For all the people who have swooned over “Paperman” or delighted in “Feast,” we’ve got some large news on some short projects! In 2016, Walt Disney Animation Studios began an experimental program called Short Circuit, where ANYONE in the Studio could create a pitch for a short film, which could potentially be chosen through a blind submission process. The chosen directors came from all different stages in their careers — think production assistant, modeler, and even a Head of Animation! — and the quality of work produced in collaboration with fellow artists and mentors from across the studio was stellar across the board.
At first, the shorts were just meant to be kept inside the walls of Disney Animation; they were produced with the hope of exploring new technology, allowing artists to take risks in visuals and story, and ultimately, surface new talent from within the Studio. However, when Disney+ rolled around, it was a perfect opportunity to share this work with the world. (As if Disney+ wasn’t already the best!)
Recently, I got to swing by Walt Disney Animation Studios for a screening of all the Short Circuit films and chat with the amazing directors whose visions brought all of them to life! Here are some highlights from each short film:
This short was originally presented in VR, officially the first project EVER to be produced in this medium from Walt Disney Animation Studios! But, beyond the technological advancement this one represents, you’ll need some tissues for this emotional journey. “Cycles” is based on the intimate real-life story of director Jeff Gipson’s family, when they decided to move his grandmother from her longtime home into assisted living. In this short, you become immersed in the space where so much life took place, a place Gipson described as “a character. It was a part of our family. You know, we spent Christmases there, we had dinners there. Every day after school I was there… My handprints in the driveway; my names etched in the back cabinet… This place is a part of our family and… I wanted to express that somehow.”
Director: Jeff Gipson
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “We know how life is going to end, but ‘Cycles’ is about that journey.”
Jeff’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “If you don’t ask, the answer is no.” and “Trust your instincts. Don’t make the film people are going to like. Do the film you believe in.”
Jeff’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, & Tangled.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Cycles”:
- Before discovering animation, Jeff Gipson studied architecture and used to design skate parks. His first professional animation job came through an internship at Pixar!
- Keeping it in the family, Jeff’s mother wrote and performed the score of the short.
What would it look like if you embodied the joy and wonder of someone experiencing art in a visceral and dynamic way? Honestly, a lot like “Downtown”! Told through the eyes of a silhouetted person and inspired by the street art director Kendra Vander Vliet witnesses daily around her neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles, this short takes you on an exciting and vibrant journey full of color and wonder!
Director: Kendra Vander Vliet
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “Really good positive energy and a joy rush… It’s meant to… be a breath of fresh air when you watch it.”
Kendra’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “Don’t do it if you just want to be a director. You have to have a [creative] spark in you that is burning.”
Kendra’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Frozen 2 (and she’s excited for Raya and the Last Dragon!).
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Downtown”:
- Kendra grew up in a farming town in Iowa, so moving to LA was a big change for her!
- Kendra originally didn’t plan to pitch for Short Circuit, but when she became inspired by the art in her neighborhood and paired that with her desire to explore a different cinematography style, it ended up being a perfect fit.
Having lived in Vancouver, director Trent Correy is no stranger to rain, and this charming ode to a drop of water is sure to be a hit. “Drop” is a beautifully animated vignette that explores a cyclical story all about connection. Interestingly, the initial inspiration came from the idea of a coin traveling around the world, but Correy soon realized that a water droplet would be a more dynamic canvas. Get ready to smile the next time it rains outside!
Director: Trent Correy
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “My hope is, when it’s on Disney+ and kids see this short and they’re in the car and it’s raining, they can touch a raindrop and have this little moment, right?”
Trent’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “Surround yourself with those people who are excited about your idea… It was more about the people and the passion of the projects.”
Trent’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, & Pinocchio.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Drop”:
- Trent read what he describes as a very “dry” book about water, but was very inspired by the fact that the water currently on Earth is the same as the water the dinosaurs drank.
- Originally, the concept was to have the style of the piece be done in watercolor, but he fell in love with the new look proposed by a visual development artist on his team.
When Director Brian Scott was a child, he remembers roaming the streets of Boston after a baseball game and seeing a baby elephant (likely in town for the circus). At the time, he remembers a fleeting thought of, “What if I could take it home with me?” Thus, an idea for a short film was born! Set on a lush banana plantation, “Elephant In the Room” is the touching story of a father, a son, and an elephant that’s sure to capture your heart.
