By Zach Johnson
Still wondering what 22 had against Earth in Disney and Pixar’s Soul? Wonder no more!
In 22 vs. Earth, a new short from Pixar Animation Studios, Tina Fey returns as the voice of the quick-witted and sarcastic 22. Set before the events of the feature film Soul, which recently won the Oscars® for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score, 22 defies the rules of The Great Before and refuses to go to Earth, enlisting five new souls to join her rebellion. But when the new souls’ activities lead to unexpected results, 22 discovers her subversive scheme might have unearthed a surprising revelation about the meaning of life.
Before 22 vs. Earth debuts exclusively on Disney+ on Friday, April 30, we spoke with director Kevin Nolting—a 21-year Pixar veteran who edited Soul and has also worked on films such as Finding Nemo, Up, and Inside Out—to learn more about the animated short.
D23: What was it like to direct your first Pixar project?
Kevin Nolting (KN): I’ve only been an editor at Pixar. I’ve directed some live-action things outside of Pixar, but this is my first time directing anything with any kind of infrastructure, let’s say; it wasn’t just friends getting together! I’m lucky that in my job as an editor, I work closely with the director and a lot of the production departments, so it wasn’t as foreign to me as it could have been. I’m pretty well versed in the process at Pixar, and I know the players, so that made it much easier for me. And then to be working with characters I’d been working with for four years already [as editor of Soul], I had the easiest set-up by far.
D23: How did you assemble your team for 22 vs. Earth?
KN: After the story department on Soul wrapped, we grabbed Rejean Bourdages and Hyein Park to storyboard; Josh Cooley had already written the script, and we had them board it. By the time layout had wrapped on Soul, we were ready to go into layout, so we grabbed Andy Grisdale, one of the leads, and he became our director of photography [with Luke Martorelli]. We’re very fortunate to have a pool of people who’d already worked on the movie become available. The soul world, technically, is a complex thing to deal with, so to have the people who had actually created that world continue it in the short was fantastic.
D23: You’d worked with Josh before. Why did you bring him on as a writer?
KN: We’re dealing with a cynical character who’s funny, and I can’t think of anyone more perfect than Josh for something like that, frankly! He’s so fast and so smart with his humor.
D23: What was Tina Fey’s response when you approached her reprising her role?
KN: It was great! She immediately jumped on board. She’s a pro.
D23: In addition to the setting, a few of the characters were previously established in Soul. How did you find room to play while also following the feature film’s blueprint?
KN: The nice thing about doing one of these—and why you can do it in five or six minutes—is that you don’t have to establish a new world and new characters from scratch. On the one hand, you could say it’s limiting to make something where you’re working in the same word. On the other hand, it’s totally freeing, because you’ve got that out of the way. You can concentrate on other things you want to do with the story, so that was great.
D23: In the short, 22 gives her “unstoppable gang” a team name: A.P.O.C.A.L.Y.P.S.E. We won’t spoil what the acronym stands for, but how did you come up with that idea?
KN: Initially, Josh had actually written it as C.H.A.O.S. My brain went straight to Get Smart, the TV show, and the evil organization KAOS. So, we started kicking around other ideas. Eventually A.P.O.C.A.L.Y.P.S.E. came up, then Josh thought up some words for the acronym.
D23: What inspired the codenames 22 gives the A.P.O.C.A.L.Y.P.S.E. team: Macaroni (voice of Karee Ducharme), Zimmy (voice of Aiyanna Miorin), Peanut (voice of Adela Drabek), D-pac (voice of Samantha Ho), and Moonbeam (voice of Micah Chen)?
KN: Josh came up with the idea of codenames initially, and then we all played around with different forms. Some were inside jokes, so we had to find the right balance. We started kicking around childlike ones, and then everybody in the room came up with more. I honestly couldn’t say who specifically came up with what; it was very much a group effort.
D23: Lastly, how would you sum up your experience directing 22 vs. Earth?
KN: Working on Soul was the cherry on top of my editing experience, so getting to direct this short was a great honor. There’s this great movie, Soul—and 22 was a big part of that. She’s a character that people love, and I hope this short gives a little more insight into her.