Oscar Nominee Interview: Directors Dan Abraham and Trent Corey Discuss Their Favorite Shots from Once Upon A Studio (Exclusive Interview)

We invited the makers of the 15 films nominated for this year's Academy Awards for Best Animated Short to share their favorite shots from their films and why. Each film is listed in the order in which the materials were received. Voting for the nominations began yesterday, January 11, and will run through January 16.

In this piece, directors Dan Abraham and Trent Corey share their favorite clips from Once Upon a Studio, a short film produced to celebrate Disney's 100th anniversary in 2023.

One of the most technically advanced shorts in this year's competition, the film mixes a century of Disney animation styles and techniques. Decades-old hand-drawn characters and modern CG characters share the screen in a way that feels completely natural from the first frame to the last. The film's story is straightforward: some of Disney's most iconic characters are brought together for a group photo, leading anyone who has enjoyed Disney's animated films over the past 100 years on a delightful nostalgia trip.

Below, Abraham and Cory share their favorite shots from the film and explain what they mean:

Our entire team rolled up their sleeves and struggled to complete this 1155 frame (48 second) shot, and over 30 hand-drawn and CG characters We had to be in constant communication to make them believe they could coexist within the halls of the studio. To further complicate things, we utilized three different camera setups (one of which involved flying a drone down our grand staircase and narrow hallways), and we were forced to expand our typical process and rely on the expertise of our previs, layout, and tracking teams. We were forced to expand the typical process and rely on the expertise of our previs, layout, and tracking teams.

Our character team (modeling, rigging, look development), along with our technicians, did nothing to ensure that we had access to all the legacy CG characters we wanted, despite the fact that technology had changed over the years. We stopped at nothing. In the case of "Bolt" (2008) and "Prep & Landing" (2009), we had to rebuild these characters to make them compatible with our current pipeline. While veteran Disney animators such as Mark Henn (Minnie), Randy Haycock (Aladdin/Abu), and guest animator James Baxter (Peter Pan/Michael/John/Wendy) took pencil and paper, Adam Green (Bolt, Mittens, Rhino ), Rhiannon Delanois (Sith), and others brought CG characters to life in a seamless, uninterrupted handoff between media.

Interactions such as Moana and Flounder allowed animators like Mario Furmanczyk, who was proficient in both mediums, to play both hand-drawn and CG characters. Clean-up animation artists documented the specific line quality of each character (as lines varied from Peter Pan to Aladdin to Pete's Dragon to even CG/2D hoverboards).

The effects department worked on CG water, smoke, and pixie dust. Meanwhile, the writers celebrated the flatness of the hand-drawn characters, but identified the need to interact with ever-changing light sources, reflective surfaces, and CG counterparts. Since each character only appeared for a few seconds, it was important for the cleanup, ink & paint, and lighting teams to work together to ensure that these characters looked the same as they did in the original film, living and interacting together in the live-action version.

This shot was designed to show the hand-off between the hand-drawn and CG characters and their enthusiasm as they gather for the group photo. That feeling was fully reflected by our amazing team, who showed unbridled enthusiasm and commitment to making this shot the best it could be, and the great communication it took to complete such a complex shot. It is this spirit of teamwork that makes working at Disney Animation so wonderful.

Read other entries in the series: