Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the 90th Academy Awards are coming Sunday, March 4th on ABC, and a large group will be rooting for local favorite Dave Mullins!  An 18 year Pixar Animation veteran, Mullins was nominated earlier this month for his Best Animation Short Film “Lou” by Disney, along with his producer Dana Murray. Written and directed by Mullins, “Lou” is the heartwarming story of a playground bully who finds his true opponent in the lost & found box!

Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studio
Photo courtesy of Pixar Animation Studio

As the story’s creator, just having your it come to life has to be exciting, and in getting his Oscar nomination, Dave says, “It’s exhilarating!”  “You hope that audiences receive the film well, for personal reasons, but also to honor the crew that worked so hard on your film.  We have incredibly talented artists at Pixar and our crew went above and beyond to make “Lou” a reality. I couldn’t be happier with the final result.”

Dave Mullins is the son of locally beloved Upperville parents, Dave and Joyce Mullins. “My mom is creative and taught me compassion. She encouraged me to go to Art School and later, Disney.  My dad had an indefatigable work ethic and was very technically minded. He was a true engineer in the way he thought about things. They both influenced me equally and I use both sides of my parents to help me make films. During the making of “Lou”, I lost my dad. (March 17, 2015) We were very close. He played football in high school and loved the game, so I added a football as the instrument that the bully both terrorized the kids with, and in the end, finally uses to connect with them. Though my dad loved sports and I loved art, we really connected over our love of movies. One of my favorite things to do was watching films with my dad.”

“As a tribute to my mother, I added an easter egg for her. Originally when I was naming the bully in my movie, I was using the initials of a kid that gave me crap when I was in elementary school. Then I realized I was immortalizing this rotten kid, so I put the initials of someone I love in there, my mom. The bully’s name is “JJ”, which stands for Joyce Jean. My mother’s first and middle names.”

Now working on “Incredibles 2”, Mullins is no stranger to just about every Pixar film you’ve enjoyed, where he has served as an animator or supervising animator on favorites including “Cars”, “Ratatouille”, “Up”, “Monsters, Inc”, “Brave”, “Stuart Little” and “Finding Nemo”. Pixar encourages its animators to pitch ideas, which Dave did with “Lou” some years back while juggling other projects. Pixar also loves short films, which seemed a perfect fit.  Dave shares, “Lou is an incredibly complicated character, with all of his infinite shapeshifting abilities. I found this complication well suited for a short film. With Lou being our main character, we really tried to pack as much emotion and action as possible into 7 minutes of film.   And that was the hardest thing to accomplish:  to get a genuine emotional response in that amount of time.”

So one might wonder how a character like Lou is developed and finds its way to the screen? Dave shares, “Like many filmmakers, I looked to my own experiences for inspiration. Throughout my childhood, my family moved around quite a bit. Each time I found myself in a different school as the new kid.  I often felt invisible because no one knew me or I wanted to hide because being new is so awkward.  This inspired me to think about having a character that could hide in plain sight.”

“At first the story was about a creature that was covered in toys that it had stolen. It was invisible to all the kids except one little girl. She befriended him and eventually convinced him to give all the toys back, revealing a little boy underneath which ultimately made all the other kids accept and love him. The issue was that idea was too complicated and felt a bit odd.  So I thought about splitting the character in two. One character that steals (the bully) and another that gave toys back (Lou). That’s how the Lost and Found box became my main character.  What’s great about this is everyone already knows the purpose of a lost and found box, that is, to give lost items back to their original owners.  With this, Lou’s character was born.  I provided him with the perfect foil, the bully, a character that steals for attention. This is how the conflict of the story was created.”

Since “Lou” is about children, I asked Dave about his kids and how they influence his work? “My son Finn had a film credit as a production baby on “The Incredibles”. That is, he was born during the production of that film. He’ll turn 15 in a few months! Finn’s experiences with a bully that he stood up to and finally overcame influenced Lou’s story. I really felt for him and was so proud that he stood up for himself. My daughter Lola was a production baby on the first “Cars” film. When she was very young, she had colic and that was when I started to focus on writing and storyboarding. My wife had to sleep, so I took Lola from 10 pm until 4 am so my wife could get at least 6 hours of sleep. I used this time to storyboard my first film “Gnawty”, a film about a crazy family of beavers. Lola is turning 13 next month. In “Lou”, there is a little blonde girl that gets her piggy stolen by JJ and in the end is the one that really turns JJ’s heart with a hug. Her design is a caricature of my sweet Lola.”

“The kids saw many versions of “Lou” in story reels.  The strongest thing they wanted was for Lou to come back at the end of the film. I explained that what makes the film emotional and poignant is that he completely gives himself away to make JJ a better person. When seeing the final film, they eventually understood why this was so important. My wife still wants a gag back in the film of “Lou” licking the bully’s face with a smelly gym sock. I think I might agree if I had more time!”

So, as Dave’s very proud mother, Joyce Mullins, prepares her own red carpet evening, we can all be sure his proud father David, will be looking down with joy! He was a great guy and the three year anniversary of his passing is so perfectly aligned with one of the most important and exciting times of his son’s creative life. We’re rooting for you to bring home the Oscar Dave!

To learn more about Dave Mullins

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