Despite Pixar not having a feature this year, it worked out perfectly for the MU short, Party Central, to play in front of Muppets Most Wanted since Jim Henson was such an important influence on director Kelsey Mann. "They always had that manic energy when you got a group of Muppets together. I wanted to get that over the top feeling in this short."
Plus it was an opportunity to explore the deepest desire of the Oozma Kappas to throw the ultimate monster party, which didn't make it into the feature: "We wanted to throw a party that you couldn't do with people," Mann explains. "We wanted it very specific -- this type of party could only happen here."
During the initial hour-long meeting with John Lasseter, MU director Dan Scanlon, and Pete Docter, they banged out most of the events and gags. "I tried to pack it with as many as I could," adds the MU story supervisor who's been at Pixar for five years. "Characters doing funny things in the background that you don't notice on first viewing. There's an exterior of the Oozma Kappa house, and a guy that we added at end jumping up and down on a trampoline. A lot of funny poses; toilet paper being thrown across the yard."
Indeed, Party Central is more like Animal House than MU. In fact, this is the first PG-rated Pixar short (for reckless behavior), which Mann wears as a badge of honor. "We did our job correctly. We wanted it to be this over the top, crazy short.
"The main thing from the meeting that really stuck with me was I was treating it like a feature and Dan said to treat this like a short and Pete told me to just relax. Set up a great gag and pay off that gag. And be as funny as you can. Once Pete said that, it was just what I needed."
Still, it's hard to have an arc that moves succinctly. Mann originally struggled with a two-minute lead in when he was thinking of it too much like a feature. And it didn't click until he came up with: "Lots of parties, lots of parties, lots of parties -- no one there."
"I love showing the short and cutting to the Oozma Kappas sitting alone. People feel sorry and you've got them."
Now that Mann's got a better grasp of working with all the other departments after directing his first short, he can better appreciate the rest of the workflow works with lighting and rendering. But of course he can't divulge what feature he's working on next: "The curse of working at Pixar is you can do amazing things but can't tell anybody."
Not yet, anyway...