Had Soul actually been released theatrically, it would have been preceded by brand new Pixar short, as is tradition. This short, “Burrow,” was developed as part of the SparkShort program at the studio, which allows filmmakers from all different disciplines to create their very own short, oftentimes engaging in stylistic or narrative adventurousness that might be a little bit too outside the Pixar norm. (Other SparkShorts have tackled autism, animal rights and a homosexual coming out story.) But it could have just as easily been a regular Pixar short – it’s absolutely adorable, handsomely stylized (with some of the most appealing character designs to ever appear in a Pixar project) and will, of course, tug violently at your heart strings. In short: it’s totally brilliant.
And while Soul has now made its debut on Disney+, so has “Burrow.” (For the full theatrical effect, watch “Burrow” before Soul as it was originally intended.) A charming 2D fable that borrows heavily from children’s classics like The Fantastic Mr. Fox, it follows a young rabbit as she tries to carve out a life for herself in a subterranean system inhabited by other woodland creatures. It teaches the value of asking for help and is so beautifully rendered that you might tear up just from how cute it all is.
We got a chance to talk to the filmmaker behind “Burrow,” Madeline Sharafian, about working within the SparkShorts progam, when she found out her short was going to be attached to Soul, and her day job as a story artist on Domee Shi’s upcoming Turning Red.
Collider: I am curious about what the SparkShort program is like from the artist side of things. When you talked to Lindsey Collins about this first, what was the impetus for you and what was her pitch to you about why you should do it?
MADELINE SHARAFIN: Well, I think, I was pretty far down the line, as far as SparkShorts go. There had been a good handful of them already. So I was watching them get made, and I was thinking about my own process in school, and I was like, I think I would know what to do. And Lindsey just saw me, in one of Domee early brainstorms for Turning Red. She saw me in the brainstorming room and was like, ” Who are you? Would you ever want to make a SparkShort?” And I was like, “Yes. Yes, please.” And that’s when I gave her the outlines right away.
Were the SparkShorts on Disney+ yet? Did you know where they were going to go?
SHARAFIN: Yes. I think so. I think at that point they had been. Streaming was still kind of new to us at the time. And SparkShorts we’re still trying to figure out that some of them are on YouTube, some of them weren’t. We were all just trying to figure out what was going on. I think at that point, it had been Disney Plus is the home for these.
So the theatrical shorts seem to be a talent incubator for features, as we’re seeing with Domee, and Enrico, and all these people. But was there seems to be a little bit more freedom (and much less pressure) with the SparkShorts. Can you talk about that?
SHARAFIN: I think, I’m with you. I like that the SparkShorts are… There’s no pressure of, this needs to be perfectly compatible with exactly the tone of everything that we make here. I think I just happen to have a kind of G-rated cute tone. It wasn’t like set out hoping for anything.
This was going to be a theatrical short at one point, when Soul was still headed to theaters, right?
SHARAFIN: I know. It was a total surprise to me though. It was sort of like, had been decided without me knowing, and was a total Pete Doctor asking, “Is that cool? Would you like to have your short in front of Soul?” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “We already talked to them about it. If you’re good, it’s fine.” And I was like, “Oh my God, yes.”
So even though that’s not how it is panning out anymore, even just, Pete Doctor’s sort of my Pixar hero, even just knowing that he liked it enough to want to attach something that he did, I’m already over the moon. It couldn’t get any better. I’m totally okay with it not working out because I got my good feeling.
You’re obviously still working on Turning Red right now. What, from this experience, did you apply to your day job?
SHARAFIN: Well, I think it gave me a lot of confidence being a director, answering questions, and having to talk in front of people was all new stuff to me. And it’s made me a more confident person on the story team. I’m a little bit better at raising my voice, and giving story notes, and being confident in my own opinion. It’s helped with that a lot.
And tossing out ideas that maybe I’d be too shy to do a couple of years ago. And it’s fun, I’m working with… Domee’s one of my friends, so it’s extra fun to throw out stupid jokes to your friend and have her be like, “Ha, ha. Great.”
I think people are going to be surprised to know how much of a one-man band this project was. Although you had all these people helping, which is perfect for the short, right, because it’s not about asking for help. But did that surprise you how much of this you were actually going to take on yourself?
SHARAFIN: It didn’t surprise me because I think I set myself up for this. I purposefully chose 2D because I had done it before. And I picked TV Paint because I had used it before. And I even remember having an early meeting with someone on the executive team just to check in. And they were like, “Are you sure? If you do this in 3D, you probably won’t be working as hard yourself.” But I was like, “Nope, this is what I want.” I just want so badly to… I missed it. I missed making shorts at school. I would give myself backgrounds to do. I’d do some backgrounds. I liked doing the cleanup because it meant I could ease the stress for the animators, because they’re always chronically overworked. So just knowing that I’ll take some of your cleanups so you can have a more enjoyable experience. I feel like it gave me a lot of confidence as a director to know I’m not just blowing hot air. I’m not going to ask you to do something that I’m not also willing to do.
Well, you talked in the presentation too, that you didn’t have a lot of notes from the executive team. But do you remember any notes that you did get that actually did help “Burrow”?
SHARAFIN: Oh yes. There was a really cute note. It’s so simple, but it was so helpful. At the very end, I had drawn a background. It’s the final background that you see, so it shouldn’t be wrong. It’s sort of the rabbit’s borough after she’s built it. And I had given it this weird design of a mini house on top… It was just like a weird design that was not very clear. And I do remember that was one of the notes that Lindsey very politely was like, “Do you think maybe you should change that?” And I was like, “Yes, you’re right. I will change that.” And it was so easy to fix it. It made it so much clearer. And I was so grateful that she had just asked if I could change it.
“Burrow” is available on Disney+ now.
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