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PixarShorts

Pixar Created An Experimental Shorts Division, First Film Is ‘Smash And Grab’

Pixar has launched a new internal unit dedicated to experimental storytelling and creating shorts without executive oversight. Other aims of the program are to explore new creative visions and increase opportunities at the studio.

The existence of the division was revealed in a listing of talks set to take place this August at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles. According to the description of the panel, which is entitled “Smash and Grab: Off-The-Rails Filmmaking at Pixar,” a group of Pixar artists will highlight the studio’s “six-month journey of creating seven-minute shorts, with limited resources, amidst the backdrop of a busy studio, juggling multiple feature productions.”

The first film from the experimental unit is called Smash and Grab, and it’s directed by Brian Larsen, who was head of story on the studio’s recent Oscar-winning short Piper and story supervisor on Brave. No details about its contents have been revealed, but it’s probably a safe bet that it won’t be anything like this other recent piece of animation that shares the same title.

Shorts have played a key role in Pixar’s development since the company’s earliest days – it’s a history that I explored when I worked with them on the book The Art of Pixar Short Films – so it’s exciting to hear that the studio is again looking to the short-form format as it experiments with alternative approaches to story development and production pipelines. I look forward to seeing the results of these efforts.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Always 7 minutes. A lot of the old Disney and Warners shorts were 7 minutes long so the industry thinks this is the magic number. We’re living in different times today. Why not shorter or a little longer?
    Reminds me of a television executive that told me years ago if you want a successful television comedy it has to be based in an apartment in New York City. Just like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Seinfeld and Friends.

    • mushed potato

      Perhaps the 7 minutes is meant to cover 3 acts. If you’re up for shorter stuff, Titmouse holds an annual 5-Second Day thing, everything is really short and really experiemental. Sometimes polished, sometimes rough. I think 2017’s batch is out.

    • Tony

      First of all, your analogy doesn’t work. The executive’s comment has to do with content, not length. Very few people would consider a film old fashioned just because it runs a certain length. Second of all, the length of any work is set to the limitations of the medium, which tends to be less flexible. A reel of film can only hold up to 11 minutes. According to Chuck Jones, the minimum length for a short subject was set at six minutes. Splitting the difference gives you 7 1/2 minutes, and cost-conscious producers would round it down to an even 7. True, those restrictions are looser now, but making a short 3 minutes or 12 minutes won’t make it any more “current”.

    • Marc Hendry

      I think it was a standard length of film reel at one time, and the format just stuck

  • Troy

    Pure conspiracy: A gathering of of talents that Pixar assumes they’re not staying longer, so they pretty much have to gauge whether they should take the effort to keep them or not.

    In a more opinion about the news: Sounds like an elitist club, but hey at least pixar is NOW willing to do some experiments.

  • Andres Molina

    Hey, this is great news. For a while I made comments about how Pixar would and should seek different strategies and new methods of storytelling, and this is a great start. I think this is a great opportunities to seek and train new artists for the next generation.

    And I think the 7 minutes mark probably isn’t the absolute requirement for the short film length, but just an idea for how to set up your short film, so at one point, they’ll probably end up being shorter or longer than 7 minutes. Personally, I think this is the first real step for the studio for a new era of storytelling.

  • Chicken McPhee

    This is a pretty blatant attempt at keeping unhappy underused workforce trying to make it on their own (like Tonko) in-house. Wonder if it’ll work. It might generate some good ideas for potential features?

  • Luxo

    “…creating shorts without executive oversight.”

    Pixar is officially so big and corporate that they’ve created a department to pretend they’re small rebels working under the nose of Lucasfilm again.

    Honestly, I look forward to seeing something fresh from the studio for the first time in a while – but I still chuckle at this whole concept. It’s like a billionaire CEO putting his cap on backwards, wearing pre-ripped jeans and saying, “Hey look, I’m still hip!” ;)

  • Marc Hendry

    I hope they’re experimental in terms of the content of the shorts, because I’ve seen enough “Johnny Fedora & Alice Bluebonnet”.

    All the comments on this article have been a bit of a downer so far(including mine), although I do think this is a good idea. Who knows to what extent the features can be affected by developments in the shorts, though. Maybe they’ll just come out with a new way to simulate leaves or something.

  • Mario Bros

    here’s a leak on the smash and grab short. 10/10 Oscar material right there:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eEMDfUwS3o

    • Capital_7

      Why be shitty about the efforts of another independent animator, professional or otherwise? Especially when you’re not using your own Googleable name in the comments?

      Oh, right. The site okayed it. No wonder this site has lost so much credibility over the past few years.

      • Marc Hendry

        I think the comment mods only weed out spam.
        In any case I don’t think it’s insulting to say that video was not pixar-quality

  • Jack Rabbit

    7 minutes on a short is the high end of acceptable. Fred Quimby demanded the MGM shorts (forgive me if I have the Producer and/or studio incorrect) be made no longer than 5 minutes because the directors were making them 6 minutes long. It’s easy for todays filmakers with money and teams in departments to make their shorts longer, so know what’s going on here….

    • Mesterius

      Actually, what you’re saying about the MGM cartoons’ runtimes is not entirely correct. In the early days at MGM, the shorts often ran upwards of 8 minutes. As budgets tightened in later years, Quimby demanded that they be no longer than 7 minutes, with 6 being preferable.

      • Jack Rabbit

        Like I said, forgive me if I have the Producer and/or studio incorrect. But I did read that a producer thought to cut the runtime to 5 minutes would be a good way to save money. The Harmon/Ising cartoons were state of the art, but one has to look at where these cartoons were being seen: in front of a general audience there to watch a live action movie. Cartoons, they felt, were for children, and their patience for longer cartoons was stressed regardless of the story. Similarly, disrespect for cartoons and animation is repeated here on this site with the subject being of why live-action academy members ignore the animation category when it comes to voting.
        Animation isn’t enough like live action to be taken seriously.

    • Mesterius

      …and speaking of runtimes: here’s a Hugh Harman MGM cartoon from 1939 running for over TEN minutes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atipwymJk5I

  • JodyMorgan

    Somehow, I expected a bit more excitement in the comments. Ah well. Personally, I’m really looking forward to what results from this program, and hopeful they’ll keep it going for a while.

  • RCooke

    Setting this up probably has more to do with studio anger over the Ed Catmull wage fixing scandal than anything. With lots of people leaving they had to figure out something besides raising salaries to keep people around.