Directed by Pixar animator Alan Barillaro, the short will follow the eponymous sandpiper who has to overcome a fear of the water in order to find food. It all springs from Barillaro's exercise routine of running on the shores near the company headquarters and spotting the birds' behaviour. "Seeing the way these sandpipers react to waves and run, I always felt, 'Gosh, that's a film, that's a character," says Barillaro. "It's always fun to show a world we're familiar with but from a different perspective. We've all been to the beach, but have we ever viewed water from just an inch off the sand? That could be very fearful from a bird's perspective."
He started working on the idea initially as part of a test for new ideas and technology, but Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton, who has served as Barillo's mentor during work on Finding Nemo (2003), thought it could be more. "I showed Andrew the Piper tests thinking I was very much just showing him a test, but he kept poking at me, like, 'It's a cool test, but keep working on that story.' And then John Lasseter (Toy Story) did the same. There's remarkable encouragement at Pixar that when you think of an innovative idea, don't forget the story. It was their encouragement or else I would have stopped at the test phase."
And that story will see the young Piper learning a few lessons from unexpected places, including a hermit crab. "It's the kid at the playground feeling," says Barillaro. "You fall down and you feel so small, but you look and see someone even smaller than you brush themselves off and tackle something, and learn from that in your own way. It was important to me to stay in the kid world and see the world from Piper's eyes, and not be from the human perspective."
Piper will arrive attached to Finding Dory when the film hits here on 29 July.