Dreamworks’ theatrical releases are going to start offering something a little extra next year: an animated short in front of each feature film.

The studio has announced the formation of a shorts program, Dreamworks Shorts, that will kick off with Bird Karma, directed by William Salazar, in front of the Japanese release of The Boss Baby next March.

The shorts program was launched with an open pitch session for employees across the studio, at which Dreamworks Animation Film Group President Chris DeFaria and his creative team took over 25 pitches. From those pitches, the studio selected eight projects for active development, with the following three planned for release in the next 18 months: Bird Karma directed by William Salazar, Marooned directed by Andy Erekson, and a currently-untitled short directed by Pierre Perifel, Liron Topaz, and JP Sans.

The studio has outlined a variety of goals for the program, including to advance the artists’ storytelling and creative skills, develop new technologies, create unique collaborations, explore new stories and characters for feature development, and identify emerging talent within the company.

“The pitch process was incredible,” said deFaria in a press statement. “DreamWorks is truly an artists’ enclave and we were all blown away by the immense talent at the studio. There were personal stories, comic sketches, gorgeous concept art and simple pencil tests – some were 2D, most were 3D – and even one stop-motion pitch; but taken together the collection demonstrated a level of inventiveness, story-sense and innovation that surprised and delighted all of us. The criteria for selection was primarily artistry and entertainment, but we were also on the lookout for ideas that could challenge our technology and explore innovative methods of storytelling.”

DeFaria also distinguished the program from feature film production, highlighting how the shorts program will allow production personnel from different parts of the studio to collaborate in a multidisciplinary fashion, as opposed to the more compartmentalized roles those individuals have in feature production.

“In many ways this format and length are liberating, and we see our teams taking more personal risks with their storytelling and design,” he added. “Our first priority is our six feature-length projects currently in production, so the time allotted for these short film projects can sometimes be limited. But the pace at which these films are progressing is a testament to how passionate these filmmakers are about this program. It’s a perfect opportunity to put total creative control in the artists’ hands.”

Dreamworks has previously released one theatrical short based on an original concept: the 2006 effort First Flight, which was attached to some prints of Over the Hedge.