Director: Brian Scott
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “Hopefully people can sense the theme [that] we all have the power to benefit other people’s lives.”
Brian’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “There are so many people that want to help each other, so I’d say just… put yourself out there. Take risks, and don’t be afraid to look silly. Don’t be afraid to fail… You just have to put yourself out there and try it.”
Brian’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Cinderella, & The Jungle Book.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Elephant In the Room”:
- Brian worked on the short “Feast” as the Head of Animation, and this film is heavily inspired by some of the style of “Feast.”
- Brian’s grandma took him to see Cinderella as a young child, which sparked a lifetime love of animation.
Being the new kid at school is hard enough. Being the only earthling at a school for aliens is next level! In “Exchange Student,” director Natalie Nourigat explores the fish-out-of-water tale of a young girl trying to navigate fitting in. The short was inspired by her struggles communicating her personality and sense of humor when she moved to France at age 25 to be an au pair, and the unique visual style of the short is inspired by her lifelong love of comics!
Director: Natalie Nourigat
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “I really hope that kids can think about [this kind of experience]. [Hopefully] they can think ‘Oh, this kid just moved here. I bet if I was in their shoes, I would wish someone [would come] up to me and introduce themselves.’”
Natalie’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “Just dive in and do it. Brainstorm your own ideas. Doodle in a sketchbook. Pull reference images that inspire you… and start to get a vision board for your film… [All the prep work] shows that you care and… you put so much of your own time into it first.”
Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Bambi, Dumbo, & Wreck-It Ralph.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Exchange Student”:
- Natalie was a comic book artist for 5 years after college and worked on Marvel comics in the past, before starting in the Disney Animation apprentice program.
- Natalie is currently binging The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+!
Director Mitch Counsell has an adorable story that inspired his charming and surprising short, “Fetch.” When his sister was out to lunch with her children, her son Maverick wandered outside their roadside tavern to investigate the arrival of a group of large, tough looking men on motorcycles. Maverick’s mom was initially terrified, but relieved to learn that Maverick instantly befriended everyone. This transformational effect a kid can have is woven through “Fetch,” the story of a young girl, who not unlike Maverick, is drawn to a mysterious and possibly dangerous entity in the woods.
Director: Mitch Counsell
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “[For adults, it’s the idea that] sometimes the world is what you see it, and if you haven’t been told that it’s evil, then you can see it for something that might be better, like a little kid [would]… [For kids, it’s a realization that they are] already a hero. I don’t have to wait until I grow up before I can do something great… and maybe because I don’t know what the world is, that has value.”
Mitch’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “Don’t just try to be correct or succeed according to other people’s metrics. Just follow whatever you’re curious about, because your curiosity… will be your best source of fuel.”
Mitch’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Tangled, Aladdin, & Hercules.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Fetch”:
- Mitch joked that growing up watching Disney movies made him believe he had to make a big deal about the first person he kissed, which later amused legendary Disney animator John Musker when he shared that story with him.
- Mitch wanted to be an architect and did an 8-month program studying computer animation to be a better architect, but ended up switching careers.
Avoiding getting your first haircut has never packed such a punch! “Hair-Jitsu” director Brian Estrada was inspired to create this short after hearing that his friend’s 5-year old daughter had never gotten a haircut, and wondered what it would be like when she finally has to face-off against a hairdresser. Blending his own childhood love for Tae Kwon Do and other martial arts with this spunky young heroine’s love for her hair, “Hair-Jitsu” was born.
Director: Brian Estrada
Brian’s Advice to Future Filmmakers: “I got in here through hard work at other smaller studios… It’s a hard path to come in, but it’s possible… [so], there’s hope. Find a way in, and you’re gonna rise to the top.”
Brian’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Peter Pan & Tangled.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Hair-Jitsu”:
- The girl in the Short is named Charlie.
- Brian was deathly afraid of the dentist as a kid, so he drew inspiration from that for Charlie in her face-off with the hairdresser.
