Fresh off Soul’s double Oscar-winning performance, the studio, along with Tina Fey and a gang of five heck-raisers, returns to the enchanting and mystical world of the Great Before, in a brand new short directed by Kevin Nolting.
With Sunday night’s two Oscars still warm to the touch, Disney and Pixar return to the enchanting and utterly charming world of The Great Before in a brand-new animated short, 22 vs. Earth, set to debut April 29 on Disney+.
Set before the events of Pete Docter, Kemp Powers, and Dana Murray’s recently anointed Best Animated Feature Film of 2020, the new short stars 22, voiced once again by multiple Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and actor Tina Fey, who defies the rules of The Great Before and refuses to go to Earth, enlisting a gang of five other new souls in her attempt at rebellion. However, as her cohorts' activities lead to unexpected results, 22’s subversive plot may actually lead to a surprising revelation about the meaning of life.
22 vs. Earth is helmed by first-time director and Pixar veteran Kevin Nolting, one of the studio’s lead editors. Among his numerous credits, he’s worked alongside Peter Docter for 15 years, serving as editor on Up, Inside Out, and Soul. Lourdes Alba serves as the short’s producer.
For the short, coming together during the final stage of Soul’s production, Nolting was able to put together a production team by snagging artists as they were about to finish their work. “We grabbed people who worked on the feature before they ran off on vacation or started on another movie,” he says. “They still knew the world, and the tools, they’d been working with.”
“Everybody said they were happy [to move onto the short],” he adds. “It's a long haul for some of us [on a feature], but many graciously said OK. Let’s just say that if they were unhappy about it, then they never showed it.”
According to Nolting, many, but not all, of the studio’s film productions have traditionally done a short at the end of production that would become part of the extras on the upcoming DVD. “Now that we're sort of out of the DVD world and into the Disney+ world, it was in that sort of context that this one came about,” he says. “Towards the end of Soul, conversations started happening about making that kind of short. In this case we had a couple of good ideas.”
Originally scheduled for theatrical release last June, then November, Soul ultimately came out this past Christmas on Disney+. For a feature-related short like 22 vs Earth, conversations would normally begin in earnest around six months prior to the film’s completion. “I got attached to the short around February 2020, and at that point, it was actually a different movie,” Nolting shares. “Then we got the idea to do the 22 movie. Josh [Cooley] wrote it and Rejean Bourdages boarded it. That happened fairly quickly once the decision was made, because we had to get going because departments were starting to wrap.”
Both Pixar’s theatrical shorts and experimental SparkShorts programs are designed so artists can test their mettle outside the confines of their usual job responsibilities. For Nolting, an editor, this meant a first time jump into the same director’s seat he’s worked alongside for so many years. “Fortunately, I've worked closely with Pete Docter on three films, and as an editor, you work closely with directors in general,” he explains. “So, the jump isn't concerning. There are a lot of things you have to learn, but because you're so aware of the directing world and what the job is, it's not a huge leap as far as that goes.”
“As editors at Pixar, we work so closely with so many departments that we bring an understanding of the production process,” he says. “That is almost second nature. I didn't have to learn about layout. It wasn't like I was learning how to talk to a camera person for the first time. The same with animation. I go to animation dailies. So, while I have never directed animators before, I've spent so many hours sitting with the greatest animation director ever, Pete Doctor, you know, hearing and watching him direct animators. I've been doing that for 15 years now. That gave me an advantage when I came to direct myself. I can see what works, what doesn't work, and hopefully how to get the best out of people.”
To Nolting, working so closely with Docter taught him the value of paying attention to everyone’s ideas. “Pete’s a director with a vision, but he's also somebody who respects input from all these people he's working with,” he says.
As much as he’s learned from the famed Pixar director, Nolting also brought his own vast experience to the project, which gave him an advantage in a number of ways. “As an editor, what you're always, always aware of when you're working is how the audience is going to react to something,” he explains. “That's the only thing that really matters. We’re so used to that. It's sort of like reality versus something else. With writing and story, there are no limits because you're just thinking of a story and you're coming up with these great ideas and you can take them wherever you want to go. As an editor, you're thinking practically most of the time. My brain goes to, ‘Those are really great ideas. Now, how is it going to play on the screen? How's the audience going to react to that?’ There's a difference in your approach. As an editor, you can bring that sort of reality to the process. You don't have to spend a lot of time talking about things if all you're worrying about is how it plays. All you have is the audience reaction. You get right to the point with folks.”
Nolting acknowledges that there was a bit of pressure taking on the studio’s newest high-profile character, 22, though he tried not to dwell on the significance. “I tried not to think about 22 as an iconic character,” he admits. “I didn't really want to apply any additional pressure on myself. So, I just approached it as this is the movie I'm making, this is the character, and I want to tell the best story in the best way I can. And leave it at that without thinking too much about.”
“Had I known how great the reception to Soul was going to be, I probably would have put much more pressure on myself in doing the short,” he adds. “If I had to make the short right now, I wouldn't want that pressure. But at the time, we were in the middle of production and it was just an extension for me of what I was already doing.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.