‘Inner Workings’: 15 Things You Should Know About Disney’s New Animated Short for ‘Moana’

     November 24, 2016


From first-time director Leo Matsuda (story artist for Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph) and producer Sean Lurie, the approximately six-minute long short film Inner Workings (in theaters now and running before Moana) is the story of the internal struggle between the brain and the heart. With a blend of CG and traditional hand-drawn animation, the fun and quirky short explores the importance of finding balance in daily life.

During a presentation at the press day for Moana, collaborators Leo Matsuda and Sean Lurie talked about the idea, development and evolution of Inner Workings. From that conversation, we’ve compiled a list of 15 things that you should know about the making of the short.

  • inner-workings-01Leo Matsuda works in the story department at Disney, and he likes telling stories through drawings. Disney Animation Studios has a shorts program, where anybody employed at the studio can pitch their ideas. Matsuda pitched his idea, among 50 pitches, and the studio found something fresh, original and funny about his idea, so they selected his short to make.
  • According to Sean Lurie, the shorts are made in between the full-length features. Inner Workings was produced in the period of time just before the team had to go on to make Moana.
  • Matsuda was born in the ‘80s, before people sat on the internet, so he spent time reading. His favorite books were encyclopedias, and he liked the biology volume of the collection. He found the portion about the human body fascinating, with the different systems and how they work together. That image stuck in his mind and was one of the most endearing memories of his childhood, so he wanted to tell a story about it.
  • It was always their intention that the short would have no dialogue, but would have music to enhance the mood. They chose to have a quirky score that was reminiscent of the ‘80s, and brought on Ludwig Göransson as the composer.
  • Matsuda was inspired by being both Japanese and Brazilian. He said, “I have a Japanese side that’s very disciplined and logical, but I also have my Brazilian side that likes Carnaval and parties. I’m divided between two extremes, and that gave me the idea for this short.”
  • When it came to the style of the short, they wanted it to be more theatrical, like you’re sitting and watching a play. The work of Wes Anderson was an inspiration for the style. And Paul’s organs were inspired by the work of Ward Kimball, one of the nine old men at Disney, because of his originality and inventiveness.
  • inner-workings-04

    Image via Disney

    Paul is not really the main character of the story. He’s just the vessel. The main characters are the organs. As a result, they wanted Paul to be as generic as possible. Matsuda did not want the character to look specifically like him, but ultimately decided that he is Paul.

  • To make the organs more appealing, they had to make them more adorable and give personalities to the brain, the heart, the guts, the lungs, the bladder, the kidneys, etc. They found something snappy and fun about the graphic, hand-drawn style of animation that they ultimately went with for the brain.
  • Even though they’re so much further in CGI, they wanted a graphic look for the character, so Paul’s head is square and his body is like a stick. Being able to get the mouth to move around on a square head was a challenge. Inspired by stop-motion animation, they made two heads, one with a mouth on the front and one with a mouth on the side, and then they would switch the heads, mid-scene, to achieve that effect.
  • The death scenes are just jibberish, and not any actual dialogue. The person who did the recording is Raymond S. Persi, one of the storyboard artists who also voiced Flash for Zootopia. They tried many other versions, but never changed it because they liked it too much.
  • To contrast everything in Paul’s office being squared off, the beach characters and the café characters are very curvy, loose and colorful. In order to make the beach feel crowded, they took two female characters and two male characters, and we changed their costuming, hair and scale to create variety and diversity.
  • In order to be economical, when it came to modeling the environment, they did a mock-up of the entire environment, but only built what the camera would see, so that they could be more efficient.
  • Because a short goes by so fast, you have to sell the storytelling visually, as much as possible. The color script is very clear, to define when it’s the head or the heart that’s dictating what’s going on.
  • Matsuda is a brain guy while Lurie is a heart guy. Matsuda sees the brain as the main character of the story because the brain has something to learn.
  • Matsuda would like to continue directing, possibly for a full-length animated feature.

Inner Workings plays before Moana, in theaters now.

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