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Interview with Josh Staub, visual effects supervisor on Disney’s FEAST

// Interviews

After watching the sumptuous ‘Feast’ at last week’s KLIK animation festival, Skwigly ‘relished’ the opportunity to ‘chow down’ with Visual Supervisor Josh Staub (ok, ok, no more food puns I promise)


Could you talk to us about how Feast came about, and how you got involved yourself.

We have this amazing program at Disney – the shorts program – where anybody in the studio (that’s nearly 900 people) can actually submit 3 ideas (it’s 3 because John Lassiter doesn’t want anyone to be so attached to one idea that they can’t take feedback) for a short film that they want to make. Patrick Osbourne is an animation supervisor, and he was one of the people that submitted 3 ideas, and he got the opportunity to pitch it to our story trust. He then got to work on some development, and it eventually became the one that was green-lit. So you know, it goes through a few stages, and then one film was chosen, and this time that was Patrick’s  idea.

So, the last film was saw was Get a Horse…

Yes, although that was basically selected by the studio to do, but it wasn’t open to the whole studio. So this was the first time that pitching was open to the entire studio.

Do Disney create more shorts than we see? Is it just the best ones that we see with the films?

No, you see everything

And if everyone is pitching 3 ideas, how many original submissions are there?

Well this last year – and sometimes it’s not an individual, sometimes it’s a group of 2 or 3 depending on the idea – but last year I think we had 75 individual / groups pitch, and we ended up with 170 ideas, which is a lot – and you know, I think at some point it gets dwindled down to 3, and then John Lassiter and the story team pick the one that they want to do.

And how involved is John Lassiter throughout the process? Is it just that initial pick and then you’re left alone, or…

John is involved.  Particularly when the story is happening, they’re there for you a lot.  We meet with him regularly, about once a month, to kind of show him where we’re at and get feedback, and then when we start going in to the visuals, he wants to see all of that. And he’s an incredible judge of what’s working and what’s not working. I mean, we can be spinning and spinning and thinking we have something, and then he’ll pick something out, and even if he ‘never minds ‘ it first – once we make that change and fix it, it’s like ‘urgh! – he was right!’

We had a lot of freedom. He gave Patrick a lot of freedom. And again, he will say clearly that these are just his opinions, but you know, we’d be crazy not to listen to what he has to say – he’s got some much experience and he’s incredible. It’s great to have someone like that.

So how much did the film change from the original pitch?

I wasn’t at the original pitch, but I think in the storyreel version – all the beats were there. It was kind of like the same story, but just told in like a completely different way. So I think in the end, we kind of went away from it a little bit and then kinda came back. And I think we delivered on the original pitch that Patrick had.

So the sort of core of the idea was there from the beginning, and it was just how to tell it.

It seems that the shorts programs is there primarily to develop new talent and new technologies. So how does Disney crew up for those productions like that? Is it based on ‘this is what I want to achieve and these are the people who can help me do it’ – does the director pick or do people volunteer for it?

Well the way that works is there are interviews for the different supervisors.  I’ll have an interview with the producer and Patrick in this case. I can basically apply for the visual effects supervisor position, which isn’t something that they’ve always allowed people to apply for but we do now. And then at that point, the visual effects supervisor will tell the producer ‘ I think we need this kind of crew, this is what it should look like, it should be these supervisors, this is the amount of complexities in this area…’

So we’ll open that up to the studio for people to apply and do interviews, and then once those people are brought on, then it’s really communication about ‘how many people do you think you’ll need to achieve this,’ and we’ll bid out the movie in every storyreel version that we have to figure out how many people we think we’ll need. And then we try again to get people who have some experience and some who are less experienced in terms of how new they are to the studio, whether they’re just out of school. Because I think there’s a good energy there when there’s kind of a mix of experience and less experience. A lot of times we’ll talk to the department heads who may not be on the film about who they might suggest we would bring in. We have a great structure at the studio where the department heads are also involved in the career development of everybody in their department, so they know ‘ this person is really interested in this,’ ‘this persons needs to grow in this,’ ‘or this person would like more complicated shots,’ ‘or this person has great leadership potential.’

And do people do the shorts around other work, or is it a separate thing that a person can dedicate themselves to entirely?

They’re a separate project. Infact Patrick Patrick was going to be an animation supervisor on Big Hero 6, but because he had pitched this idea he got basically pulled and told ‘hey, your short’s been green-lit! ‘ So that can happen. You know, generally we do a short after a show, because we need resources, so it makes sense that there’s usually a window where we try to get people who aren’t as busy to work on it.

It’s obviously a film with a very different visual style to the rest of Disney’s output thus far, so why was that style chosen to achieve this story?

Well I think Patrick and Jeff particularly, Jeff Turley the production designer, have an affinity for thiskind of style, and I think they’re very open to trying new things, and so am I. So I think when it was first brought up and I saw the first visual development, it was very challenging – I knew it was going to be really challenging and I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but at thhe same time, that’s what;s fun about it. You say ‘ yup, we’re going to do it – I don’t know how we’re going to do it but we’ll just figure it out#

Were you adapting technology you already had, or were you adjusting the style?

No, we don’t want to adapt our style to match our technology. In fact it was funny, because I’ll kind of take my practical hat off when we’re just talking about visuals and what we’re after. I try not to think about requirements, which maybe sounds crazy, but I think we need to be like ‘this is the movie we want to make.’ And then once we decide that, then I put that hat back on and think ‘aargh, now how would we do that!?’

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