“If you could tell any story with the team of talented artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios, what would you create?” This is the question that drives the experimental shorts streaming now on Disney+. The first “season” of “Short Circuit” collected 14 shorts from the years that this program has run internally at the Disney Animation Studios as a method of bringing together separate teams, experimenting with new styles or technologies, and highlighting creative voices that rarely get to help an animation project for a major studio. Season 2 of “Short Circuit” features just five shorts, each preceded by an introduction by the writer/director.
Before the release, the directors of the shorts as well as the Production Manager (Jennifer Newfield) gathered to discuss their inspiration and some of the unique methods used to create the shorts.
“Songs to Sing in the Dark” – Directed by Riannon Delanoy
“Songs to Sing in the Dark” has a unique style of animation, closest in look to the spirits depicted in “Frozen 2” and “Myth: A Frozen Short.” This short imagines sound as a multisensory experience as creatures expand and shape themselves in darkness using sound. On the inspiration for the short, Delanoy said, “Tiger moths can use interference patterns to jam echolocation. Sperm whales can blast sound like a shotgun to stun prey. Dolphins even appear to have a pictographic language where they can send images to one another, and it’s all encoded in sound. What if you took those abilities to their logical extreme? What would happen if you took a group of echolocating animals, and let them evolve for millions of years in this totally dark cave, in this massive evolutionary feedback loop?”
“Going Home” – Directed by Jacob Frey
The most contemplative of the batch, “Going Home” is a more traditional short that innovates through shifting seasons, scenery and environments. This short works to capture the feelings of the changes that make places we called home unrecognizable, the inevitable endings of growing up, and the new beginnings that make new homes. On the collaboration efforts to make his vision reality, Frey said, “I had so many modeling questions and it was just so good to have someone from another department sitting so close to you, because … we engage with every department now and we might not be an expert in those. It was really cool to just have someone from another department sitting right next to you, but also then, someone who’s actually going through the process with you, and then you can always talk about it and just share idea, thoughts, or progress, and always have someone who can give you another opinion on where you’re at right now and I think it was super helpful.
“Crosswalk” – Directed by Ryan Green
This short has an animation style familiar from Pixar works such as “Inside Out” and “Soul,” that is used to make the hum drum experience of waiting for a “Walk” signal into a life journey. Green’s short was inspired by a daily experience right outside of his workplace: “There’s a light right outside of Disney Animation building, and I think all of us have waited there many times. You can see way down the street in both directions, there’s very little traffic and the light takes forever. I just remember standing there one day just waiting, and waiting, and waiting. I just pictured my ancestors showing up next to me just be like, “Hey, what are you doing? We wanted to make a better life for ourselves, so we got on a boat and crossed the Atlantic. We didn’t wait for a robot to tell us to do it. Why are you just standing here? You can see, you can cross the street.” That just basically became the seed of the idea.”
“No. 2 to Kettering” – Directed by Liza Rhea
This short contrasts an “unfinished” animation style with very thoughtful color work that shifts and adapts throughout the scene. “No. 2 to Kettering” tells of how a girl on the bus to school seeks to spread joy when confronted with grumpy passengers. On the originality of her short, Rhea said, “I think what makes my film unique is what kind of emotion I’m trying to convey and how. I really wanted to think like, “Okay, what if there’s a girl full of vibrant color, and she’s living in a world that’s maybe bogged down with the weight of the world, and she’s just getting a bus. Everyone’s going about their day, but you have a lot going on. She’s all full of energy and bubbles.” That, I wanted to translate using color. As she interacts with a lot of people on the bus, sometimes that color can be drained, and some times, it can go the other way and she can infuse color into someone else by lifting their energy and joy.”
“Dinosaur Barbarian” – Directed by Kim Hazel
While all of the shorts were innovating or emotional in their own way, I have to say “Dinosaur Barbarian” was my favorite. Built around the 2-D animation style of classics like “Pete’s Dragon” or “The Sword in the Stone,” and drawing inspiration from 1980’s action cartoon classics like “He-Man” and “ThunderCats,” this short takes a sword swinging, beast tackling hero and dares to consider his body odor. The short is tied together by a super catchy theme song, created as a collaboration between the director and composers, Hazel said, “The way our relationship worked creatively was when I had submitted my pitch for “Dinosaur Barbarian” to the program, I had written, I called it my poem, because I’m not a trained songwriter, but I had the beats that I wanted story-wise to play out. I handed that off to the composers, and they came back with something that just completely blew my mind. Both in terms of the melody, and the adjustments they made to my poem, which made it a bajillion times better.”
The five shorts of “Short Circuit” Season 2 are streaming now on Disney+.