Newton, Reher and Wellins Talk Disney and Pixar Shorts
Teddy Newton: Well, I had pitched some shorts in the past at Pixar and had actually boarded them so thoroughly that I thought it was a sure thing. It was like, “This is it.” You can see the whole thing as it’s going to come out. And that actually worked against me in a lot of ways. What happened was that I was developing it with a small group of people that didn’t include John [Lasseter]. Once he became involved, it was like it was all done and he didn’t feel a part of what this pitch was. So the next time Kevin said you should pitch another short, by this point I was saying, “Nah, I don’t think they want to do my kind of humor, there’s something missing there, it’s not going to happen.” But he just kept on me. He kept on me to the point that I said, “Well, OK, I’ll come up with something.” At the time, they were doing some 3D experiments, trying to make these 3D movies happen and I thought, “I have this one idea that’s kind of like a cutout but it’s sort of a negative space cutout of a keyhole as a character.” I decided not to flesh it out any more than just a few ideas around the concept. And that’s how I pitched it. It wasn’t a complete story, it was just a lot of concepts we could do with this effect. There was a test as well.
Kevin Reher: There is an underground network at Pixar. You find a TD who’s got some time, and all of a sudden there’s a test on this short of how it could look. And that sold John right there.
TN: Sure, that was it. So then we started developing it from there. I got a sense of what John really liked about it. He saw certain drawings, especially when Day and Night were interested in one another’s world. He said, “You should play that up” and that was the thing that kind of got me thinking about what the story could be. That’s basically where it started. I kept flushing out more ideas around how the characters got excited about each other’s world until I finally had a story.
KR: Pulling back a little bit and getting to your original question, we tend to target people who might be the right creative mix to do a short. So, we go out to story artists, we go out to animators, we go out to certain people…do you have a short, would you like to pitch a short? Because John is so busy with Cars [Cars 2], we do this thing we call the Shorts Board, which is Pete Docter, Pete Sohn and Bob Peterson – [this is] the group of guys we get to see the first pass of the shorts. Once they get past that, then they get to John. At Pixar, we tend to target people. If the barista has a great idea, we’d probably see it. [everyone laughs] I don’t know whether or not we’d produce it! We ultimately want shorts to be a training ground for potential feature directors or heads of story.
DS: I think that plays into your history of shorts, testing people, trying new things, giving individuals the opportunity to be at the helm of a film.
KR: They may not get to be a feature director and we may not be looking to them to become a feature director, but at least we develop a stream of people who want to stretch those muscles. [talking to Dean Wellins] Is that how you guys do it at Disney?
Dean Wellins: We have sort of like a face-off, where you just start punching on each other until only one is standing. [everyone laughs] Ours now seems specifically like it really is your step towards your feature. Mine was very much like you need to do something to learn the 3-D pipeline because your next film is going to be a 3-D film. I had an idea already but I felt I needed to do something that really went through the 3-D process all the way to shot finaling. Mine [my short] was really seen not as an avant-garde piece but mostly to teach me the process.