ScreenPicks recently interviewed writer/director Dave Mullins and producer Dana Murray regarding their film LOU, which has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

A Pixar production, LOU is a charming and touching tale of overcoming schoolyard bullying. Mullins has extensive animation credits, having worked on such films as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and several of the Cars films. Murray also has a variety of production credits in the animation field, including Cars 3, Brave and Inside Out.

What was the genesis of the idea for LOU  and what themes is the film exploring?

Dave Mullins: As a kid, I moved from town to town every year or two.  With that comes a lot of emotions about wanting to fit in. Sometimes I felt invisible because I didn’t know anyone and sometimes I wanted to hide. That experience led me to create Lou, a character that could hide in plain sight at an elementary school. What was fun about Lou was that he had a built-in sense of purpose. Lost and found boxes are meant to collect lost items to return them to their owners. This leads me to JJ, a kid that stole from kids to get attention. The stealing made him a perfect foil for Lou and the story was born.

With bullying being such a relevant topic right now, with kids and even politics, we felt this was an important story to explore and tell. My son Finn had experiences with a bully at his school and we had to deal with that as a family. We taught him how to stand up for himself, but also how to deal with those situations with compassion, because you never know what someone else is going through. As filmmakers, Dana and I felt this was important.

Was there a specific type of animation that was used for the film?

Dana Murray: Our medium is animation and our tool is Presto, Pixar’s own computer animation software. The thing that’s great about writing your own software is that you can tailor the tool specifically for your needs. We needed tools that allowed us to animate Lou and his multiple items that included soft objects like cloth, hard objects like baseballs and everything in-between.

We often use shorts to test out new talent and software. In this case, I was a new producer and Dave was a new writer/director. The cloth and simulation tools we used for Lou’s hoodie were ultimately used to create some of the cloth effects on Coco.

What animated movies or animators from the past do you particularly admire and how, if at all, have they influenced your work?

Mullins: Hayao Miyazaki is a huge influence. I’ve always been inspired by his depth of character and emotional storytelling. He is so masterful in showing multiple sides of a conflict and not vilifying only one side. He looks at the human conflict from multiple angles and presents the idea that people are not entirely good or evil. Everyone has reasons behind their actions. This was particularly interesting to me and I tried to reflect that in LOU. The bully isn’t evil, he’s just a kid that’s awkward and hasn’t had his moral compass properly set yet. Lou changes JJ’S behavior by using strength and compassion. Exactly what we try to do with our own kids.

What advice would you have to give to young animators attempting to enter the animation industry?

Murray: Watch lots of films, talk about them, and surround yourself with filmmakers! Pursue your dream and never give up. You are most likely going to need to do a lot of jobs before you land the one you really want. Hang in there and keep moving forward.

Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell audiences about LOU?

Mullins: I know people look at Pixar and think that our films are somehow easier to make because we are at a big movie studio and we have lots of resources, and there are elements to that that are certainly true, but my personal journey to get to the point where I could even pitch an idea at Pixar was a very long road.

This film was made because our crew went above and beyond to create this film. It’s truly a passion project in that sense. We had to shut down multiple times to serve the feature films and yet the LOU crew was so dedicated to this film, they would work in their off hours just so we could make it past the next gate in production. We’re so proud of what we made and really hope audiences enjoy it.

Murray is currently working on Pete Docter’s next film, while Mullins is currently supervising animation on Incredibles 2, but they’d “like to team up again on future projects. Stay tuned!”