When director Jerry Huynh first pitched “Jing Hua,” he originally imagined it as the story of a person reflecting on and reconnecting with their culture; a blend of kung fu and a moving Chinese painting. However, when production began ramping up, Jerry’s family was shaken by the deaths of two close relatives. He then realized those feelings needed to be infused into the piece, bridging together his family’s personal grief with his own cultural foundation that the short had always aimed to highlight. The resulting journey of “Jing Hua” is described as “an emotional expression from this character.”
Director: Jerry Huynh
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “Thus far, what I’ve noticed is that people who have been through grief, when they see it, they understand what the character is going through… Really, part of the reason why I made this is because I think that moment is so powerful. In a lot of the grief that I was seeing within my family… so much needs to get done in our everyday lives, especially when someone passes away… that you sometimes just don’t give yourself the chance to stop and feel. And, if at the end of this, [if] someone does give themselves the chance to stop and feel something, that would be fantastic. And… it doesn’t need to be a particular feeling… Having any kind of resonance is my goal for this.”
Jerry’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Tarzan & Lilo and Stitch
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Jing Hua”:
- Jerry fell in love with animation after watching The Incredibles at age 14 and realizing that all the names listed in the credits were the people that brought the magic to life.
- Fellow Short Circuit directors Natalie Nourigat and Kendra Vander Vliet helped out on the production of this piece.
Talking to your crush is terrifying. But, when a thought bubble with a mind of its own exposes your crush, things can definitely get awkward! “Just A Thought” is an ode to young love, loosely inspired by director Brian Menz’s own love story with his now-wife. (“Awww!” with me, everyone: His wife asked him out when the two of them were in high school together!) The printed look of the short is one of the most visually different among the Short Circuit films, and is inspired by Brian’s love of comics.
Director: Brian Menz
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “I love when I can get an audience to laugh or cry or empathize, but all of that is wrapped up by charm… you’re just enjoying it. The big thematic statement in [“Just A Thought”] is about fear, and… fear consuming you. Here, it’s [the] fear of going after what you want… and it’s this internal conflict that we’re watching externally.”
Brian’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “If your goal is to make a short, the story is always king… The goal of making anything is to reach and entertain an audience… You can have an idea, but you’ll need to figure out what you want to say… and start [your character] differently from where they end up.”
Brian’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Robin Hood, & The Jungle Book.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Just A Thought”:
- Brian and his wife were high school sweethearts and currently have 7 children!
- The boy in the short is named Ollie because his wife was pregnant with their son Oliver during the beginning phases of the Short.
The phrase ‘catching lightning in a bottle’ becomes a lot more literal in this Short from director Virgilio John Aquino. This story of a young boy who wants to bring a unique spark to his school’s science fair had been in Virgilio’s head for about 15 years. It’s easy to see how much of his passion is infused into “Lightning in a Bottle” and when describing the task of bringing it to life, he shared that “The story is mine, but the short is really everyone’s who worked on it.”
Director: Virgilio John Aquino
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “When they see “Lightning in a Bottle”… there are many things I want them to feel. Primarily one of them is that innocence that you had back then, to remind you of the wonderment of exploring… and being adventurous. The other is… the whole short is a metaphor for if you have a great idea, you nurture it and then you send it out into the world, and have it [be] affected in a lot of positive ways.”
Virgil’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “The sky’s the limit. Don’t hold back…I just want to tell those aspiring directors that it’s your story. It’s your voice… And yes, you can get advice from other people… but you see fit how you want to tell [your story].”
Virgil’s Favorite Disney Animated Movie: Sleeping Beauty.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Lightning In A Bottle”:
- The boy’s mom was originally going to be a larger character in this, but it was refined to focus on the boy and his lightning creature.
- Virgilio is from the Philippines and never dreamed of directing a Short in his early life. He’s honored to be a part of representing the Filipino-American voice through his work at Disney Animation.
For her Short Circuit entry, director Nikki Mull “wanted to make something that no one had ever seen before.” We’d say that this love story full of wigs and leprechaun mobsters certainly fits the bill! Nikki shared that she came up with the story in a single weekend, partially inspired by her husband’s baldness and the thought it would be fun to explore a different take on a leprechaun. “Lucky Toupée” is a fun romp with a twist at the end that may have you wigging out!
