“Above Then Beyond” and Pixar’s “Up”: pure coincidence? Judge for yourself.

pixar-up-balloons

In 2005, a group of students at ESRA made a short film called “Above Then Beyond”.

In 2009, Pixar released a feature film called “Up”.

If you’ve already seen “Up”, you might find it remarkably similar to “Above Then Beyond”.  Click HERE to watch “Above Then Beyond”.

I found an interview with Pete Docter, writer and director of “Up”, and this is what he said about building the film’s concept:

Pete Docter – “We came up with this idea of a floating house, and we worked backwards from that, thinking, “How did this guy get into the floating house?” And we came up with this whole backstory of him meeting this girl, and they fell in love, and they had this whole relationship. And this failed promise, that they didn’t ever get to go down to South America to live this adventure that they always wanted to do. And so it was kind of based on that.”

The resemblance to the students’ short film made me uneasy, so I had to look into this.

I contacted Yannick Banchereau and asked:

“Did someone in your team go on to work for Pixar?”

“Did Pixar buy the rights to your concept?”

“Was this purely a coincidence?”

His response (translated by Google Translate):

Yannick Banchereau – “Well, no, none of us went to work at Pixar, if you know someone who is in Supinfgraph, you should know that ESRA has a partnership with Pixar, so we concluded that for Pixar to see our film among those that ESRA had sent them, and they “kept” (stolen?) the idea into a feature film …
Unfortunately the film does not belong to us because this was done as part of our studies, so we can do nothing …
Thank you for your interest, it’s good to see that someone has acknowledged our film (even if the quality is far from the Pixar)”

Personally, I can’t help it to think that Pixar used the students’ idea. If they did, it’s disappointing that the acknowledgment for these students cannot be found anywhere.

(Thanks to Dorian Fevrier for first pointing this out to me!)

45 comments

  • Well, first of all, I’d wonder if the French group had based their idea on Le Ballon Rouge, the 1956 film about the boy who escapes his troubles by flying away with a balloon. Or maybe The Wizard of Oz and the whole flying house thing.

    However, it should be remembered that Up didn’t spring onto film whole in 2009. Production started in 2004 and the script was approved in 2005. Pixar artists were in Venezuela as early as 2004 working on the artwork.

    It’s much more likely that the French group saw Le Ballon Rouge than that artists at Pixar saw the French piece while it was still in production and based their ideas on it.

    You might look at this blog by Lou Romano http://louromano.blogspot.com/2009/05/art-of-up_3697.html

  • Writing on “Up” began in 2004. So I guess they could have started writing it, worked on it for a year and then scrapped it for the same premise after seeing this. Or something.

  • You know what? Maybe they read the book “The Twenty-One Balloons” — that’s from the 1940s! And it involves adventure and flying through the air in a structure supported only by balloons…

    Or maybe they watched the Mythbusters episode on how many balloons it would take to lift a child…

    Or maybe, like every child who’s ever had a helium balloon, they thought about what it would be like to float away tied to a balloon, and came up with the idea independently…

  • kill yourself

  • You know why ideas aren’t copyrighted? Because everyone has ideas. If anyone actually acquired the copyright for floating balloons, then every time someone merely thought of a balloon floating, they’d be in violation. How ridiculous is that?

    Such a stupid world to live in if ideas were indeed copyrighted. I dreamt of monsters in my childhood so can I sue Pixar for using those ideas? How do I buy a license for democracy?

  • At first I thought it was probably simple coincidence, but upon viewing the short film, I was astounded at how similar the houses are. We built a scale model of the Pixar house for Halloween, ours is about three feet tall, and other than the front left side having a small porch, it’s the same house. The fence is also the same, as is the mailbox, and the premise of the builders needing to build around the house until they must evict the resident is eerie. And then there is the plane. Maybe it doesn’t help that we also have the Wii game.
    Obviously Pixar started working on their film long before 2009, but the student may have started working on theirs prior to 2005.

    I did like that the old woman was wearing a small belt, just for the sake of fashion. Nice French touch.

    I did go look at stills from Le Ballon Rouge, I was able to find the storyline and some artwork for “The Twenty-One Balloons”, and neither of those are similar to Pixar’s film and the student’s short film. I wonder if either of the people who suggested that saw both of the films in question.

