Last January, Disney Animation released a series of innovative short films that gave employees across the Studio a chance to create their own Disney stories. Each of the Disney+ Short Circuit films has a unique theme, but perhaps none is as compelling as “The Race”, a film that shows the character of Death trying to reach his monthly kill goal while watching a cycling race. To learn a bit more about the creation of this amazing short film and a “day in the life” at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, I had the chance to talk with Terry Moews, the director of “The Race”. You can check out our full interview below:
Q: What was your first experience working with the Walt Disney Company, and what inspired you to create “The Race?”
A: I came to the Walt Disney Company in the summer of 1996 (this year marks my 25th anniversary at Walt Disney Animation Studios) to work on the film Dinosaur and supervise all aspects of the live action cinematography for the principal film unit. After spending two years filming around the world, I stayed on to help with the digital lighting process.
Like so many of us at WDAS, film making is in my DNA, and when the studio announced that they were creating a short-film program for aspiring directors, I leapt at the chance with an idea I had about life and Death’s worst day at the office. This idea became “The Race” which, in turn, was chosen for the program.
Q: Congratulations on 25 years! As compared to other Disney projects, “The Race” is a film that features plenty of deaths, both on and off-screen. How did you continue to create an inviting and humorous tone in a short film led by the character of Death?
A: Humor, even dark humor, is a gift that can help deal with issues big and small. I wanted to use humor to keep “The Race” from becoming too serious or overly dark. “The Race” is a story about life and recognizing what’s important to us while we’re living. With the help of Jeff Ranjo and Dan Abraham, we fashioned a story and storyboards that was inspired by so many comedy classics’ approach to mayhem.
Q: After the fun hijinks of the film’s first half, “The Race” ends with a poignant picture of the significance of life, and the once-daunting character of Death shows some amazing character development. How did you decide on the design for Death in “The Race”, and how were you able to use the sport of cycling to help you convey the message of the short film?
A: I wanted Death to be instantly recognizable, but humorous at the same time. To make Death (or Grim as we called him) recognizable, Bill Schwab and Manu Arenas created designs that reflected the classic image of Death with the scythe and dark robe but also a slightly caricatured face. It was love at first sight.
“The Race” literally takes place in a cycling race, purposely lending double meaning to title. One on hand, it’s the story of a race between the Racer and Death and, on the other, it’s a metaphor for the “Rat Race” or “The Journey of Life.” A cycling race just seemed fitting; its psychically demanding, fast paced, would illustrate the Racer’s age, and would, more hilariously, give me a chance to put Death on a bicycle.
Q: I never knew that seeing Death on a bicycle was just what I needed! You have worked as a Layout Artist and Supervisor for many of the blockbuster Disney films of the past decade. What exactly does a day in the life of a layout artist look like, and how did that experience help when creating “The Race?”
A: I’ve wanted to be film maker since I was little (originally on Disney Animated movies) and now I do that every day. A Layout Artist is a one-man film crew making shots on a computer. Every day, guided by the Director, Editor and story boards, my fellow Layout Artists and I stage, block, and animate the camera to create every shot in the film.
My experience in Layout had a profound impact in my role as a first-time director. The respect, familiarity, and admiration that I already had for the incredible team around me was liberating and educational. I could give direction, trusting that everyone would add their voice and expertise to push my ideas to the next level.
Q: Having worked on a ton of Disney projects, do you have a favorite Disney film, and why?
A: Several actually, and it’s difficult for me to narrow down to several, let alone one. I will choose two for very different reasons.
As a young kid, my parents took my brother and I to see 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. I remember walking out of the theater on this total buzz and sat in awed silence all the way home. That film really took me on an adventure, and I wanted the movie to go on and on. I remember rewriting the ending dozens of different ways in my head. It was one of the first films that really set my feet on the path towards being a filmmaker.
More recently, I’ll give the nod to Frozen. It was such a great project to work on and a great team to be a part of. There’s a lot of good work and energy in that film, and we really had a lot of fun making it. It was one of a few movies that made me aware of the impact that our films have and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I had the fortune to layout a big chunk of the “Let It Go” sequence and it was a trip to come home from work and hear my daughter in the other room singing it to herself.
Q: Those are both great choices, and they highlight the truly immersive stories that the Disney brand has shared with audiences across the world. As we look forward to what’s next for Disney animation, do you have any future projects in the works?
A: I’m always writing and curating ideas for films both short and long form. That said, I’m pretty busy at my day job. The Short Circuit program was great for carving out time for me to focus on making a short, easily my favorite time at a studio I’ve spent 25 years at. I also dabble in game design and am always coming up with new game ideas and mechanics (which I subject my coworkers to).
Well, one thing I have learned is that Disney always has some great ideas on the horizon, and I am excited to see your name on many more amazing projects! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
And, to the reader, you can stream the SHORT CIRCUIT film “The Race” now on Disney Plus.