Us again, the moving animated short film that accompanies the release of Raya and the last dragon, will also be available on Disney +. Writer / director Zach Parrish’s 7-minute film explores themes of age and family entirely through music in a vibrant and unexpected way.

Parrish spoke with Screen Rant about using real-life dance partner Keone and Mari Madrid as inspiration, and how his own wife embodies the theme of his work.

What inspired you to tell the story of love and family through music?

Zach Parrish: From the beginning, I think all the stories that I tend to gravitate to explore the idea of ​​acknowledging the beauty of the world around you. It’s also something Puddles was all about. I think it’s something I often struggle with, from my own point of view. That’s where a lot of my story ideas come from; my own personal struggles in life.

This one in particular was about me realizing that as I start to get older, I start to feel those changes, and what does that mean? I was looking back at my younger self and wishing I could have that again, and my wife is not like that at all. She is very much alive in the present, “I can’t wait to get old”, every birthday is in the next. And also my mother. I was thinking about those different perspectives on aging.

Looking at my grandparents, one sold his house and bought an RV and traveled the United States and went to all the national parks, and the other got an apartment and was quite sedentary in his old age. I really thought there was an interesting conflict between basically my wife and me, but a character who is stuck in the past and in this negative mindset, and someone who lives in the present and enjoys his life.

One thing I also loved about this is that music is a universal language, and that is such a beautiful part of this piece. How different it is to animate a story to the beat of the music, as opposed to the spoken word.

Zach Parrish: You know, the actual animation process is not much different. Because a large part of what we do as animators is listen to that dialogue; we’re listening to the beat, we’re trying to find the beat of the take, and we have to make sure everything is properly timed and timed. This is a bit different, as you are trying to play specific notes at specific beats and things like that.

But we also had the amazing reference from Keone and Mari. [Madrid] for everything, so we had a very clear guide on what the intention is. Our responsibility was to really try to stay authentic in that dance and have a conversation about where we could push it further. It’s animation, so we could overdo it a bit more and make things more nimble, faster, jump higher, things like that, but still keep the foundation and make it feel like a real dance.

You have the talented and amazing World of Dance champions and the real-life couple, Keone and Mari. How did that come about and how do they participate in the creative process?

Zach Parrish: They as an idea were part of my original proposal. Part of the speech at the beginning was: “I would love to create this world of dance where dance is not something you do, but how everything is done.” And I actually had a super cut of Keone and Mari clips like, “This is what I think the world could feel like.” I just played all their World of Dance clips and some YouTube clips and stuff like that, just to get that feeling of their dance style and how they can tell stories, and be wide and small at the same time.

When the movie was immediately given the green light, a couple of months after the development of the movie, we called them and asked if they were interested in coming just to have a conversation. I was surprised that they said yes. We presented the project to them and they loved it, thank God. Basically, they joined our creative team almost immediately.

We would show them the reels every time we cut the storyboards, we would show them to them, we would talk about the characters, we would get their notes; we talked about dancing, and we talked about what they need from music to tell [composer Pinar Toprak]. We had that whole circle going, and when we had the story locked in, we got the music and then we locked the story again, and then we were able to share it with them so they could contribute that final input of what the dance was.

Us Again short film

The boardwalk scene towards the end was very emotional, and Pinar’s amazing music really performs there. Can you tell me about the collaboration process to find the right sound for this short film?

Zach Parrish: It was an interesting trip there too, because it came so early. We knew we wanted to do this kind of soul-funk feeling, and we just started with the songs. You know, “I think this could be great,” and we would just give notes on that, because it was independent of the story.

And then in the end, when we got to that bench-on-the-dock moment, we wanted it to be really minimal. That was the conversation we had with her, because we wanted this great energy, great energy, great energy, and then right now, we don’t want anything. If we could get away with absolutely zero that would be great, but I wanted the music to feel as empty as [he] feel in that moment.

When he came back with just those piano keys, it was like, “Woah!” It really cut you deep, you know? The timing changed a few times and he had to make some adjustments. But yeah, he killed him in that section. The whole ending, and the way she returned the energy and excitement at the end, made us cry almost immediately.

Puddles and rain: tell me the meaning of water to you.

Zach Parrish: [Laugh] I do not know, man. I grew up in the Midwest and played a lot outside. I’m just a big kid overall. For Puddles, it was about the childishness and joy of playing in Puddles. I think that also came true in this story. I threw four floors, and this is the only one that had rain. But it starts to look like I’m trying to make a trilogy of movies about rain.

But, to me, I knew that I wanted to do a story about the fountain of youth. The rain felt like a really cool mechanism to be that fountain of youth and to be that magical element. But he also spoke to the youth of the world; that getting young and playing in the rain, as well as the romance of the relationship. Dancing in the rain; I don’t know if there is anything more romantic than that. And then the combination of youth and romance made sense to me.

One thing my girlfriend caught on is that the movie really talks about aging and the state of mind that aging brings you. Go out and have no regrets, especially with your loved ones who try to encourage you to go out and do things. Can you tell me about the aging state of mind found in this movie?

Zach Parrish: Yes, he did. Your girlfriend is perfect. That was really the intention; that idea that youth is a state of mind. It is a decision to see yourself as old, because we associate being old with being out of the picture; step aside. It is a choice not to see the world that way, not to see yourself that way, and not to stop living your life and not to stop recognizing what makes life beautiful.

Once again, that’s what my wife brings me. And I think it’s an even better message right now, with everyone at home. Get up, get out, see the world, appreciate your beauty and appreciate those around you who make your life special.

How many different styles or genres of dance were incorporated into some of those scenes?

Zach Parris: It’s interesting, because that’s why we also chose Keone and Mari. They have this really interesting and specific dance style that combines a lot of different styles. It’s what I love about their dances; it feels very modern and cool. They have a lot of hip-hop elements, but they also incorporate a lot of contemporary. Some jazz was also incorporated.

We also shot a lot of references for the background characters, and we released ballet there. There’s poppin ‘and lockin’. We just said, “Do it alone.” I hit play on the music, and we just let them dance for different things. It’s like, “Okay, you’re walking; you’re a couple; you are whatever,” and we let them feel the music and follow it.

We tried to incorporate as many dance styles as possible so that it really felt like a dance world.

Next: Interview with the directors and writers of Raya and the last dragon

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