Since the launch of its streaming service Disney Plus, Disney has been pulling back the curtain to reveal how the magic is actually made on the studio lot. Giving fans unprecedented access into some of the most intimate creative-process moments, the “Gallery” series revealed the elaborate lengths Marvel went to to keep the comic-book effects practical on “WandaVision.” And we’ll never forget witnessing Sterling K. Brown find out, on camera, in “Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II,” that his “Frozen II” song had been cut (a truly anxiety-inducing look at the mound of work that goes into crafting and executing an animated feature).
Next up on the Disney docket, a sneak peek inside Pixar. Variety is debuting the first trailer for “A Spark Story,” a feature-length documentary that takes viewers inside the SparkShorts program — an in-house initiative created to highlight exciting talent among the Pixar ranks and tell new stories. Directors are given six months and a team of Pixar employees to bring their vision to life (granted COVID restrictions in 2020 extended production on the latest shorts a little longer than usual). The program has only been around a few years, but has already produced several beloved animations such as “Purl” and “Kitbull.”
The film follows new SparkShorts entrees Aphton Corbin and Louis Gonzales as they take a break from their regular Pixar work to focus on creating something that’s wholly their own.
Corbin, whose short is titled “Twenty Something,” was a CalArts student who caught Pixar’s eye after publishing several web comics about her time growing up in a predominately white suburb. “I just told those stories of what it was like being one of very few Black people in this environment and posting them online,” Corbin revealed to Variety. “A lot of people really related to them in a way that I wasn’t necessarily looking for. I wasn’t looking for a pat on the back. It was just this cathartic thing that I was doing. And I got a lot of responses from that, and Pixar included. But it was a way that I was able to share maybe a universal truth a lot of people experienced, and shared myself. And so I was picked up for the internship in 2016. And then after that, got hired on and worked on ‘Toy Story 4.'”
Gonzales worked on the classic “Iron Giant,” and several other Warner Bros. animated features, before heading over to Pixar. Encouraged by producer John Walker, who was working on Brad Bird’s next feature, “The Incredibles,” Gonzalez remembers being encouraged to send over his book, as he didn’t have email at the time. “Twenty years later, here I am,” the director laughed.
The feature itself will follow both Corbin and Gonzalez from SparkShorts initiation to premiere (SparkShorts’ “Nona” and “Twenty Something” are both available to watch on Disney Plus right now). After working at Pixar for several years, what was the biggest surprise they learned from the director’s chair? “The level of freedom we have,” Corbin said. “Before this, I was a story artist. It was a surprise that I didn’t have to necessarily pitch to anyone, that I didn’t have a whole lot of executive overhead. It was just like, ‘Go for it.’ And it was all blue sky, anything goes. That alone was very terrifying and trying to figure out, after spending years doing what others wanted me to do for their films, it was all up to me, that was a shock.”
“When I started, I had this overwhelming anxiety of where I was at in my career and expectations,” Gonzalez revealed. “And it was this weird thing, where I felt myself kind of walling everybody out and feeling like I have to put this on my shoulders and be the hero carrying this all the way. And very quickly it just felt unsustainable. It felt like if I don’t let people in, how am I going to lead a team? If I don’t invite, bring people around the short, how am I going to make this good? Because I can’t do it by myself. And I think the big thing was, just how much I had to let go and trust my team. Not that I wouldn’t trust them otherwise, but when it’s yours and it’s your first one and you’re putting all this pressure on yourself, of course you want to smash it all the way through the end zone by yourself and be the hero.”
Directed by Jason Sterman and Leanne Dare, “A Spark Story” will premiere Sept. 24 on Disney Plus. Watch the full trailer below: