D23 Expo 2019: Short Circuit–A Glimpse at the Future in Animation

Short Circuit is a Walt Disney Animation Studio program where animators and others are encouraged to take risks in their visual style or storytelling. Anyone at the studio “can present an idea and potentially be selected to create an original short film.” Between 12-25 August, three shorts were show at the El Capitan following selected screenings of Disney’s “The Lion King” and some shorts were made their world premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June.

At D23 Expo 2019, six shorts were screened with introductions and discussion by their directors. “Exchange Student” Natalie Nourigat’s “Exchange Student” was inspired by a mistake. Nourigat’s mother enrolled her in a two-week art program at the French American school. Her mother thought the camp was for people who wanted to learn French and art, but it was actually for children of French-speaking families who were interested in art. The kids were already fluent in French, but Nourigat was not.

“I just stopped talking,” Nourigat remembered. That experience as an eight-year-old, made her look differently at students at her own school who were facing language barriers, but for her short, she took away the awkwardness of self-examination by putting a little black girl in a school for extraterrestrial aliens. Using science fiction to examine xenophobia isn’t new, but “Exchange Student” is light-hearted and hopeful. The green aliens end up friends with the little girl and Nourigat, who works as a storyboarder (“Ralph Breaks the Internet”), now has a directorial credit.

“Exchange Student” premiered at the Annecy International Film Festival this year.

“Elephant in the Room” Elephant in a room looks at the different objectives of three different characters: a lost baby elephant, a young boy and his father. The boy realizes that the baby elephant is lonely and wants to give it affection and play with it like a dog, but an elephant will grow up and eventually not fit in the room. The father wants to keep the baby elephant outside because eventually that’s where it will be. He’s a kind man, but an elephant is a beast of burden. The baby elephant wants what all babies want–its mother.

Director Brian Scott is an animator who worked on “Frozen” and “Feast,” but this is his directorial debut. He based this film on a childhood experience when he felt the breath of a baby elephant on the back of his neck. “Elephant in the Room” premiered at the El Capitan.

As a kid, who didn’t want to jump in “Puddles”?  Zach Parrish (“Tangled” and “Big Hero Six”) was inspired by his nephew who “Saw more magic in the world then there was already there.” In this short, a young boy finds magic in the puddles, but can’t get his sister’s attention. She’s glued to her cellphone like too many people these days. Once the young boy gets her attention, they enter a magical world that includes a few Easter eggs (some characters from “Moana” as well as five other things).

The children’s neighborhood street was constructed in 360-degrees so that you could move and see different angles. Parrish was also an animator on “Moana” as well as “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

“Just a Thought” by Brian Menz takes us into a world where one’s thought bubbles can be seen and read by others. A young boy has a crush on a young girl who is in his class and tries to hide his thoughts but ultimately fails. The look Menz wanted was one reminiscent of old comic strips with the dotted screens, angled to get different colors but, as a result of the process, with a limited color range. The look is bold, but with a little cheat (brown was added).

“Lightning in a Bottle” by Virgilio John Aquino is about a budding scientists who captures lightning in a bottle, but finds that the creature wants to be free and rejoin its fellows in the sky. The animators worked on volumization of the clouds. You can see the clouds, but also they are reactive to lighting like clouds in nature.

One of the most beautiful pieces borrows Sven from “Frozen” and with a few modifications including attaching stars to the model’s surface and inserting a nebula inside the 3D shape, makes a nebulous stately stag that battles a black whole. “Zenith” Jennifer Stratton said she was inspired by the musical interpretation and the risk-taking involved in Disney’s “Fantasia.” She was particularly enchanted with the sequences about the pegasus family and black demon on “Night on Bald Mountain.”

Different animators were allowed to work with different nebula and the black hole was imagined in references to swirling clouds around it. The result is a beautiful imagery set to music with a starry resolution Stratton is a look development artist who worked on “Life of Pi,” “Feast,” “Zootopia,” “Moana” and the upcoming “Frozen II.”

“Zenith” was aesthetically, my favorite and directors’ presentations included slides of the work in progress and the computer 3D development views that was really fascinating for those working with or learning 3D animation.

If you couldn’t make any of these events, you can still see these and more if you subscribe to Disney +.

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