    I’m not saying I think that someone at Pixar “stole” it, but from a layperson’s perspective, the minute details are too similar for mere coincidence. There’s likely a lot more to this story than we know, but it does seem that a credit is due. The students indicate that the work is public domain, which confuses me, because I am a photographer, and I am working on a project which requires public domain historical photos and there are huge hoops through which I must jump, and I know France is part of one of the more common conventions of international copyright law, which means creation to death of creator + 70 years.

    Are students considered the same as government workers in France? Works produced by government are public domain. Which is why companies can use NASA images, without a credit. It’s not what I would consider ethical, but for many (if not most public) companies, there is no consideration for ethics, only legality.

  • I have seen La Ballon Rouge.

    I just think that the look-and-feel of the two episodes are so different. Above’s is dark. It feels like escape and avoidance. Up’s is full of light. It feels like adventure.

    Actually, what Up reminded me of is the scene from James and the Giant Peach (the book illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert) where the peach is pulled from the ocean by thousands of seagulls. Each seagull, tied to the stem of the peach by a strand of silkworm thread, is a lot more evocative of the many-balloon image of Up than the single gasbag image from Above.

    The house looks like a typical Gothic Revival. It’s kind of interesting in that it’s an American architecture style. The French don’t go in for wood siding much.

  • I watched both, and am 100% sure that people at Pixar watched the students’ movie too. Not everybody who worked on the movie, but some of them certainly did.

    This isn’t about the mere idea of balloons, which everyone has thought of. This is about far too many identical elements!
    The houses are identical, so much of the premise is exactly the same, and even some of the camera angles are the same.

    Sure, UP is longer and involves the happier long part in the jungle, but the first part of the movie is definitely ripped from the French students’ movie.

    Whether or not the rights don’t belong to them due to it being a school project changes nothing when it comes the a minimum of morality: Pixar should have given the guys the credit they deserved.
    We’re not talking lawsuits or tons of money here, but an acknowledgment or some sort of involvement was the bare minimum that should have been offered to the students. Not Pixar grabbing whatever they could use and running for it.

  • They’re so creepily similar, at least the opening of “Up” with the clip you included. Weird.

  • Does anyone know how schools like this work in France? I don’t, but I did spend a lot of time hanging around the School of Cinema/Television at USC when my roommate did her BS and MFA there. You don’t start working on projects until the semester they are due, because that is when you find out who is in your class who you can team with.

    If Pixar had artists in Venezuela in 2004, they had a storyboard for at least parts of the movie, and could very well have had the idea for the house at least sketched out.

    It’s possible someone copied from someone else, but why are you so certain that Pixar copied from the students? The previous story on this blog is about a student who copied from an established artist. Again, I don’t have any documentation, but I’d bet there were drawings floating around back in 2004 and 2005 and people were conceptualizing Up.

    And again, does anyone have any knowledge about this type of house in France? My experience is that most French houses have stone or plaster facing, not wood paneling, which makes me wonder why a group of French students would draw an American-style house in their art project.

  • Hmm, tough call. I have never seen Up, but from the pictures and trailers I have seen of it, there are some definite similarities going on here in both the design and plot.

    I have to admit that this could be a coincidence. As others have said, ballon images such as these are not uncommon. However, and maybe this is just me, I tend to think of a bunch of ballons carrying away a person, either holding on to them or in a chair, not a whole house. If I remember correctly, this is what was supposed to make this story so different and intriguing.

    Again, tough call, but I am more inclined to say this was just a coincidence.

    fugg u: If you cannot contribute something of substance and NOT be a troll, don’t comment. It will only serve to make people disregard you even more.

  • Come on, this is really clear, Pixar stole those students’ idea and gave them no credit. The similarities are beyond doubt. Even the house looks alike. You are Pixar, you could easily give those students some credit and your reputation wouldn’t be harmed. They got a freaking oscar and didn’t feel the slightly guilty about it?

  • I find it hard to believe it’s a coincidence. The shot of the old-fashioned house hemmed in on all sides by the city is so similar it’s crazy. The elderly occupant mourning a deceased loved one, the eviction notice, the cranes closing in…all combined with the concept of a flying house lifted by balloon.

    Pixar made a great movie, and I’m not sayin’ they should be sued or anything, but they could at least be classy about borrowing from someone else’s idea so heavily and point it out as a source of inspiration.

