Coming Up on Disney+: Short Circuit Experimental Films

Ever since its inception on November 12th, 2019, Disney+ keeps publishing remarkable programs. On January 24th, 2020, tune in to 14 NEW animated shorts created by the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Circuit Experimental Films program. 

What is Short Circuit?

Short Circuit is an experimental program that began in 2016. Anyone working at Walt Disney Animation Studios can pitch an idea for a short, which could potentially be selected to create an original short film with the support of the Studio and fellow artists. 

On January 10th, 2020, Walt Disney Animation Studios held a special screening of all 14 animated Short Circuit films, followed by 4 roundtables with all 14 directors. We learned quite a bit about the program and the directors.

How Does It Work?

Short Circuit uses a blind selection process. Each person submits an idea along with sketches and/or storyboards, but their name is not attached. An anonymous committee chooses the top ideas. The person who submitted a chosen idea then becomes a first-time director, working with each different department in the studio to create a finished, polished product. The directors have about four months to create their short, utilizing Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animators, modelers, lighting department, music department – every person and department must work to create the director’s vision – just as they would on an animated feature. So far, the Short Circuit program has helped 20 filmmakers realize their creative vision, become more rounded in their craft, and given them opportunities they never would have had otherwise. 

Most of these shorts tell the story visually and musically, so I asked Brian Metz (Just A Thought) and Natalie Nourigat (Exchange Student) about their music process.

That evolved with the program. We were testing out filmmakers, so let’s test out musicians. They Studio gave me samples of 4 different musicians, and I chose one. She came in and I showed her the short. She is not in the studio but we worked back and forth.

Brian Metz

Associate Producer Nathan Curtis here at the Studio did music for my film. In all of our cases, the music came after. Temp scores over the storyboards, and then the final music later, once it’s animated.

Natalie Nourigat

Why Should I Watch?

These are experimental films, which means they push the envelope in some way. Whether it’s visually, technically, musically, or story-driven. For example, Kendra Vander Vliet (Downtown) works in Rough Layout, which helped her form an experimental idea.

What if I try to create something that has a lot of emotion and energy using the camera-work that fits into my daily work life? What if I shot it like some of the Japanese anime I’d been watching – almost like a Haiku? And that inspired me to apply to Short Circuit. We also used very wide lenses with distortion at the edges, which gives it a rounded look. So when we’re doing all these fast, crazy camera moves, it helps it feel more organic.

Kendra Vander Vliet

When working on Drop I challenged the animation department to do it more organic in CG – using Meander, which is a tool we used on Feast. It had been in hibernation for a bit, and now a lot of the Short Circuit films use Meander, or a 2D element. That’s what I love about the shorts. All of them experiment in some way.

Trent Corey

All the films, because of the nature of how long they are, a minute, minute and a half to 3 minutes; doing anything narrative in that timeframe is an experiment in itself.

Brian Scott

Lasting Impact of Short Circuit

You can always tell an animator’s short from a storyboard artist and vice versa. But through working with all the different departments at Walt Disney Animation, they develop relationships with people they never meet, and have a greater understanding of what each department does. Overall, the experience helped each one gain perspective on all departments at Walt Disney Studios. With perspective comes knowledge, appreciation and synergy moving forward. 

In a few cases, the experience has made them change jobs or seek more leadership roles within the Studios. After Brian Estrada worked his way up at Walt Disney Studios to Post Production Coordinator, he submitted his idea for his short film “HAIR-JITSU”. After completing his directorial debut, Brian applied for an apprenticeship in editing and is now an Assistant Editor. Similarly, Nikki Mull (Director, “LUCKY TOUPEE”) was a Look Artist, but directing gave her a taste of being in charge, which made her seek out a supervising position on Disney’s upcoming animated feature RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON. She would not have sought out that position were it not for the Short Circuit program.

Overall, it is the journey that counts. The constraints of Short Circuit force the directors to form relationships, seek help and practice creative problem-solving . Through the process of creating these films, Walt Disney Animation Studios as a whole is better, because the people within are gaining experience and knowledge they will bring with them on their journey through work and life at Walt Disney Animation.

All 14 Short Circuit Synopses and Director Bios

CYCLES

A story centered around the true meaning of creating a home and the life that it holds inside its walls. 

Jeff Gipson (Director) first joined the studio in 2013 as a lighting apprentice on “Frozen.” Gipson made his directing debut with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first virtual reality short film, “Cycles” for which he won a Lumiere™ Award in 2019. He recently debuted his second VR short film “Myth: A Frozen Tale,” at the world premiere of “Frozen 2.”  

DOWNTOWN

A commuter’s disappointment in missing the bus turns into a colorful and unexpected joyride when the surrounding street art bursts to life, revealing the heart of the city from an entirely new perspective. 

Kendra Vander Vliet (Director) joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013 as a rough layout artist on “Frozen,” and went on to work on such films as “Feast,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and “Frozen 2.” She enjoyed the challenge of telling her story through color and street art, with over 100 custom mural designs created for the project. 

DROP

A newly-formed raindrop falls to earth for the first time and has an unlikely and heartfelt encounter with a young girl that proves to be uplifting for both. 

