Before joining Duke & Duck, Senior Producer Mike Capbarat worked at Pixar for 12 years and produced the Oscar-nominated short Burrow. It was Mike’s first producer credit and it had a tight timeline and budget compared to traditional Pixar shorts. It is a major accomplishment that has informed his approach to projects today. While at Pixar, Mike worked in Production on Monsters University, Coco, The Good Dinosaur, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4, and Burrow. In those 12 years, he worked in management roles in 3 departments—Story, Layout, and Animation—before working as a Producer. In 2019, he moved to D.C. and joined Duke & Duck in April 2020. Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at his work on Burrow and the valuable lessons he learned from this Oscar-nominated short.
The Pixar Process vs the Sparkshots Process
Typically, making a 90-minute movie takes five years, with more than 300 people, spanning across 15 departments for a total of 1,600 shots. Burrow, however, had a different timeline. The filmmaking process begins with pre-production, where building the storyboards and assets takes place over about three and a half years for full-length films. Next is building and animating CG shots in production, which takes about a year and a half. For Sparkshorts, Pixar’s Indie brand, teams are given six months and limited budgets to develop their shorts.
The Making of Burrow
Mike began working on the 2D animated shortBurrow in 2018. He was selected by Director Madeline Sharafian to help bring her vision to life.
The idea stems from Madeline’s experience as a young artist learning to ask others for help. It was also inspired by her love of detailed illustrations and cutaways found in childrens’ books by authors such as Richard Scarry & Beatrix Potter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the short, it follows a rabbit setting off on her own to build the home of her dreams. But when she bumps into some of her new neighbors who offer a hand, she’s too embarrassed to reveal her plans. Rather than opening up to them, she digs deeper and deeper in search of seclusion. As part of the Sparkshorts program, there is not a lot of executive oversight, which allowed Madeline and Mike to formulate ideas and run with them. The team created the short using traditional hand-drawn 2D animation rather than CG to achieve the storybook look that they were after. Also because it required far fewer resources, allowing them to get it done within the Sparkshorts timeline and budget. Had they made it with CG, it would have taken around four years.
Madeline and Mike developed story ideas together. Then, after getting the story green-lit, the storyboarding process began, which took Madeline about one month. Meanwhile, Mike was hard at work staffing the team. . Together they wanted to prioritize a highly creative and happy environment and were passionate about keeping the short at a tight 6 minutes without much fluff to allow the team to go crazy with beautiful backgrounds and character animation. A primary goal of the project was to make the characters not only appealing to the eye but enjoyable for the team to animate. Madeline made the characters simple, appealing, and fun to draw since the animators would have to draw them repeatedly. After a rough animation came the clean linework, and then color, which saw many Pixar employees wanting to help, in order to learn more about hand-drawn animation techniques.
Next was post-production when the music came into play. While the team had the option to score the movie, they opted to use Mozart as it was a shared love between Madeline and Mike and for its cozy feeling. Plus, a happy bonus – it was more cost-effective to use pre-existing Mozart tracks! They found a recording of Mozart out of Romania and edited it for the piece in addition to one Bossanova song that is a favorite of Madeline’s. After finishing the product, Mike learned that cutting corners does not have to impact quality as long as you are smart about the corners you choose, prioritizing screen time for exactly what you want to shine. As one of Mike’s Pixar colleagues once said, “When faced with a challenge, get smarter.”
The Film’s Reception
Burrow was intended to air before the movie Soul on November 20, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both were pushed and it instead aired on Disney+ on December 25, 2020. One review from Liz Kocan of Decider said Burrow was “sweet, and charming, beautifully animated, and, as many other Pixar shorts are, full of heart.” Syfy Wire’s Tara Bennett also said that the short’s “warm, illustrative style looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a favorite storybook, much like the Winnie-the-Pooh animated films.” Burrow was nominated for an Ursa Major Award in the Best Dramatic Short Work Category and an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. To watch Burrow, click here, and to see more of Mike and his fellow Ducks’ work, check out our client projects.