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Inside Pixar’s New Soul-Inspired Original Short “22 vs. Earth” With Director Kevin Nolting

What came before we saw The Great Before in Soul? As fans of Pixar’s latest Academy Award–winning film know, The Great Before is where Joe is introduced to the mysterious counselors (also called the Jerries), our favorite accountant Terry, and of course all the new souls before they visit Earth — including the rebellious 22.

In Pixar’s latest Original Short, “22 vs. Earth,” we get a glimpse of 22’s life before meeting Joe in a playful prequel to the events of Soul. The short film was directed by Pixar veteran Kevin Nolting, who’s been a part of Pixar since 2000, working on fan favorites like Finding Nemo, Cars, WALL•E, Up, Inside Out, and more! Most recently, Nolting was the lead editor for Soul, which gave way to the opportunity to direct this short. “22 vs. Earth” is Nolting’s directorial debut, and he sat down with us to talk a little more about being a first-time director, The Great Before, and what it was like to create this short from home!

What intrigues you the most about The Great Before, and what was it like to be able to explore that space a little more in this short?

What I’ve always loved about the way that Pete conceived of this thing early on was [the] sort of haphazardness of it. Instead of coming in with this grand plan, it’s just a bunch of counselors who have been around a long time but they don’t seem to know everything. Or maybe they do and they’re not telling us. And a soul comes by and they say, “Here, you go into this pavilion,” just completely randomly instead of this grand plan, you know? I just love that aspect of that world, so just to dive into that aspect a little more in the short was great. And then I love the contrast between the worldly and the innocence of the new souls. I love that contrast between 22’s cynicism and their complete cluelessness.

You were previously the lead editor for Soul, and this is your directorial debut. What are some skills from your editing career that you found helpful in making this transition to directing?

The first thing is, especially at Pixar in animation, the editor is involved from beginning to end. You know, we come in [during] development and we’re there through the final mix. That definitely gave me a leg up as far as understanding the process and knowing the players.

Tell me a little about the production. Was it all done remotely? What was that like for you and your team?

We were the first production to go home and work. We had done a couple story passes at the studio. We went and recorded [the voice actors] and we got back Friday. But by Monday or Tuesday everything was shutting down. So we had a storyboard pass, and the next week we started working from home.

The crew was just amazing. The way we make these shorts based on the feature is, as the departments wrap, we try to grab people before they go on vacation or go to their next job. They’re already pretty tired [since] they’ve been working on the movie for a while, and they’re gracious enough to help us. You know, they know the movie. We have the assets to make the movie. But now they had to go home and figure out their Internet. So they’re dealing with that. Most of them had young kids. So the kids were home from school.

I am so appreciative of the job they did. The crew really stepped up and Pixar systems was just amazing — how they got everybody working from home so quickly.

Outside of the difficulties of working from home, what were some other challenges in working on the short?

A challenge for me is as an editor, I’m used to working with my hands to figure things out. I don’t necessarily have a plan. Like, I can play with the material. Before I even showed it to Pete, I had different versions. As a director, I had an editor and I promised myself I wasn’t going to edit, I was going to direct. So I had to figure out a way to make [my editor] know what I wanted without doing it myself. So that was a great challenge.

What was it like working with the young voice actors in the short?

You know, the kids are kids. You want to get the performance you think you want to get but you also want that innocence and spontaneity. We have a hard time casting kids at Pixar in general because the really seasoned actors sound like actors, [so] getting someone who sounds natural and [that] you can get that spontaneous performance [from] is a challenge. That was actually a lot of fun.

What was the most rewarding thing about working on “22 vs. Earth”?

Everything about it was rewarding. I guess for me, I’ve had a pretty long career and I’ve sort of evolved in my career, and this was just a really nice next step. And it was a really comfortable way to do it where it’s not the pressure of doing a feature. I’m in a world that I’ve been working in for 4 years with actors who I’ve been at the recording sessions [with]. It couldn’t have been more perfect in that regard. And then to work with the crew in a different way than I always have done as an editor just gave me more [of an] appreciation of what they do.

We can’t wait to revisit The Great Before and luckily now we can! “22 vs. Earth”, an Original Short, is now streaming on Disney+!

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