In 2009, Pixar released not only one but two heartwarming masterpieces – that being the feature film UP and the short Partly Cloudy. After listening to Director’s Commentary (on the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2) given by Director Peter Sohn, I’m even more emotionally connected to this short than before.
Partly Cloudy was Pete Sohn’s Directorial debut at Pixar, he is currently the co-director of The Good Dinosaur (Update– The Good Dinosaur is going through changes at this time and directors may change).
Sohn spoke that the idea of the short came to him as a young boy when his mom took him to the movies. Sohn explained that his mom is Korean so the movie experiences were a bit different because she didn’t speak or understand English very well, and since they were living in America every movie was in English. Most of the time Sohn stated that she didn’t understand what the characters were saying or the gist of the movies and would ask him in Korean what was going on, Sohn did his best to translate but his Korean wasn’t very good and there were always wonky miscommunications.
There were movies that mother and son did see together that had a huge impact on Sohn because his mom could understand these movies without having to speak or understand English very well – like the film Dumbo.
Sohn remembers when he and his mom were watching Dumbo and the opening scene where the storks were delivering all of the baby animals to the circus train – this really stuck with him. As a kid, Sohn remembered thinking “Where did these birds get all these babies from?” And that’s where it started.
Sohn said that he forgot about this idea until years later while working at Pixar when he had the opportunity to pitch some short ideas and that’s when he remembered “Where did the storks get their babies from?”, “What if the clouds made the babies?” and that’s what Sohn pitched to John Lasseter and the other directors at Pixar.
During Sohn’s first pitch the team loved the concept – they loved the world and they loved the beginnings of what these characters could be but there was no story yet. So, Sohn went back to the drawing table and had to decide what he wanted the story to say and determine who were the characters.
Some of Sohn’s favorite stories have a personal element to them. Somewhere in the middle of the story process, Sohn began thinking of his relationship with his mother and how the communication barrier seeped into the story. Sohn knew that he didn’t want any dialogue in the short – as he just wanted a film where the characters would interact and respond to each other without speaking any language. Sohn then thought of the “cloud” as his mother and himself as the “stork” and how they would try to solve this weird miscommunication that they had all of their lives.
He stated that he always wanted to do his best for his mother but sometimes she thought he was trying to do something negative or she misunderstood something and would “blow her top” and he would have to reel back and say “no, no, that’s not what I meant to say or do” or “I’m sorry you took that wrong” and THAT really fit well with what the story was working out to be.
Once Sohn established the “Gus the cloud” and “Peck the stork” characters and that other cloud characters were making easier, more cute animals, that locked into the idea of how the miscommunication would happen. You’ll notice how Peck the stork always seems to be looking towards the other clouds and Gus looked longingly, thinking that Peck is going to leave him.
An important message that Sohn wanted to portray was “I don’t speak the same language as you, but I’m here for you and I love you” – the challenge was how do you express that without dialogue.
The ending came about by thinking of a gesture when Sohn was a kid and he and his mother used to draw together. “We’d fight about language problems or things that were happening in our lives but I could communicate with her with drawings and there was this gesture that I could make contact with her with art,” said Sohn. The ending in the short was really about how to communicate a gesture of love when Peck comes back and reveals that all he was looking for was protection – that gesture of love saying, “I love you, I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to always be here for you”.