“Bao” Director Domee Shi
Domee Shi is a Chinese-Canadian storyboard artist and director for Pixar since 2011. She has contributed to multiple films including Inside Out (2015), Incredibles 2 (2018), and Toy Story 4 (2019). Outside of her storyboard career, Shi directed the 2018 short film Bao, becoming the first woman to direct a short film for Pixar. Her work in animation had earned her nominations for the 43rd Annie Awards, the International Online Cinema Awards, and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Early life and education
Shi was born in 1989 in Chongqing, China as an only child before immigrating to Canada with her parents at the age of two. She spent half a year in Newfoundland before moving to Toronto where she grew up learning about art from her father. She was influenced by her father, who was a college professor for fine art and a landscape painter in China. In terms of her mother, Shi mentions that “She’s not a super outwardly emotional person,” but she gets a lot of inspiration and guidance from her mom when directing Bao. Shi recalls that “My Chinese mom was always making sure I never wandered away too far, that I was safe.” She also states that her favorite dumplings have to be “the boiled pork and chives dumplings that my mom would make for me growing up.” During her childhood, she watched lots of Studio Ghibli and Disney films which exposed her to Asian cinema and animation.
As a high school student, Shi bingewatched anime, read manga, and became the Vice President of her school’s anime club. She joined online art communities and uploaded her fan artwork to DeviantArt1. This became her first exposure to an environment of likeminded people that helped her establish a network with other artists. “I could follow artists, and I could email them. In the past, you’d have to be in California or know a guy who was friends with this other guy that worked at Disney or something,” said Shi. As a result, she was inspired to enroll at Sheridan College2 for her post-secondary education.
At Sheridan, Shi studied animation and graduated in 2011. During her second year attending school, she enrolled in a course taught by Nancy Beiman and credits Beiman’s class for her pursuit in the animation industry for storyboarding. Shi created a short film for an assignment during her last year at Sheridan. In 2009, she took up an internship with Chuck Gammage Animation Inc. as a clean-up artist, storyboard artist, and animator.
After graduating, Shi worked briefly as a cartooning instructor with an emphasis of character design and comic book creation. In 2011, she took on a three month internship at Pixar as a storyboard artist.
The short film Bao was developed as a “side-project” before and during Shi’s full-time work on Inside Out. It, alongside two other projects, had eventually been pitched to her mentor Pete Docter and Pixar for support. Bao was approved in 2015 and made Shi the first woman to direct a short film for the studio.