How Pixar Created The Food In Turning Red

A lot has happened since 2007 — the year Pixar released "Ratatouille," which was considered to be a cutting-edge animated film thanks to its take on French haute cuisine. Per The New York Times, the animation crew learned how to cook in order to prep for the movie, and hung out at The French Laundry with Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller. Back then, the Pixar crew admitted to struggling with how to draw and animate food. Director of photography and lighting Sharon Calahan said, "We didn't want something to look really photo-real. If it starts looking too real, it starts getting pretty disturbing."

Fast forward to 2022, the year "Turning Red" is released on Disney+ and audiences are raving about the movie's standout food scenes — which takes lessons both from "Ratatouille", and from the short film "Bao," which came out eleven years later in 2018.

Like Calahan, production designer Rona Liu must have felt that getting food looking too close to the real thing could have been a drawback. As a result, Liu told Eater that "The design inspiration we kept referring to was 'chunky cute' ... Even the food: Instead of going for realism, the shape of everything has to be a little bit rounder, a little more simplified."

"Turning Red's" production team learned from "Bao"

Director Domee Shi's first Pixar movie, "Bao" about an anthropomorphic dumpling proved to be the training ground for "Turning Red." Rona Liu told Eater, "From 'Bao,' we learned a lot about the textural and light response to the food — the shape can be stylized, but the shading response has to be realistic. Meat needs to look like meat, the way the light passes through the leaves has to look real, in order for the viewers to have the connection that this is food. The key ingredient is the oily gloss that we put over everything. That was a carryover from 'Bao.' We learned that and it worked, so we're like, 'Just layer that lard over everything.' "

The breakout star of the food scenes in "Turning Red" turned out to be lettuce — the same vegetable Sharon Calahan admitted to The New York Times was "really challenging" because of its color. To get around this, Liu went to another old animation master: Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. "He was saying that if you look at real cooked food and advertisements of food, the colors in the ads are much more saturated than a natural level. That's kind of what we did here. Real lettuce is not that green, but we made sure ours was ... Trying to evoke freshness with that dewiness was a goal."

And it looks like the Pixar team hit it out of the park.