Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 18 of 67

e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 c g w 1 7 I t's not easy to take creative risks when there's so much at stake and so much to lose. Take, for example, Pixar Animation Stu- dios, known for its animated blockbusters that indeed are very expensive to make but have been met with critical acclaim and huge box-office success. But, how do you keep the spirit of taking risks alive in an en- vironment like this? Such was the question posed by Lindsey Collins, VP of development at the studio, to the executive team some time ago as part of a broad conversation. Out of this desire to innovate and challenge themselves, Pixar's SparkShorts program was born. SparkShorts gives people within the Pixar community the opportunity to take creative risks that they are unable to take while working on a feature film. "There are people here who we've had our eye on and thought, what if we gave them a relatively small amount of money and put some incredibly talented and creative people around them, and have them work with little oversight, to see what they would make, what stories they would tell?" says Collins, who heads up the program. "Would we be surprised, and would it allow us to take some risks in a relatively safe way?" Initially, there was no distribution model for the shorts in the program. "Maybe that was the safest way for us to really let them do what they want to do and not feel like we have to be looking over their shoulder all the time, making sure that it's perfect," Collins says. "But deep down, we knew that if what they made was great, we wouldn't be able to help ourselves from wanting to get [the projects] out into the world and would figure out how to do that. Nevertheless, it was a leap of faith but within a safe environment that forced us to take some risks." Pixar has been long revered for its theatri- cal short films, which have been associated with a feature release. Alas, under the theat- rical model, the short filmmakers no doubt felt pressured to make something that was Pixar-branded and worthy of this presen- tation method, Collins believes. Thus, they felt the short had to look as perfect as the feature film it was released with, and oen second-guessed some of their instincts and followed less-risky paths, and the produc- tion process became lengthy and expensive. "We wanted to give more people oppor- tunities and see what stories they would tell, so we tried to release them from the pressure of theatrical shorts," explains Col- lins. "And every time the temptation is there for us to put 'Kitbull," or 'Float," or another of the films in front of a Pixar feature, we have to talk ourselves out of that. We have been down that path before, and this [Spark- Shorts] is something different." Taking Risks A few years ago, as Collins stepped off Finding Dory, which she produced, and into development, she was able to focus on the SparkShorts initiative and begin identifying those within the studio who might be ideal choices to put into the director and produc- er roles of these shorts. With SparkShorts, there is no pitch pro- cess or approval process. As Collin explains, everyone spends a lot of time together in the studio, and she and the executive team become aware of those individuals on shows who have risen to the top, or were in- formed about others who were working on concepts of their own. The only rules were that the short had to be animated, that is a narrative story, and that it is in-line with the values of the company. Once selected, the director is given six months and a modest budget in terms of people-hours. "It's such a different pace to what they are all used to," Collins says of the participants. "The creation process here is usually long, but here they made these amazing, great, heartwarming, different stories. That's been really rewarding for all of us here." The directors/teams are allowed to use studio resources (equipment and talent). Oen they rely on their own brain trust – friends and colleagues – to help them flesh out their ideas, and when the concept becomes solid and official, they are assigned a producer and a crew; they interview and select their supervising TD, giving those per- sons an opportunity for leadership exposure as well, through the program. Collins points out that Pixar has had female supervising technical directors from the SparkShorts program who have later assumed supervis- ing TD roles on feature films. Collins acknowledges that the process was difficult for the first few filmmakers because the program hadn't been formal- ized yet, and they were flying under the radar. As such, not many of their colleagues knew what they were working on. But when the fruits of their labor were revealed at a company meeting, it was to the delight and surprise of the entire staff. Now, everyone at Pixar is familiar with the program and excited about it. Careful to avoid labeling or defining the program by its content, the studio released the first three SparkShorts – "Purl," "Smash and Grab," and "Kitbull," which are very different from one another in terms of story and aesthetic – simultaneously to illustrate the diversity and breadth of the program. The three shorts celebrated their world premiere at the El Capitan Theatre with a limited showing in January 2019, followed by debut on Pixar's YouTube channel. Since then, the shorts have been played on the new Disney+ streaming platform. "We wanted to let the SparkShorts pro- gram evolve and show us what it wanted to be," Collins explains. So far, seven of the short films have been released, and as of this writing, two exper- imental filmmakers are in the process of working on the ninth and 10th SparkShorts. "For now, [the program] is still doing what we want it to do, which is to give people the freedom and the opportunity to tell some stories that are continuing to prove themselves worthy of being told and people showing they are worthy of the investment," says Collins, who remains hopeful that this program will continue for some time. Meanwhile, Collins says Pixar is very cog- nizant of maintaining an equitable balance in terms of male-female directing and produc- ing, and to this end, is trying to have a couple shorts in progress at a given time. The goal of SparkShorts was to come away with some fantastic stories. "That is a huge win, having felt like we might have identified some of the future storytellers in our studio," Collins adds, which is a big plus, as the current (or traditional) path to becoming a feature director is a long one at Pixar, as the moviemaking process is typically very lengthy. SparkShorts, however, shortens that path, making it a win-win for the studio and these hidden gems: the film- makers themselves and their projects. To date, the following short films have been released under the SparkShorts program: "Purl," "Smash and Grab," "Kitbull," "Float," "Wind," "Loop," and "Out." Here

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Computer Graphics World - Edition 2 2020