Director: Nikki Mull
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “I hope that they laugh. I hope that they have some sort of feeling towards the normal-sized characters… [and I’d want people to say] ‘Oh, that was different!’”
Nikki’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: The Sword and the Stone, Beauty and the Beast, & Aladdin.
Nikki’s Advice to Future Filmmakers: “Film is such a collaboration of different mediums… to watch a lot of films and take classes in a lot of different areas…You should have a well-rounded knowledge of different aspects of film. You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but to make a film, you need to have a bigger spread of interests and knowledge.”
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Lucky Toupée”:
- Nikki started her career as a fine artist and has a Master’s Degree in Fine Art and History.
- Madam Mim is one of her favorite Disney characters of all time.
- Nikki made the very first one of these Short Circuit short films, and that piece was completed three years ago.
Sometimes, it really feels like children see so much more in the world than is actually there. It’s in that spirit of unexpected imagination that director Zach Parrish created “Puddles,” inspired by his own nephew, Noah. “Puddles” is an adventure where a young boy named Noah discovers hidden worlds around him, but struggles to get his sister to look up from her phone long enough to see them. Zach shared that, “We are all guilty of being more Skyler than we are Noah. A lot of the stories I like to tell are more cautionary tales for myself.” So, put down your phone and start looking for some magic!
Director: Zach Parrish
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “I hope everyone takes their head away from their metaphorical cell phone… [which] represents anything that distracts you from the magic that is life, that is personal interaction, that is just around you at all times. I hope that people walk away with that inspiration of looking at the world around them [and] appreciating the normal magic of the world around you.”
Zach’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “You need to do a lot of introspection. At the end of the day, it’s much more about the ‘why’ and what that means to you.”
Zach’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Aladdin, The Lion King, & Tangled.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Puddles”:
- Tangled was the first film Zach worked on at the studio, which means a great deal to him.
- Originally, we were meant to follow Noah through the world of the puddles, but ultimately, Zach decided on keeping the big reveal to the end.
What does Death’s worst day at the office look like? According to director Terry Moews, it might look a little like this! As an avid bike rider, the inspiration for “The Race” came from Terry’s vision of the race we are all a part of — but for a piece about death, this take is infused with life and really about the journey. As Terry explains, “Death learns something about life from this guy who just doesn’t want to give up.”
Director: Terry Moews
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “It’s just life… At the end of the race, you’re supposed to get the cup, but it’s not about the cup. It’s about the things that enrich you along the way, and the loves that you have.”
Terry’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: The Jungle Book & The Sword and the Stone.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “The Race”:
- Originally, this short was meant to be several minutes, but needed to be cut down to 90 seconds. There were a lot of gags that had to be cut for the final. For every gag that was there, there were 4 or 5 more Terry wished he could squeeze in.
- Terry had childhood aspirations to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios and has now been working there for over 25 years.
- Terry is looking forward to a big binge-watching party at his home with all his friends and family when the Short Circuit films premiere on Disney+!
While some of the Shorts chose to explore more intimate moments, “Zenith” decided to explore the expanse of the universe, though a luminous stag whose curiosity accidentally creates a black hole. This short is director Jennifer Stratton’s love letter to visually stunning films like Fantasia, which shaped her as an artist. It was initially created with the goal of exploring new visual technologies to create the impressive visuals we see on display in this animation.
Director: Jennifer Stratton
What Do You Want People to Take Away From Your Short? “I think I just want everyone to take away the imagery and the beauty of the short and the playfulness of it.”
Jennifer’s Advice for Making a Short Film: “[I]t’s really good to have an idea as fleshed out as possible and to get feedback on that… [Additionally,] I think it’s really important to be a good person to work with. Be there for your team and they’ll be there for you also.”
Jennifer’s Favorite Disney Animated Movies: Fantasia, The Lion King, Aladdin, & The Little Mermaid.
Other Fun Facts About the Making of “Zenith”:
- Jennifer is fascinated with animated movies that deal with portraying human emotion through animals — a clear inspiration for the deer at the heart of Zenith.
- Jennifer grew up obsessed with movies and remembered trying to make stop motion on grandma’s camcorder as a child.
There you have it! If you’re looking for some incredible short films to brighten your day, the talented artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios have some exciting stuff in store. Stream all these Short Circuit short films now on Disney+!