  • From an animators perspective (as I am majoring in animation) the point about ‘similar camera angles’ and shots aren’t really viable reasoning. Many if not all successful movies follow general camera shots in order to convey a certain feel or emotion.

    Also, feature films such as “Up” take more than just a couple of years to make. As TychaBrahe stated, I am also curious as to how French Art Institutions work. How far in advance did these students work on their project? How about the possibility that these French Students borrowed Pixar’s idea?

    Writing for “Up” began in 2004, although I have yet to figure out when they started the storyboard for it.

    I think it is simply coincidence, as previous posters have stated, many famous and not-as-famous works have used the floating “home” idea as a metaphor, the same way that these two pieces did.

  • You know what the possibilities of this coincidence happening without any of the parties knowing are? I still don’t see pixar having down the whole beginning sequence and how the students could get a hold on their whole work at that point. The most likely scenario here seems that pixar decided not to give them credit, who knows why. I really hope that is not true but look at the evidence.

  • @Stefanie, I am a graduate of an animation program in the U.S. that created a five minute short as our final project, and none of the students or faculty involved own any of the rights to it. The school owns it for all intensive purposes. They act as the “production company (house)”, providing the facilities and all of the equipment used in the production. As such, they retain the rights to anything created there. We are allowed to publicly screen the finished piece only with their permission and only for nonprofit purposes, i.e. film festivals and the like. Since pretty much all of the tech is there under an academic license, you can’t really do a whole lot else.

    Since work on “Up” began in 2004, I’m going to go with coincidence. We completed our short from start to finish in roughly one academic year (two semesters), although this looks better. But with the right size and quality team, it’s not impossible, so who knows?

  • Pixar Animation Studios
    1200 Park Avenue
    Emeryville, California 94608
    Telephone: 510 922-3000
    Facsimile: 510 922-3151

  • “for all intensive purposes”

    aaaahahahaha

  • Here are a few images from “The Art of Up”

    As you can see, Pete Docter was drawing Carl with balloons in 2004, and Ricky Nierva was drawing Carl with balloons in 2004, as well as other characters from the cast.

    Don Shank was conceptualizing the house idea in 2004, his inspiration coming very much from Virginia Lee Burton’s “The Little House”, as well as the subsequent Disney short based on the book.

    This was all easily research with a book sitting on my shelf, it’s been sitting there for almost a year. Why somebody who decided to post something so incendiary couldn’t have done the same is beyond me.

    http://home.comcast.net/~animatedbat/site/?/photos/&PHPSESSID=fe38eb596834562fbccb94675fc3d670

  • And this was not the first time.

  • As animatedbat said, they were clearly two independent ideas most likely with similar inspiration. Spending years in motion picture development taught me that many, many times very similar ideas will “hit” at the same time. Perhaps it was the 20th anniversary of the lawn chair man (http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/l/lawnchairlarry.htm)
    or something. There is far too much at stake for a company like Pixar to risk stealing an idea.

  • Ideas have a weird way up of coming up at the same time. Something in the zeitgeist, I guess. Since both films went into production at about the same time, it makes me wonder if both teams didn’t see something that inspired both with the same idea. It doesn’t need to mean that one team stole from the other. A script analyst at Dreamworks told me once that –though she’d never before then read a single script about tornadoes– in one week there, four scripts came in about tornadoes. The studio ended up making Michael Crichton’s “Twister.”

  • We’re talking about a bunch of dried up, power-hungry closet gays with Oedipus complexes who have tons of technical capacity, artistic hygiene, but lack in any kind of original thought, genuine creativity. Their corporate philosophy entails stealing essential, distinctive bits and pieces from other artists and business people with dissimilar sexual politics, allegiances, and reworking these stolen proprietary ideas belonging to others so that they effectually extinguish any hope of political upheaval in their ranks. (And they are loyal to Israel, not to Americans, and support Zionist propaganda techniques.)

    The theft is ongoing; the very basis for their enterprise, and is conducted under the guise of “portfolio submissions”, habitually targeting those who have no toe-hold in the industry because they do not share the demented political and sexual convictions of the studio heads. And it’s a form of corporate camouflage, for lack of a better analogy—whereby if they wear the same ‘flavor’ as promising competitors, they can suppress new talent and maintain their own positions at the expense of market maturity, shareholder benefits, societal health, and a host of other pressing issues that can no longer be brushed under the rug.

