Filed in: Animation, Crafts, Direction, Featured, Film

Animation Showcase: Kevin Nolting Talks about Pixar Short 22 vs. the Earth

April 27, 2021 08:01 | By

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These days, it’s pretty difficult for anyone to get anything out to the general public in secret, because there are so many people involved in every aspect of production that something eventually leaks. That’s not the case with 22 vs. The Earth, a Pixar Animation short that ties into and acts as a pseudo-prequel to the Oscar-winning animated feature, Soul. Disney just announced its existence last week, and it will its streaming network, Disney+, this Friday.

The short is directed by Editor Kevin Nolting, who recently won his third ACE Eddie and second Annie Award for editing Soul, his third feature he’s edited for Soul Director Pete Docter. It brings back Tina Fey’s character 22 from Soul to show why she’s so averse to going to earth by the time she meets the soul of Jamie Foxx’s Joe Gardner in the feature. While Foxx’s character doesn’t appear in 22 vs. the Earth, the story which takes place fully in the Great Before basically has 22 trying to recruit young naive souls to join her revolt against the normal flow of things.

The entire short was made during the pandemic with the Pixar Animation campus in Emeryville, California, mostly being closed down since last March.

Kevin Nolting

Kevin Nolting

Below the Line spoke to Nolting over Zoom for the following short interview:

Below the Line: This short has been a secret up until recently. I know that at Pixar, the editing takes place fairly early in the workflow, so would it be wrong to assume that you had Pete’s and threw out the idea for this short while editing Soul for Pete Docter? Or maybe you can tell us how this came about.

Kevin Nolting: We’ve traditionally done one of these shorts — they were on the DVD, attached to the movie, about the movie, sort of exploring an aspect of the movie we didn’t do in the movie. So in this case, actually, I was pretty busy still editing. So when story was pitching ideas for the short, I came into it a little bit later. So no, I didn’t actually pitch the idea. It was something that we talked a lot about, not the short, but we talked a lot about 22’s background, as we were making the movie.

BTL: So you work full-time at Pixar and you already knew a lot of people in the various departments of animation?

Nolting: I’m a full-time employee, and that really helps.

BTL: How did you put together the team for this short?

Nolting: The producer Lourdes Alba and I. With these shorts, the resources are different than on a feature and the schedule. What we try to do is, we try to time the production schedule, so as departments wrap off the feature, we can grab key people, who are familiar with the movie — and especially the technology which for Soul was complex, especially for the soul world — before they went on vacation. In some cases, there were only a handful of people who could animate the counselors, and there’s only a handful of people who really could build the sets in the soul world. It was that complex. So we were lucky enough to grab them as they wrapped off the feature before they went on vacation.

BTL: I assume it’s a little easier, because you do have all of the assets and the technology R&D has already been figured out, so what is the timeframe for a short like this once you’re picked to direct it?

Nolting: So it would have been February of 2020, probably, that I came on.

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BTL: Wow, that’s pretty recent. 

Nolting: At that point, we were maybe halfway through animation on the feature at that time — that was before everything got delayed. We were planning to release the feature in June, so the idea was to start the short in March as departments wrapped, follow them, but everybody ended up hitting their schedule on the feature, even working from home. We mixed the short in September of 2020, so we basically worked on it from March to September.

BTL: So totally during COVID. Was Pixar literally shut down on March 15 or 16, and everyone went home? Because Pixar has a campus, I always assumed everyone lives there anyway. 

Nolting: Yeah, pretty much.

BTL: So everyone went to their homes and had to figure out how to get their computers up and running to keep working? How easy was that to do?

Nolting: Oh, man. I’ll tell you it was an amazing thing what they did, because you’re right, because literally, on that Monday… I actually didn’t come into work that Monday. My kids said, “Don’t go to work.” That Tuesday, everything shut down in Alameda County where we are. For me, by Monday afternoon I was up and running thanks to our great systems team at Pixar, and by Tuesday, people were working from home. The amazing thing about the short [was that] we were the first production to actually have to work from home — we had just started layout. All these people are dealing with upgrading their internet. Trying to get a data flow on our work is huge, so your home system isn’t necessarily ready for it. And they have kids they were sending home from school, and they were juggling [things].  was really amazing how everybody came together and got this. We were working pretty seamlessly.

BTL: It was pretty amazing because when things shut down last year, we all thought it would just go back to normal in a couple months. I don’t think anyone thought we’d still be dealing with this in a year. Is everyone back at Pixar yet? 

Nolting: No, Alameda County is still half locked down. There are people rotating in and out I hear. A lot of editors go back because our work, it’s really hard to do from home, just watching things in sync is hard.

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BTL: What about getting Tina and some of the other actors back to do their voice work? Did you have to send them a box of mics and gear so they could record everything at home?

Nolting: Eventually, we started doing that. In our case, everyone was here when we were recording. Fortunately for us, at least Alicia Braga had come just before, I mean, literally I think the first week of March, she happened to come to Pixar to do some ADR for Soul, so we picked her up in the Pixar studio. Tina Fey’s husband, coincidentally, has a home studio, so that worked out perfectly. And Richard Ayoade, he had a place in London. The studio he uses in London had already been shuttered, but they penciled him in. We got pretty lucky, actually.

BTL: I assume as an editor, you work very closely with the sound department already, but what about some of the other departments. You mentioned story, which is also a big part of editing, but what about dealing with some of the animation departments as a director? 

Nolting: Yeah, animation is probably further down the line for me than the bigger ones. On Pete’s movies, I always go to animation dailies, so I’ve had this 15-year education from Pete on seeing how he interacts with animators and how he gives notes, and being such a great animator himself, it’s like film school. It’s just amazing. Brett Schultz, the supervising animator, I knew him fairly well from over the years. So that part of it, I was pretty comfortable with, and I work closely with layout in my job, but once you get down into shading and lighting, that was a big education for me. 

BTL: That’s what I was thinking. I’ve been to Pixar a few times and once was for Inside Out, and like you say, there’s no better way to learn about animation than to talk to Pete Docter.

Nolting: Yeah, like I said, it was amazing how everybody came together.

BTL: Do you feel like you want to keep directing or doing some stuff like this short, as well as your editing duties? 

Nolting: I would love to keep directing, but I also love editing, and I’m going to be helping on an upcoming feature editing, but we’ll see what happens.

BTL: Are you one of the editors who has gone back to Pixar or are you still working from home?

Nolting: I’m still working from home. I think as you’re deeper into production, the shows that are closer to finishing will be the first ones filtered back in.

22 vs. the Earth will hit Disney+ beginning on Friday, April 30. You can watch a short teaser below.

All pictures courtesy of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. (Click on images for larger versions.)