Aphton Corbin (“Soul,” “Toy Story 4”), one of Pixar’s rising Black female story artists, was motivated by professional insecurity to make her debut SparkShort, “Twenty Something,” on Disney+. It’s a clever and funny 2D short about Gia, who imagines herself as a stack of kids hiding in a trench coat during a frantic 21st birthday celebration at a club.
“The original idea stems from me being a 20-something entering the workforce for the first time at Pixar and feeling all of the inadequacies that are coming at you all at once,” Corbin said. “Am I a successful adult or am I bunch of kids running around to make it work? This was fun to visualize [adulting] as a short.”
When approached to direct her first short through the experimental SparkShort program, Corbin immediately started hyperventilating. But she decided to dig deeper into her “imposter syndrome,” which often compels her to draw comics in her spare time to calm down.
“I had fun playing around with feeling small at certain times of the day,” she said, “and what it would look like visually to not quite measure up to others. Now, what does a day in that life look like? Trying to catch public transportation, meeting up in a crowded bar.”
“And I just love this idea of all these kids and what they’d look like stacked up in a trench coat. It felt like the perfect metaphor of trying to steer through life while hiding your insecurities.” So, after completing “Soul,” Corbin tried to board the whole idea, placing Gia — a caricature of herself — in an office setting and continuing with her co-workers at a club. But she eventually settled on the club setting.
The hardest part was figuring out the number of kids inside the coat along with their ages. “I tried to simplify it down with a core of three kids,” Corbin said. “Sixteen is a very clear age when you should be more kind and confident, and instead you snap at someone and that [teenager] rears its ugly head. And then the fun of a one-year-old and being hungry, tired, and sleepy, and every once in a while an outburst of that primal baby version of you will come out. And then that confidence of a 10-year old where you know everything. So it was fun and daunting to figure out how all three interact with each other in the trench coat.”
Stylistically, Corbin insisted on making “Twenty Something” in 2D, encouraged by the Oscar-nominated “Burrow” and “Kitbull” from the SparkShorts program. She drew on her love of “New Yorker” illustrations and animated shows of the ’60s and ’70s. Yet Corbin had to rely on Pixar artists with hand-drawn experience to help guide her because she had never worked professionally in 2D.
Corbin cast Gia as a childish fish-out-of-water in primary colors set against the dark and moody adult setting. “We didn’t want to be too seedy, or somehow unrealistically clean for Gina to enter into,” she said. Since Gia spends a lot of timing hiding out in the bathroom stall, where the kids try to compose themselves, the colors were more vibrant.
“The fun comes out of being in the space with Gia,” said Corbin. “We are confused and claustrophobic with her. And [making the short] helped me realize that I could do it. No one expects you to do it on your own, and I had a crazy amount of co-workers to help.”
“Twenty Something” is now available to stream on Disney+.