It’s only eight minutes long and not a single word is spoken. Yet Umbrella has moved audiences around the world, earning acclaim on the festival circuit. Having qualified for the Oscars, the Brazilian animated short is now bringing its hopeful story, which was inspired by true events, to Academy members.
Umbrella is first film from directing duo Helena Hilario and Mario Pece. The short tells the story of Joseph, a boy who lives in an orphanage and dreams of owning a yellow umbrella — until he meets a little girl who awakens his memories of the past.
“The film makes us reflect on the importance of observing, listening, and understanding that we cannot judge people without knowing what is behind their experience,” says Hilario. “Everyone goes through situations that we can’t even imagine, so we must be kind to each other. That’s why we thought focusing this narrative around empathy and hope, which we need more and more. We always wanted to make a film without dialogue and use animation, music, and the narrative itself to evoke deep emotions and reflections.”
The widely acclaimed short has had a successful festival run. It has made history in Brazil by participating in 19 Oscar-qualifying film festivals, including the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. Umbrella is the only Brazilian animated short that qualified for the Oscars this year. If nominated, it would be the first Brazilian animated short ever to get that far in the category. “In these times when we can’t give and receive hugs,” says Hilario, “Umbrella was embraced by the Brazilian media and public.”
It all started when Hilario got a call from her sister in 2011. The sister said she had visited an orphanage in Palmas (in the Brazilian state of Paraná) to deliver Christmas gifts to the children. There was one boy who didn’t want any of the toys. When asked what he wanted, he said he would love an umbrella. The reason was that the last time he remembered seeing his father was on a rainy day; in his head, he needed an umbrella to reunite the family.
As Hilario explains, “In making this short, our dream and goal were to translate a painful memory into art to spread a beautiful message of empathy and hope. A sad event inspired us to create a beautiful and delicate story. We couldn’t stop thinking about how precious our memories are, and we must put ourselves in the other’s shoes before jumping to conclusions.”
It took about ten years for Hilario and Pece to realize their dream. When they wrote the script, the couple had no experience of working in animation. “We didn’t rush, we took our time, we knew in our hearts that one day we would bring this story to life,” says Hilario. “It took years to gain experience with animation and post-production before we opened our studio Stratostorm in 2014.”
While working on advertising and entertainment projects at the studio, Hilario and Pece prepared financially to set up Umbrella as an independent in-house production, and put together the right team of talented artists to bring the project to life. They spent a few months per year on the project. In total, the production took up 20 months over the years, including 13 months of full-time production with a small team of artists.
The couple worked with three talented full-time cg artists (Alan Prado, Dhiego Guimarães, and Felipe Pardini). At the peak of production, nine cg artists were working on the project at the same time, alongside five animators led by animation supervisor Hannry Pschera. Talented artist Victor Hugo designed the characters, and composer Gabriel Dib wrote the emotional score.
“Our small but mighty team created a true piece of art,” says Hilario. “Umbrella is a work of love, discipline, and resilience. It’s proof that when we find unique stories within our own experiences and we believe in our dreams with all our hearts, one day they will come true. Sometimes a filmmaker’s journey is lonely and requires patience, because you may be the only one who truly believes in your story. But we can’t give up, and we must work hard to keep telling stories that will inspire and move people.”
The couple also created their own strategy for distributing Umbrella to film festivals. Their first time on the film festival circuit left a deep impression. “We are thankful for every festival that has given us the opportunity to genuinely present our short film to wider audiences,” says Hilario. “It was a wonderful experience to see their commitment to keeping the events going during this difficult and strange year. They honored all the filmmakers they selected for their line-up.”
During these difficult times, Umbrella will resonate deeply with viewers young and old. Its sensitive story, which warms the heart while making us reflect on the real meaning of empathy, is more relevant than ever.