    It’s the same mentality employed by the Zionists who are in charge of compromising our school systems and public institutions that’s been at play since the inception of the Nazi Era into U.S. media, and it’s sick, dishonest, illegal to an extreme, and it needs to end, pronto because it is a cultural disease that is poisoning the U.S.A.

  • Christina…. holy crap… and what is with all your insane by the minute twitter posts………… what was the last original thought YOU had??? Maybe….take your meds.

  • The story is similar. Old folk is being evicted from the house as new buildings are sprouting around it. Identical. Besides the Above And Beyond was release in 2005 so the idea must have been written way before that. Someone from Pixar must have seen it when they are planning for a new movie. Or they had rewritten their story. If it just a house being taken by balloon, then fine. But old folk being evicted and escaped via balloon? Oooooohhh, someone must be stealing.

  • Christina, I really don’t appreciate your association of homosexuality with poor behavior. Stay on topic and keep your personal vendettas to yourself. Bad behavior and good behavior both can come from all kinds of people, thank you.

    I too think this all just coincidence, especially due to production timing. I myself had thought up an idea eerily similar to James Cameron’s Avatar well before it had come out, and ended up abandoning the story idea due to its fundamental similarities and fear that it would be called a rip off. Did I steal from them? No, I was working on this for years prior. Did they steal from me? No, there’s no way they could have known about it. We just had similar ideas. It happens.

  • I find the student film to be ridiculous. How could an old woman toss a large canvas over her entire house? or even reasonably expect that a chunk of ground would tear from the earth because she filled the canvas with hot air? (Hot air, incidentally, that wasn’t centered under the “balloon”, but off to stage right)

    The design of the house has slight similarities, with the porch and pseudo-tower, but it actually considerably larger.

    Seems like a coincidence overall, given the timeframe of both productions. And, from what I’ve read about Pixar over the years, if someone had seen this student-made film from a French school, there would have been some re-writing done on their film.

    We can assume all we want. Has anyone asked Pixar?

  • Ummm I seriously doubt PIXAR stole these students idea. I know people working at PIXAR and surely can tell you the production time from start to finish doesn’t allow time for them to steal this idea. HAs it ever occured though to anyone here that PIXAR does host International Internships and also Resident program in which the Interns and Residents work on REAL world projects including the feature films. I can see the whole idea of PIXAR stealing the idea flipped over the other way as a disgruntled person who maybe didn’t secure a full time position with the company could have possibly been exposed to the concept and storyboards as well and taken it back to school with them. I know for fact that there is a production in the works at PIXAR right now that has been in development since 2005 and still has 2 years until final, so 7 years right there already is well over the timeframe of a group of students who were in a school where most times if not always a project will begin at the begginning of a semester or term. So even watching the stuent films its easy to see the quality isn’t all that bad but in the meantime not feature film either, could easily be done with dedicated group of students in one or 2 semesters. Not even giving enough time for PIXAR to even steral it.
    And one last question….PIXAR has tons of ideas in the works at all times, what makes you think for a second a multiBILLION dollar studio would even take that stupid risk for? They wouldn’t.

  • Anybody looking to find what FANBOYISM is should look no further than some comments here. Really there is SO INCREDIBLE similarity in the idea and execution that it freakish AND there is good chance Pixar might have seen this too (according to agreement between school and company).

    Uff Check this another painfull ripoff

    http://www.kimbawlion.com/rant2.htm

  • Pingback: Inspirierendes Verlobungsshooting “Up” | visuelleGedanken.de

  • Pixar has used other stuff for “inspiration” before, and that’s putting it nicely.

    Compare Wall-E with a 1980′s Japanese album and commercial series called Apogee and Perigee. A&P is about two robots who fall in love in space.

    The robots look JUST like Wall-E.

    http://waxidermy.com/images/apogeeandperigee.jpg

    So the image, the story, even the names are similar. The only difference is the hamfisted environmental message and Apple-esque female robot’s design.

  • Corporate whores, how the hell do these people sleep at night?

  • Way too many Pixar dick riders in this post. They stole from the french for Finding Nemo as well. WAKE UP.

  • Thanks for all the comments! I’m leaning toward coincidence.

