How “Kitbull” Paved the Way for “Burrow,” Pixar’s New 2D SparkShorts Project

Disney+ is giving subscribers several amazing Christmas gifts this year, including the premiere of Pixar Animation Studios’ latest feature film, Soul. Before the film moved from a theatrical release to Disney’s streaming platform, Pixar had announced that it would be accompanied in theaters by a new SparkShorts called Burrow. Luckily, you can recreate that planned experience at-home when Burrow premieres on Disney+ alongside Soul on December 25th. In advance of the short’s release, I had the opportunity to learn more about the project from director Madeline Sharafian.

“For me, Pete Docter has always been such a huge inspiration,” the director of Burrow shared about her film being chosen as the first SparkShorts project to get a wide theatrical release. “Growing up, Monsters, Inc. was one of the movies I watched as a kid that pushed me into animation in the first place. Even though theaters aren’t really happening right now and that’s not how things are going to end up, just knowing that he watched my short and liked it enough to want to attach it to his movie, I will be smiling forever about that. It’s the most incredible news.”

In several ways, directing Burrow was like returning to school for Madeline Sharafian. “I was lucky enough to go to CalArts Character Animation Program and over my time there I made three student films,” she explained. “What was cool about that program is that you have the entire school year to make your short film, which meant that when it came time to make SparkShorts it was actually a similar schedule to the one I learned in school… But I left CalArts after my third year to go to Cartoon Network, so I’ve always sort of been haunted by my fourth film that I’ve never made, until now.”

Joining Pixar in 2015, Madeline Sharafian has leant her talents as a story artist on films that include Coco, Onward and the recently announced Turning Red directed by Domee Shi. Arriving at Pixar was a dream come true for Madeline, who grew up in the Bay Area and wanted to work there ever since Pete Docter’s directorial debut inspired her to want to pursue a career in animation. And with a childhood nickname “Rabbit,” she’d been thinking about this story for a while before Lindsay Collins, Executive Producer of Pixar’s SparkShorts program, asked if she had any interest in pitching a story. A week later, Madeline was in her office sharing her idea and receiving an unexpected greenlight.

Not only is the main character a rabbit, but she also shares a character trait with Madeline. “I struggle with isolating myself because I’m a huge perfectionist, so I really don’t want anyone to see me until I can knock their socks off,” she revealed. “But, obviously, I’m a human being and I can’t knock socks off 24/7, so that meant I was spending a lot of time hiding myself, hiding my hurts and vulnerabilities from my own friends and family.” In the short, a rabbit is trying to build her burrow and having trouble, but she’s insecure about sharing her blueprints with animal neighbors who are willing to help.

“I was really into the visual metaphor of burrows, sort of feeling underground and isolated but also burrows are all about connection, so those were things that were already in my mind,” Madeline explained about the perfect setting for the insecure rabbit. This project also helped the filmmaker practice what the short preaches, learning to ask for help. Some of her favorite moments in the short were born out of the creative contributions of her Pixar peers.

With just 6-months of production time afforded to each SparkShorts project, Madeline knew that her short would only be feasible in 2D because each burrow would take a while to create in the 3D space. “Luckily Kitbull had gone first, which was so helpful,” Madeline shared. “They had really macheted a beautiful trail, a nice clear path for us. Also, Kitbull being so successful meant that when we asked if we could do another 2D, there was no question just because of how beautiful that short turned out.” As a nod to the SparkShorts film that made Burrow possible, look for a Kitbull easter egg in a bathroom when you see the short.

Starting with a team of just eight animators, the Burrow crew grew like a real bunny burrow. “Everybody at Pixar loves 2D. We had animators coming out of the woodwork saying ‘Oh, can I just do one shot? Can I do a little bit of cleanup, please?’ This short wouldn’t be anywhere as close to how beautiful it turned out without the excitement from that entire department.”

With so much love for Burrow already within Pixar, Madeline Sharafian is excited for the world to finally see it, having completed the project in December 2019. During that time, she’s already received a piece of fan art from the daughter of one of her Pixar pals. If you or your kids are inspired to make your own Burrow fan art, be sure to share it with Madeline on her Instagram or Twitter accounts.

Burrow begins streaming December 25th, only on Disney+.

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