Pixar, as a studio, has an identity. It is mostly known for its groundbreaking feature films such as Toy Story, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up (among others). Although there has been much discourse over the last few years about how Pixar has “lost its edge” or is “playing it safe,” Coco was an incredible example of the studio pushing itself and it delivered beautifully – director Lee Unkrich and his crew produced one of the most gorgeous, heartfelt, and imaginative stories I have ever seen on the big screen. Still, even with some new directors heading projects, there is no denying that most of the films that have been directed within Pixar have been led by a select few individuals. This is where we often overlook Pixar shorts, which is where the studio first emerged as an animation powerhouse and has long been a space for experiments for new technology and new voices. Pixar is now placing a larger emphasis on the latter.
Recently, the animation house has been developing a new class of shorts that were mostly for internal purposes. Some have been screened at industry shows such as SIGGRAPH, an annual computer graphics conference, but they were produced primarily to provide fresh voices (directors, producers, animators, etc.) with a modest budget and a blank canvas on which they could push filmmaking significantly further than a feature film meant to be seen by billions of people. Now, this program has been given a name, Pixar SparkShorts, and several of the projects that have been developed will be released for the general public to watch.
Pixar released a video delving into the mission of SparkShorts and what I first connected with is the studio’s search for new voices, “that new creative spark,” as VP of Development and New Media Lindsey Collins notes. It is a notable goal which will allow for an introduction of new lead storytellers. There was a significant amount of press around Bao and its director Domee Shi, who was the first woman to direct a short inside of the studio. Although that short was one that was made for wide release, it was nonetheless a step forward for Pixar. The challenge is that the films that are produced for release in theaters are minuscule in number. SparkShorts will not only provide more opportunities to Pixar filmmakers to tell stories, its focus on searching for new voices will ensure that the studio will consistently be on the lookout for new storytellers. Production Lead David Lally perfectly encapsulates this idea with the following quote:
We’re giving filmmakers a little bit of time and just a little bit of money and they can make whatever kind of film they want.
Filmmakers like Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, who directed some of the studio’s best films, are now part of the leadership of the entire studio – they were given those opportunities after directing and working on commercials and shorts that Pixar produced. Peter Sohn, director of The Good Dinosaur, and Dan Scanlon, director of Monsters University and the 2020 film Onward, were given the chance to direct feature films because of their lead roles on Pixar shorts. We will, no doubt, see a larger and more diverse group of filmmakers make their way to the top of the studio and I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens.
It is clear just how much of a spotlight the company is placing on the “experimental storytelling initiative” from a glance at the leadership. Collins has previously been a collaborator with Stanton, as she has served as producer on the films he has directed, including Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Finding Dory. Her role as one of the heads of this relatively new program is a positive sign for where Pixar is looking to go.
This year, we launched #SparkShorts, an experimental storytelling initiative that welcomes new creative voices at Pixar to share their stories. See the first three shorts at the @ElCapitanThtre beginning 1/18, followed by an exclusive launch on @YouTube in the weeks that follow! pic.twitter.com/9ssK5Sn1bn
— Disney•Pixar (@DisneyPixar) January 10, 2019
If you live in or near Southern California, three of the shorts will screen at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood starting on January 18th. Starting February 4th, those shorts will begin seeing their release on YouTube. The online release schedule thus far is below:
- Purl (2/4)
- Smash and Grab (2/11)
- Kitbull (2/18)
Additional shorts are planned for release but no dates have been set at this time.
(Updated 1:33 PT: Added a higher resolution SparksShorts logo.)