. After graduation, Hamou-Lhad went to Pixar, where he was a character artist on productions including WALL-E, Toy Story 3 and The Good Dinosaur. Coats started his career at Blue Sky Studios, working his way up to character lead on Rio, and then moved to Pixar in 2010, where he has animated on Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory.

The pair decided to revisit their early story ideas, and that’s how Borrowed Time got started. Coats and Hamou-Lhad wrote the story with colleague Mark Harris, and the duo also created the storyboards. The directors said that they did most of the animation with Harris, but a handful of additional colleagues also contributed their talents to the project. Pixar’s Amanda Jones produced.

The short has a monochromatic color palette. Hamou-Lhad said that to reflect the story, they designed the sheriff to look “gaunt, almost like a skeleton, like he was the shell of a man who is haunted by his past.” He added that they also drew inspiration from the looks of actors in the genre, such as Clint Eastwood and Sam Elliott.

For their next projects, Hamou-Lhad said he’ll be working on Pixar’s The Incredibles sequel, while Coats will be starting on Cars 3. They also want to direct again.

SIGGRAPH runs through Thursday at the Anaheim Convention Center.