How short film ‘Once Upon A Studio’ featuring over 500 Disney characters was born

How short film ‘Once Upon A Studio’ featuring over 500 Disney characters was bornHow short film ‘Once Upon A Studio’ featuring over 500 Disney characters was born
via Walt Disney Studios
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy would meet in separate cars at a Taco Bell parking lot in California. 
The pair, who previously directed the “Frozen”-inspired short film “Once Upon a Snowman,” would talk through their car windows about projects they wanted to do together.
“One of the ideas that bubbled up really quickly was the realization that we were going to be at the [Walt Disney Animation Studios] for the 100th anniversary, and wouldn’t it be cool to do something for that. We organically thought about a project that would mark that milestone,” Abraham recalls.
While Correy had an initial idea about Disneyland rides coming to life, Abraham said, “Why don’t we do that at the studio?” 
via Walt Disney Studios
When Abraham first saw the animated classic “Lady and the Tramp” as a little boy in 1955, he was inspired by the characters and the level of storytelling. “‘Lady and the Tramp’ truly got into my heart and Disney had been the goal ever since,” Abraham tells NextShark. 
He eventually joined Disney in 2005 and has since worked on many films and series, including “Frozen 2,” “Encanto” and “Planes.” “My inspiration moving forward is to bring that [inspiration] to the next generation and give them something special for their core memories,” he says.  
Similarly, Correy reflects on his childhood, which was filled with the wonder and magic of Disney characters. Although we’re adults now, he says, we remain children at heart. The idea behind the pair’s latest short film aims to remind people to embrace the childlike wonder and sincerity in a world that can often be cynical.
(L-R) Brad Simonsen, Yvett Merino, Dan Abraham and Trent Correy (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
For over eight months, Abraham and Correy worked in secret, developing gags, character ideas and sketches before presenting their labors of love to Jennifer Lee, the chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). 
The piece would eventually come to be known as “Once Upon a Studio,” which ensembles 543 beloved characters from more than 85 films made at the WDAS. The directors envisioned the characters coming to life after everyone leaves their workplace. The short film brings back to life heroes and villains, princes and princesses, sidekicks and sorcerers in hand-drawn and CG animation to celebrate the studio’s 10 decades of storytelling artistry and technological achievements. 
 “When Dan and Trent pitched me the idea for ‘Once Upon a Studio,’ I couldn’t talk, I was just crying,” Lee shares. 

“I have never had more confidence in something. It celebrates the most important thing, which is these characters, and what they mean to all of us. And it did that by staying true to the artistry of these characters, their original designs regardless of whether they were hand-drawn or CG, and even our studio building, which is symbolic of the home where things are created. Dan and Trent came up with something incredibly special, and we knew we wanted to make it from the very start.”

via Walt Disney Studios
To pay homage to the 100 years of Disney animation, award-winning producers Yvett Merino and Bradford Simonsen brought in many actors and voice talents who voiced iconic Disney characters, including Filipino singer Lea Salonga, who provided the singing voices of Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin” (1992) and Fa Mulan in “Mulan” (1998).  
“All of these wonderful voice talents are such superstars, and they were so earnest in wanting to deliver the best performance they could. The characters meant so much to them, and they all seemed to be thrilled to be a part of this 100-year celebration,” Abraham says. 
The producers also invited a group of young hand-drawn-animation apprentices to work on the production of “Once Upon a Studio” as a way to honor Walt Disney’s legacy. The mentors and animators saw it as a significant opportunity to pass along their knowledge and inspire the next generation of animators.
“I’m grateful everyday I walk into our doors,” Simonsen says. “I’m honored to be part of the tradition and the legacy of Disney. I’m hopeful for the future, and I have the sense of responsibility to help grow and nurture the next generation to continue our legacy so that our stories continue to inspire.”
via Walt Disney Studios
While the producers faced ​​numerous challenges in voice talent availability, legalities and the integration of different animation styles for the short film, Merino expresses her gratitude for being part of Disney’s tradition and legacy. She describes her career at Disney as a gift and says she felt particularly emotional about “Once Upon A Studio” as it celebrated everything Disney stands for.
Merino and Simonsen hope that the film will spark conversations among families and both long-time Disney fans and new generations alike about the characters they saw and love. They wish for children to be inspired and ask questions about how such a project is made, in line with Abraham and Correy’s vision of inspiring the next generation.
“Once Upon A Studio” made its broadcast debut on ABC on Monday. The all-new short film is now available to stream on Disney Plus and Hulu as part of Disney’s 100-year anniversary celebration.
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