Trent Correy (Director) started at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2012 as an animation trainee in the Talent Development Program. He most recently oversaw the animation of the beloved character, Olaf, among others in his role as Animation Supervisor on “Frozen 2.”  His 

other credits include “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Moana,” and multiple shorts. 

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

A lost baby elephant is taken in by a boy and his father to work on their banana plantation. As the two quickly bond, the boy discovers that his new best friend yearns for her family and home in the wild. 

Brian Scott (Director) began his career at Walt Disney Animation Studios as an animator on “Frozen.” He then went on to work on such films as “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Moana,” “Frozen 2,” and the 2015 Oscar®-winning short, “Feast” (on which he served as Head of Animation). A chance childhood encounter with a baby elephant, and, many years later, the arrival of his first child, provided the inspiration for “Elephant in the Room.” 

EXCHANGE STUDENT

Life is hard enough for an exchange student at a new school, but as the only earthling at a school for aliens, the central character in this fanciful story is the ultimate outsider and must prove her worth to be accepted by her unusual new classmates. 

Natalie Nourigat (Director) joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2015 as a story apprentice. She has gone on to serve as a story assistant and story artist on “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” 

FETCH

A child wants to play fetch with her pet. Unfortunately he’s wandered deep into an imposing forest. 

Mitch Counsell (Director) started his Walt Disney Animation career as a Character TD on “Big Hero 6.” He has worked in a similar capacity on such films as “Zootopia,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and most recently served as part of the “Tactics Team” consultancy group on “Frozen 2.”   

HAIR-JITSU

A young girl faces off against an evil hairdresser as she goes through imaginative lengths to avoid her first haircut. 

Brian Estrada (Director) started at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013 as a production assistant on the 3D version of “The Little Mermaid,” and has worked in many different departments at the Studio including Story, Art, Editorial, Environment Assets, and Post Production, where he is currently the coordinator. At Disney Animation, his credits include 

“Zootopia,” “Moana,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and “Frozen 2.”  

JING HUA

A grieving martial artist pays tribute to her recently departed teacher by creating a painted world using a magical form of kung fu. 

Jerry Huynh (Director) is a General TD at Disney Animation, with credits including “Moana” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” Huynh drew upon his family roots and culture in telling this very personal story.  

JUST A THOUGHT

An awkward 12-year-old boy named Ollie experiences “bubble trouble” when his true feelings for a girl are embarrassingly revealed in the form of a physical thought bubble. 

Brian Menz (Director) fell in love with animation at a young age and came to Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2008 as an animator on “Bolt.” He then went on to work on such films as “Big Hero 6,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen,” “Zootopia,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet, and is currently an animation supervisor on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” 

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE

During a thunderstorm, a young boy’s effort to capture lightning in a glass bottle as part of a science fair project succeeds beyond his wildest expectations, but is shocked when he discovers the consequences of this unnatural feat. 

Virgilio John Aquino (Director) had early ambitions of becoming a comic book artist, but turned towards a career in animation at the age of 26. Starting as an effects animator on “Hercules” and “Fantasia/2000,” he went on to work as a modeler on such recent features as “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Zootopia,” and “Frozen 2.”  

LUCKY TOUPEE

This clever bit of balderdash lifts the lid on an original tale about a hijacked hairpiece, a gang of larcenous leprechauns, and a budding romance. 

Nikki Mull (Director) started as a trainee at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013, and is currently a Character Look Supervisor on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Her credits include “Moana,” “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” and “Frozen 2.” 

PUDDLES

An adventurous young boy discovers that puddles can be portals to a fantastical world, but struggles to get his sister’s attention away from her phone to see the magic in the world around her. 

Zach Parrish (Director) joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2010 as an animator on “Tangled.”  He then went on to work on such films as “Wreck-It Ralph” (Supervising Animator), “Big Hero 6” (Head of Animation), “Zootopia” and “Moana” (Animator), and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (Workflow Supervisor and Animator). 

THE RACE

Grim desperately needs one more soul to win his work competition, but his last scheduled collection at a rigorous bike race turns his world upside-down. At the finish line, he learns that life is not always about the trophy at the end of the race. 

Terry Moews (Director) is a 23-year Disney veteran, who came to Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1996 to supervise and shoot the live-action backgrounds for the innovative computer-animated feature, “Dinosaur” (2000).  Following “Dinosaur,” Moews was chosen to create the CG layout department for Disney’s “Chicken Little.” He went on to serve as Visual Effects Supervisor, Layout Supervisor, Studio Department Leader and Layout Artist on such films as “Bolt,” “Big Hero 6,” “Tangled,” “Frozen” “Zootopia,” “Moana,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and “Frozen 2.” 

ZENITH

A luminous, ethereal stag bounds effortlessly through a dark expanse of the universe, leaving a galaxy of stars in its wake. When it accidentally creates a black hole that threatens to devour everything in sight, the stag is forced to make a decision that will leave a lasting impression. 

Jennifer Stratton (Director) started with Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013 as a look development artist for Special Projects/Legacy, and segued into feature production where she has contributed to the look of such features as “Zootopia,” “Moana,” Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and “Frozen 2.”  On “Zenith,” she was particularly excited to be working with the effects team to push the design of the characters, and bring unique, cool new visuals to the screen.

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