Summer Reading List: Picks from the Creative Team Behind Pixar’s “The Blue Umbrella”

Summer reading lists—as a kid, these curriculum-imposed killjoys lurked in the corner of your vacation, never quite letting you forget just how close September really was. I realize now, that those reading requirements often exposed me to authors and books that I might not have explored if left to my own devices. Books that would become lifetime favorites, or motivate me to branch out of my reading comfort zone.

In that same spirit of discovery, we asked some of the creative minds behind Pixar’s latest short, The Blue Umbrella, to tell us about the books that inspired them and the film. From Russian lit to technical journals, you might be surprised by their selections, and maybe even discover some books to add to your personal summer reading list.


Saschka Unseld—Director

The Master and Margarita Mikhail BulgakovThe Master and Margarita, a Russian classic, one of the few books that held my attention from page one until the very end.

Mick Jagger once said that this book was given to him as a gift from Marianne Faithfull and that it inspired him to write “Sympathy for the Devil.” So if you want to know what all the fuss is about Russian literature, read this.

(Oh and please do yourself a favor, read the Burgin/Tiernan translation. Nothing compares to it, except the Russian original, of course).

The Reader Bernhard SchlinkDer Vorleser (The Reader)

Ignore the American film version, if you want to learn anything about German trauma and post-war depression/confusion, read this. Also, please don’t read a synopsis of what it’s about, just read it without knowing anything, it is short enough as a book for doing this.”




Marc S. Greenberg—Producer

The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein“I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain, a story written from a dog’s point of view, about his relationships and perspectives.

I love dogs, and I’m always wondering what mine would say if he could really speak or if I could know what he’s thinking. He has wonderful expressions, but not always through his face, and the animators at Pixar are truly incredible at expressing a character’s feelings with full emotion. They often use full bodies to express those feelings. For The Blue Umbrella, we were dealing with just faces, and we were challenged to express emotion, but I think we nailed it! We love to hear the audience giggle or gasp at moments throughout the short.”


Christopher M. Burrows—Supervising Technical Director

The Penguin and the Leviathan Yochai Benkler“Although it is non-fiction, a book that was inspirational to me for the making of The Blue Umbrella was The Penguin and the Leviathan by Yochai Benkler.

Benkler’s central thesis is that people are intrinsically cooperative and will work together for the greater good of the organization when motivated. This notion that rigid hierarchies are less efficient inspired me to find ways to encourage collaboration between artistic and technical disciplines and to blur the lines between the more formal departments you might have on a larger production. As a result, we had a flexible, highly motivated crew and I think the results are evident on screen.”


Jay Shuster—Production Designer

technical analysis formula 1 racing Giorgio Piola“Giorgio Piola’s technical journals of Formula 1 racing inspire the inner workings of expressive buildings and umbrellas!

The books are half-illustrative/ half-written detail of the engineered evolution of each team’s car over the course of the season’s 19 races; spelling-out each and every aerodynamic adjustment, body-shape-shift etc., that shaves .001’s of seconds off of a lap time. Its relationship to what I do on a daily basis is distant; however, to bring characters to life on screen requires a degree of engineering that integrates with an outward, designed exterior to not only make the character function as intended, but to also root that character in a physical reality you and I can relate to. If you think about it, there’s not much difference between the spindly control arms on an F1 car and the equally frail arms of an umbrella. Pile on its nylon canopy, torrential rain, and a gale force wind, and you’ve got drama!”

When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, Nancy Lambert is busy writing, cutting down restless draugrs in Skyrim, or putzing around online.


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