If you are a Disney+ subscriber, among the gifts you will be able to unwrap this December 25th is a new animated offering from SparkShorts called “Burrow.” At just over six minutes, this sweet new short, conceived and directed by Madeline Sharafian, will debut as the introduction to “Soul,” the latest feature from Pixar Animation Studios.
Sharafian, a first-time director who joined Pixar in 2015, sat down recently with journalists to discuss her film, as well the SparkShorts studio in general.
For those unfamiliar with SparkShorts, it is basically a small studio within Pixar Animation’s studio — an “indie branch,” as Sharafian calls it — responsible for encouraging new storytellers and fostering new animation techniques and talent by producing animated shorts. If you have ever been poking around Disney+ looking for something new to watch, you may have come across the SparkShorts category. In it, you will have found such hidden animated gems as “Kitbull,” “Float,” and my personal favorite SparkShort, “Smash and Grab.” (Watch it, you won’t regret it!)
It was the 2D “Kitbull” that particularly inspired Sharafian, who, although she had worked on films such as “Coco” and “Onward,” secretly “wanted in” to the SparkShorts program. When Lindsey Collins, who was executive producer of SparkShorts at the time, approached Sharafian about possibly coming up with something, she knew she could not let that door slam shut. And she knew the idea she wanted to pitch.
Her premise for “Burrow” is a simple one: an inexperienced young rabbit sets out to dig the burrow of her dreams. After several missteps and hitting both virtual and actual rock bottom, she realizes she needs to ask her neighbors for help.
“I was really into the visual metaphor of burrows, sort of feeling underground, isolated,” Sharafian explains, adding that her childhood nickname “Rabbit” was the basis for her protagonist. “But also burrows are all about connection.”
While you might draw a parallel between these concepts and our quarantined lives in this year of the pandemic, Sharafian notes that she had been kicking around the idea for this short for several years.
“I struggle with isolating myself because I’m a huge perfectionist,” she says. “So that meant I was spending a lot of time hiding myself, hiding my hurts and vulnerabilities from my friends and family… so I distilled this to a theme I was really passionate about, which is the power of asking for help.”
Turning that theme into a six-minute story consumed most of the next year for Sharafian, who wanted to create the film in 2D and give it a warm, handmade feel. Her initial animation team of eight initially doubled, as many wanted to join in the project. “Everyone loves 2D,” she says, smiling.
From developing the storyboards and creating prop sheets to choosing the background music (classical Mozart) and even helping create the Foley sound effects, Sharafian was able to guide her colleagues and the short film every step of the way, staying true to her original theme.
“It’s another aspect that makes SparkShorts so interesting,” she says. “There are barely any executive checks. The studio puts its trust in you and lets you make whatever you want, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
The end result in Sharafian’s case is this sweet, short tale with its gentle moral that she hopes everyone, children especially, will want to watch over and over again.
As they progressed with the film, Sharafian says they were constantly touched by all the help and expertise others were quick to offer.
She adds: “I guess asking for help is the right thing to do after all.
“Burrow” begins streaming Friday, December 25 exclusively on Disney+.
To get you better acquainted with SparkShorts, here’s a short trailer for the 2D film “Kitbull”: