An Interview with SHORT CIRCUIT Director Zach Parrish (“Puddles”)
After the season 1 finale of The Mandalorian in December 2019, many fans were left to wonder what would come next for the Disney+ service. Disney was quick to answer our questions, releasing fourteen all-new short films as part of the Short Circuit collection in January 2020.
Having just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Short Circuit films on Disney+, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Zach Parrish, a Walt Disney Animation Studios animator and the director of the Short Circuit film “Puddles”. He also wrote and directed the latest short film from Disney Animation, “Us Again”, which will be premiering in theaters alongside Raya and the Last Dragon in March and coming to Disney+ in June. Keep reading for an EXCLUSIVE interview with Zach Parrish!
CORBAN: What was your first experience working with the Walt Disney Company, and how did you get involved with “Puddles” on Disney+?
ZACH PARRISH: I was hired in January 2010 as an Animator on Tangled, Disney’s first CG fairy tale musical. It was a highlight in my career; working for Disney and under the guidance of Glen Keane. From there I became an Animation Supervisor on Wreck-It Ralph and then the Head of Animation on Big Hero 6. It was during the production of Zootopia, in 2015, that I pitched the idea for “Puddles.” The idea for Short Circuit started around that time, and “Puddles” was one of the first 6 films that were all green-lit at the same time. At the time, the Short Circuit program was simply an opportunity for people to tell their stories and experiment with film-making. There was no plan for release when we made them, but we were so excited when Disney announced Disney+ and the studio later told us that our short films would be put on the streaming service. It was almost a full three years from completion of the film to when it was released publicly.
CORBAN: It looks like you have a lot of Disney experience under your belt, and getting to see “Puddles” (and each of the other Short Circuit films) on Disney+ was definitely worth the wait! For “Puddles”, what inspired you to create a world inside of a puddle, and how did you decide on what the design of this “puddle world” would look like?
ZACH PARRISH: The inspiration for the idea behind “Puddles” really comes from my nephew Noah. He is the first child I really got to observe from birth, and I was constantly enthralled with the way he saw the world and the magic in the world around him. He reminded me of that piece of ourselves that we sometimes lose track of, and the power of child-like wonder and imagination. I was thinking about worlds to take Noah, and I found myself asking myself the question, “What if reflections were portals to the thing they reflected?” That idea led me to puddles or any body of water being a portal to another world, and it reminded me of the joy I had as a kid playing in puddles. There doesn’t seem like anything more universally child-like than stomping in a puddle. As a kid I always imagined I was going to fall through them like they were these endlessly deep bodies of water. All the ideas came together into what became “Puddles.”
For the design of the Puddle World, I knew that it needed to contrast Noah and Skylar’s normal world. Where their world would be desaturated and linear, the puddle world would be organic, colorful and whimsical. From the origin of the idea, I liked the idea of it being an upside-down world, both physically to Noah and Skylar and in concept. I didn’t want the Puddle World to actually be under water, but I liked the idea of it having an underwater feel to it. Flying fish would also heighten the feeling of whimsy and magic and give us something BIG to finally knock Skylar out of her bubble.
CORBAN: Disney has always been known for telling amazing stories, and “Puddles” has a great story to tell. What was the biggest message that you wanted to convey through “Puddles”, and how is that message still relevant one year later?
ZACH PARRISH: Thank you very much! I really appreciate that!! It is an intimidating thing to try and tell a story amongst all the incredible stories in the Disney catalog. The thematic premise for “Puddles” came from observing students as they walked past my house. I lived a block away from an elementary school, and I would see these kids get out of their parents’ cars and immediately get on their phones and walk toward school like little zombies. They hardly realized there were other students around them, and it pained me to think about how much they were missing in the world around them. I wanted to make a story that said, “If you don’t stop and look around, you are going to miss the magic in the world around you.” I think that idea is more relevant than ever as we all get sucked deeper and deeper into our devices. At the end of the day, we all have to consciously take a moment to stop and marvel at the magic of the world around us… sometimes it might just be a leaf falling from a tree, or maybe it will be a magical portal to another world.
CORBAN: That theme of “seizing the day” from “Puddles” is an important message that Disney has conveyed over the years, and it continues to ring true today. As you mentioned earlier, you have been a part of many of the fan-favorite Disney movies of the past decade. Having been an animator for these films, what was it like to step into the director’s chair for “Puddles”?
ZACH PARRISH: Honestly, it was super fun! I was definitely intimidated being a first-time director and learning as I went, but the people I got to work with were all so talented and accommodating that it was a real pleasure. I had been in leadership roles prior to this opportunity, so I had some idea as to how the process went, but it was really fun to see how people stepped up and plussed my ideas and were so willing to collaborate.
CORBAN: The Walt Disney Company has always embodied a sense of teamwork, creativity, and collaboration, and the Short Circuit program was a great way to allow new voices to be heard! I noticed that you have also been involved with the animation for Raya and the Last Dragon, which is set to premiere on Disney+ in March. How has COVID-19 affected your day-to-day life as an animator, and how does working on Raya compare to working on a short film like “Puddles”?
ZACH PARRISH: Yes! We are so excited for people to see Raya and the Last Dragon. It is such an incredible film, and it is absolutely gorgeous. We are all super proud of it. Animating on Raya and the Last Dragon was certainly different than our normal process. We were all working from home and contending with new technical obstacles and communication avenues, but it did not seem to affect the quality or efficiency of the production. I felt very supported and felt I was able to do just as good a job from home as I was able to at work. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Technology department for making that possible. The communication was the most challenging part, and not having co-workers to easily turn to and ask for advice. It took a bit more effort to collaborate, but everyone was more than willing to make it happen!
I love everything about making animated films. Working on “Puddles” was super fun and exciting. It worked different parts of my brain than animating, but both are so great. It is great to be able to lead and have your vision on screen, but it is also a real joy to be a part of helping to create someone else’s vision. Working on smaller format content is great because the teams are small and become very tight knit. You also get to stretch your skills and do more across the entire pipeline. On a feature, you get to be a part of something massive that you know is going to deeply impact people all around the world in such a large way. No matter what I get to work on at Disney, I feel lucky.
CORBAN: I am beyond excited to see the legacy of Disney animation continue with Raya and the Last Dragon in March! In the meantime, do you have any other projects in the works, and how can our readers find and connect with you?
ZACH PARRISH: I have been fortunate to work on a great many things during my time at Disney and not all of them have been released. I recently directed a full-length short film that will be announced sometime this year. It was an incredible experience, and I am SO excited for the world to finally get to see it. I am also continuing to animate on many of the projects Disney is producing. I am currently animating on some content for Disney+ and will be joining the crew on Encanto pretty soon!
Readers can feel free to follow me on instagram @_zap if they would like to see poorly taken pictures of the food that I eat or the upcoming barrage of pictures of my daughter who will be born around the release of Raya and the Last Dragon. They can also visit my website: www.zapmyshorts.com and reach out to me there.
CORBAN: I cannot wait to see your name attached to more projects in the future, and congratulations on the new addition to the family! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat about your experience on “Puddles” and the future of the Walt Disney Animation Studios! It is going to be a great year for Disney fans!
And, to the reader, “Puddles”, a Short Circuit film, is now streaming on Disney+.