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Dorothy McKim Talks Disney’s New Short Films Collection DVD

The veteran producer discusses Disney’s celebrated animation shorts program and their latest DVD collection release.

Today marks the Blu-ray DVD release of a brand new Walt Disney Animation Studios short film collection. Some you’ve seen in theatres screened before studio features. Others you may have never even heard about. All worth checking out.

Disney shorts have played a huge part in the creative resurgence of the studio over the last decade – you only have to witness the palpable audience anticipation when a whistling “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse hits the screen at an animation festival to understand how the mere logo fronting a Disney short film means something special is on the way.

The 12-film collection is packed with numerous gems:

  • Frozen Fever (2015) – Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
  • Feast (2014) – Academy Award Winner - Patrick Osborne
  • Get A Horse! (2013) - Academy Award Nominated - Lauren MacMullen
  • Paperman (2012) – Academy Award Winner - John Kahrs
  • Tangled Ever After (2012) – Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
  • The Ballad of Nessie (2011) – Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton
  • Tick Tock Tale (2010) – Dean Wellins
  • Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010) – Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton
  • How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007) – Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton
  • The Little Matchgirl (2006) – Academy Award Nominated – Roger Allers
  • Lorenzo (2004) – Academy Award Nominated - Mike Gabriel
  • John Henry (2000) – Mark Henn

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dorothy McKim, producer on Get A Horse!, The Ballad of Nessie, Tick Tock Tale and Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa, who shared her thoughts on the DVD’s film selections as well as the importance of the studio’s continued support for their shorts production program.

Dan Sarto: Disney has a storied history with animated shorts. But there’s no obvious financial incentive for their production today, though we certainly enjoy seeing them front your animated feature releases. So what drives the studio’s continued support for the shorts program?

Dorothy McKim: It was so wonderful when John [Lasseter] and Ed [Catmull] came to the studio. Shorts are something that John is adamant about to this day - wanting to test out new directors, new talent and new technology. With his own student films and the shorts they have done over at Pixar, he just really felt we needed to do that here. And exactly as you were saying, it’s what Walt was known for.  

Shorts open up this whole new venue for people here to work on...they're people who have never been associate producers, never been head of animation, or never directed before. This gives them the opportunity to work on something new. It also gives people who have been working on feature after feature after feature - not that they want to take a break – an opportunity to try something different, an opportunity to go on to something that they can actually finish in less than a year. Because as you know, features are three, four, five years in the making. So, it’s fabulous when we set out to make a short, when one is chosen, we can say [to the artists], “We want you to work on this, and at the end, you will go back to your day job. And we are going to support you, and bring this idea that you have to life.”

I love shorts, though they’re really difficult to make. You have to get so much information out in such a short amount of time. So, it really teaches you how to get out five minutes or less. I love what they do. I love what they stand for. And then they get nominated and sometimes win Academy Awards. It's fabulous.

DS: In recent years, talking to shorts directors like John Kahrs [Paperman] and Patrick Osborne [Feast] among others, the idea that the studio supports and encourages anyone to submit ideas for the shorts program means a lot to the artists.

DM: It does…it really does. And anybody can pitch. It doesn't matter who you are. Anybody can pitch. That's what's so great about it. And even if John [Lasseter] doesn't pick your pitch, there are a lot of times that he will say, "You know, I really like this idea, I'd like to see you take that a little bit further. Go for it, go do a little more research.” Even though they are working on a film, they can take time…we do a film coop program, where if you've got an idea, you can use people here, at the studio, and work on that idea.  And these shorts, they’ve got the full support of the studio. I think that's really great.

John [Kahrs] and Patrick, I wish they were still here. They want to be directors [on features]. I get it. That’s a great job, and they want to do that. But we've only got so many...

DS: …so many films and so many spots...

DM: …so many spots, you know. Shorts are a great way of getting a group of people together. That team has to really bond, just as on a feature. But with a short, you just don't have all of the resources that a feature does.

DS: You have access to a large pool of resources, potentially, but you may get some people for a week or two, and only at a certain time that isn’t optimal for your production schedule. You’ve produced a number of these shorts. Tell me about the challenges of getting these films made in a short period of time with sporadic access to resources.

DM: You know, it does take a lot of time and effort at the beginning.  You’ve got five minutes [the length of the short]. We can't make it seven minutes. That will push us into an 18 month schedule as opposed to a 12 month schedule. It's a lot of planning. Also, you can’t be “above” any spot on the film. I was a production manager, so I was production-managing. I was producing. I was being a production supervisor. If I had to move boards, I moved boards. If I had to pin boards, I pinned boards. It forces everybody to move a little out of their comfort zone. You know, you have Kevin [Deters] and Stevie [Wermers-Skelton], Lauren [MacMullan], Dean [Wellins], all of them boarded their shorts. We had a few boarders that would come in to help, but they [the directors] pretty much boarded their entire short themselves. And they directed. There were some shots where Dean animated. So did Lauren. She animated one of her shots.

DS: You do whatever's necessary.

DM: You do whatever you need to do. There were some people we would had to pull off of features. They'd come in and work for a week, and they'd get pulled off. We'd have to have somebody else come in. So it's about being really efficient and being super smart with our schedule and not letting things sit too long. Sometimes on these shorts you would take the director off for a little bit. So they're not just sitting, waiting for artists. Even they were working on other things.

With Dean and Tick Tock Tale, I mentioned he boarded that himself. Well, pretty much everybody that worked on that film was a trainee. Everybody that worked on that film. From animators, to lighters, to effects. We got it done in about ten months. And it was really great for the trainees. They got to actually work on something that got produced.

But it's fun. I love that challenge. You've got to be on your toes. And then you've got to get everything in front of John, to show him and pull him in. He is just as much interested in the shorts as he is in the features. There is nothing that is shortchanged at the studio. You don't feel like, "Oh, we never get in front of John." Nope.

DS: Shorts are not an afterthought.

DM: No, not at all.

DS: So with this new shorts collection DVD release, why choose these films? Why release them now?

DM: We have these great films and just wanted to take them to a wider audience. We wanted to get them out there. Some, like Tick Tock Tale, didn’t get out to a broader audience. We put some of them on Disney cruises, we've done presentations with them and we've brought them to D23. But, we just wanted them to have greater exposure. I think it's the perfect collection and the perfect timing for all of them to come together and get released.  They are all fabulous. It's really a strong group of shorts. They’re all very different. It just shows the storytelling talent we have at the studio.

DS: Watching Lorenzo again, for example, I remembered just how much I absolutely fell in love with that film when it came out. The watercolor style – it’s truly beautiful. Tick Tock Tale, The Little Match Girl, all the films in the collection are strong.

DM: It's a great group of films. And with the DVD bonus features, the audience can go in and see things about the films that they wouldn't see at a screening. We do a lot of interviews and we talk about the process. We talk about little things that happened while we were making the films that nobody would ever know.


Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.