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  • Pingback: Did the French Short Film Above then Beyond Inspire Pixar’s Up? | /Film

  • Just saw this there is concept work in the Up book from 2003 so if there is a few, there would of been alot more from 2003 that didn’t make it into the book. After watching the french film I reckon coincidence as well.

  • So this is news? Disney has been stealing ideas for ages. ‘Jungle Emperor Leo’ became ‘The Lion King’. ’1001 Arabian Nights’ became ‘Aladdin’. ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ was strikingly similar to ‘Harry Potter’. ‘Hercules’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Bambi’, ‘Dumbo’, ‘Atlantis’, ‘Pinocchio’…all were either takes on mythology, done before, or blatantly stolen. Even ‘The Minutemen’ idea was appropriated from ‘Back to the Future’. There are virtually no original ideas from Disney, for one reason: original ideas are as rare as rooster’s teeth.

  • This is a toughie. At first I was willing to dismiss as coincidence. the balloon house idea isn’t all that original. I am reminded of Karel Zeman… (check him out, and then look at all of Terry Gilliam’s work, City of Lost Children, some TIm Burton stuff…). He’s a big ‘influence’ on all of these directors.

    BUT, when I watched this short, I was stunned by the similarities in the framing of several shots, the business-men in black, the house, it’s all strikingly similar to UP. I have a hard time with it. And then finding out that Pixar did have access to the short, well, I’m convinced.

    And yes, Disney has notoriously stolen ideas for many, many years. Betty Boop did Snow White 4 years before Disney… Aladdin is strikingly similar to Richard Williams’ unfinished ”The Princess and the Cobbler”, they even hired some of the crew from his studio when his project stalled… So, yeah, nothing new there.

    Shameless, though.

  • you can also say it is “stolen” from the FEEL GOOD INC-song from the Gorillaz (a floating island) – but here it is a windmill taking along the island. This song was released as the lead single from the album on May 9, 2005 in the United Kingdom.

    and the idea origins from way back…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floating_island_(fiction) many others

    but … hell with this :)

  • You are a wonderful human being
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  • http://www.ksaes.com
    You are a wonderful human being
    Thank you for the nice article

  • Only a fool can think that a project does not evolve and scripts/scenarios do not change. You can start a movie, a book, a painting, scratch it, modify it rewrite/repaint it and release it 10 years later. Does this means that your script and vision cannot be influenced by anything during those 10 years?
    Beside, if Pixar has a partnership with the school, that’s just be a partnership to share the colors of cups they can serve in food courts, and not scouting, nor looking at what students can do. As the student said, they can’t do anything. Its a school project. Why not revealing the original script that should be dated and copyrighted, so we can appreciate all differences between the original script and the final release?

  • how close can one idea to be the other?

    same elderly main characters, being pushed out of homes smack in the middle of the city. how many times does a story have one oddball house left, amung the skyscrapers?

    how close is close?

    such as if I wanted a “comic about wolves fighting other animals”, which deviant art comic are you going to blame me ripping off? if it’s saberotooths they fight, it’s going to be BBA right?

    so now we have these animations and some stories older than it. it is safe to say that any new ballon adventure story will be a ripoff(unless it’s a happy adventure involving a turtle or something who wants to visit all the turtles but goes and has to save some tigers from poachers or something)

    you only use the form a idea takes. there is a rip-off of Ratatulie, so that really counts as a “get in trouble” rip? if i wanted to make an animation with an animal that cooks, I could use a cat right? maybe a cat in a human robot suit? that would be cool. robot. as long as cat isn’t running a Pizziria.

    yes these do look close. but i’ve spent enough time on Deviant art to not be able to think right, as if you go there, kids will want to murder you for making “a rainbow tailed, winged, black wolf” or even that it’s copyright infrignment to “make a story of a bear princess”

    so who did it first? the first ballon story? everyone rips off the orginal. as you get down the line, less orginality is possible it is how you set it up

    who is in it
    what they do
    why they do it
    where are they going
    how does it end.

    so now no more old people being evicted. and no young kids escaping either abuse or mundane life.
    how does that now make a story?

    can Above and Beyond be symbolic? she drempt escape in her dying slumber? so then it is symbolic.(i guess)

    I came here from Cracked.com, it seems they are very in favor of the Students.

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