The nine-minute animated short film Kitbull may not have won an Oscar this year, but the nominated project—from Pixar writer/director Rosana Sullivan and producer Kathryn Hendrickson—did manage to bring San Francisco's Mission District into the spotlight.
The short film is about the unlikely friendship between a stray kitten and an abused pitbull (try not to cry), who find each other in the neglected yard of Mission dwelling. The quick picaresque takes them around 24th and Mission streets and through the neighborhood's graffiti-painted alleys before culminating in an adorable final scene atop Bernal Heights Park. For inspiration, the creators needed only to look in their own backyards.
Sullivan, a graduate of University of San Francisco, moved with her family to the Mission nearly two decades ago, well before all the hipsters did; Hendrickson landed in a place on Capp Street when she moved to the city in 2013.
"One of my favorite aspects of the Mission is just wandering around, looking at the murals, stumbling across the hidden gems—little stores and local shops—there's just a lot of that that brought life into our work," says Sullivan.
But, Hendrickson chimes in, an extra degree of attention was brought to the project in order to depict the neighborhood from an animal's eye view: "Our art team took selfie sticks around at cat level so we could see what the Mission would look like from a cat's perspective."
When the Kitbull team pitched the short to their full-time employer, Pixar, their plan was perhaps a bit unorthodox: Rather than opting in for the studio's famous tech-forward approach, Sullivan and Hendrickson wanted to make a fully 2D-animated project. The studio gave them the green light, but with a catch: The picture, which would be made under Pixar's SparkShorts program, would have to be done in six months at a fraction of the typical budget.
Sullivan, who had spent much of her spare time just like the rest of us—watching addictive cat videos online—was ready. "It started as a way to destress after work," she says. "I would watch these cat videos, and I really just wanted to draw this silly little kitten with an arched back, cat-crab walk, and I wanted to explore more realistic animal movements."
The sketches developed into a story around a theme of connection—what does it look like when two beings, who've never engaged before, open their eyes and hearts to each other? In Kitbull, the homeless kitten and the poor battered dog both metaphorically and literally lick each other's wounds.
Enjoy the film!