“Short Circuit,” Disney’s experimental shorts program, returns August 4 on Disney+ with five new animated works about personal growth: “Crosswalk” concerns a pedestrian frustrated by a street light that won’t change; “Dinosaur Barbarian,” the program’s first 2D short, conjures a caveman superhero trying to clean up his act; “Going Home” explores a young adult repeatedly visiting his hometown; “No 2 to Kettering” follows a shy British girl who takes a dreary bus ride every morning; and “Songs to Sing in the Dark” offers a battle in a dark cave between two constantly evolving creatures.
“Each [director] had a personal connection to their short, and that was a great starting point,” said “Short Circuit” production manager Jennifer Newfield. “That gave them a clear direction and engagement with the story.”
Ryan Green (“Crosswalk”) imagined his ancestors urging him on instead of waiting for the light to change; Kim Hazel (“Dinosaur Barbarian”) channeled her obsession with ’80s cartoons and their theme songs; Jacob Frey (“Going Home”) confronted his fear of losing his parents; Liza Rhea (“No 2 to Kettering”) animated a bittersweet childhood memory; and Riannon Delanoy (“Songs to Sing in the Dark”) leveraged her parents background as research scientists and her own interest in evolutionary biology.
“I thought about the dilemma of being at a crosswalk and the anxiety of waiting for the light to change with no traffic,” Green said. “It’s about personal freedoms versus social living and I thought about my ancestors and all they went through in coming to this country.”
Initially, he conceived of a 2D flashback, but it was too confusing and time-consuming, so he condensed it to an evolutionary framing device. “You can argue either way on this topic, and it was a metaphor for my own view on pushing too far on things.”
Although Hazel had never animated in 2D before, Newfield introduced her to the 2D pipeline, which allowed her to perform ink-and-paint duties while observing the rest of the hand-drawn workflow. “I had done pencil tests and draw overs,” she said, “but I had so much to learn about the process.” Fortunately, Hazel knew exactly what kind of design she wanted (a cross between “He Man,” “ThunderCats,”and “Care Bears”), as well as the type of theme song. And The Mondo Boys delivered the infectious retro result.
Frey’s “Going Home” was an intricate puzzle to solve with the changing of the seasons, weather, characters, and wardrobe. Newfield actually cleared out one area of the studio for the crew to sit down to figure it out.
“It was definitely based on my personal experience of moving to Los Angeles from Germany,” he said. “And it took a long time to accept this as my new home. But ultimately it feeds on this inner fear of mine that someday I won’t be returning home anymore because my parents won’t be there. It was sad and rewarding. Animators wanted to join the project because they either had gone through the experience of losing their parents or they could relate to the same thing when returning home.
Frey solved his puzzle of visual change through continuous movement. “The look was flat and painterly yet desaturated and somber, to convey the mood of traveling to Europe during a long, gray winter.”
Reah’s short was the most autobiographical of all, depicting the experience of coming out of her shell. However, she embellished it by inventing a laughing toddler to brighten the mood both thematically and visually. “I love stop-motion,” she said, “and I wanted the film to have a tactile feel and the textures to be over-sized. It’s a touchy, feel-y look that went with the real experience.”
“Songs to Sing in the Dark,” which allowed Delanoy to “re-imagine your appearance and nature in the mind of an observer,” posed the greatest technical challenge as a hybrid short. It required the use of CG animation to look illustrative with its 2D-like blue and purple shapes and characters, and made use of the studio’s Oscar-winning Meander drawing system (“Paperman,” “Feast”).
“I tried to find animators who could do 2D and 3D so they could work on their shots together and in some cases we split it up,” said Delanoy. Rough layout was done in 3D and the 2D animation was placed in the 3D environment. “Meander allowed us to take the line work behind the scenes and turn it into a self-illuminating object, and we could change the work on the fly with a randomizer for different looks, including a live-wire quality,” she said.
The animation was accompanied by an immersive sound and score by sound designer Benjamin Robinson. And the end result was an evolutionary war of dominance. “I’m interested in animals and the interplay of what we sense and what we perceive as reality,” Delanoy said.
Short Circuit is available to stream on Disney+.