Annecy 2021: Meeting with Natalie Nourigat, director of the Disney short film Far from the Tree

The filmmaker’s second short evokes parenthood through the story of a young raccoon.

She was unable to make the trip to Annecy this year, but Natalie Nourigat (already director of the short Exchange Student and in particular storyboarder on Ralph 2.0) was virtually present at the 60th anniversary ceremony of the International Animated Film Festival, where was screened Tuesday evening Far from the tree, his very nice Disney short film on parenthood. The story of a little raccoon experiences the freedom and dangers that surround it. The filmmaker tells us behind the scenes of this new project, which will be released in theaters in November, before Encanto, the fantastic Madrigal family.

This is your second short film for Disney. How, internally, do you go from a simple idea to a real film?

There are a lot of people in the studio who have original ideas. It’s a very creative environment and we have a lot of internal programs that make it possible to make short films. And it is quite possible for someone to initiate a film and compose their team with colleagues in the office, with the help of the studio of course. But we also have more structured programs, like Short Circuit, thanks to which I was able to make my first short film, Exchange Student. Basically, you make a very traditional pitch, except that it’s open to everyone and you submit it blind. So if you have an idea, you can write a synopsis – and maybe add a few drawings – but no one will know who it’s from. Only the idea counts. It’s really cool, because we realized that there were ideas all over the studio, every department produced some really fun shorts. And Far from the tree is part of our program dedicated to shorts that are intended to be screened in theaters, before a Disney feature film. I said I was interested and I notably met Jennifer Lee (Editor’s note: the boss of Disney Animation). I was given the chance to pitch four ideas, with the option of one of them being selected. No more complicated than that !

What was the basic idea of Far from the tree ?

The feeling of being at that point in life when you start to think about passing on lessons from your childhood to the next generation. And besides that poses a big question: what do you really want to transmit?

The film mixes 2D and 3D, but hand drawing has almost disappeared at Disney. What does that inspire you?

Already, there are a lot of 2D lovers at Disney. Quite a few people who work here grew up with 2D movies and still love it. Moreover, many of us are training in 2D. It is a legacy that is still there, very much alive. There are traces of it in Maui tattoos in Vaiana, or in a sequence of Raya and the last dragon. But it’s true that it was incredible to be able to make a whole short film in this style. We used a mixture of techniques, with real 2D backgrounds. But to make it work in stereoscopic 3D in a movie theater, they were then digitally recreated based on the original paintings. And we pushed things to the maximum to get closer to a rendering “by hand” on the characters, in order to obtain the expressions and shapes characteristic of 2D.

I understand that at the base, your vision of history was much darker …

In fact the main thing that has changed since my first pitch is that it was a story with humans.


Yeah, try to imagine this kind of story with human characters, it’s horrible! (Laughs.) We would have had a hard time. Besides, it would have been super weird if they didn’t speak! Because I knew I wanted something without any dialogue, so that everyone could understand without needing translation. And in fact, everything made much more sense with animals: we all saw The Lion King or Bambi, we know that the public can project themselves into these life and death stories precisely because they are animals. With humans it is too much !

What is your near future at Disney? Will the studio entrust you with a feature film?

If it was, I probably couldn’t talk about it! (Laughs.) Let’s just say I did some storyboards on Encanto and that I wrote for the series Iwájú. I won’t say more!

Far from the tree will be shown in theaters before Encanto, the fantastic Madrigal family, scheduled for November 24 at the cinema.

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