To make Pixar’s Oscar-nominated short film Burrow, writer/director Madeline Sharafian channeled something she—and many others in the animation industry—struggle with: perfectionism.
Sharafian shares the nomination for Best Animated Short Film with producer Michael Capbarat (Monsters University), and Burrow is up against Genius Loci (Kazak Productions), Yes-People (MagnetFilm), Opera (Erick Oh) and If Anything Happens I Love You (Gilbert Films and Oh Good Productions).
Originally intended to play before Pixar’s Soul in theaters, Burrow was released via Disney+ on December 25, 2020 instead. In the six-minute, 2D-animated short, a young rabbit trying to build her dream house ends up digging herself deeper into trouble until she finally asks others for help.
Burrow’s theme of perfectionism is something Sharafian has personally wrestled with throughout her animation career.
The industry can be very competitive, she says. And the pressure to impress—mixed with increased stress to perform well in her dream job at Pixar—is hard to handle sometimes.
“I know I’m not the only perfectionist in the animation industry,” she says. “We do things frame by frame, and that lends itself to perfectionism. But no one can achieve perfection alone.” As she’s progressed in her career, Sharafian has had to learn how to lean on her colleagues, and she wanted to parlay the importance of that to kids, who often get the wrong idea at a young age that they have to be flawless.
“Pixar gave me the opportunity to figure out what I wanted out of my career,” says Sharafian. “But it was also a chance for me to speak to kids about the challenge of wrestling their perfectionist self out the door, and what can happen if they don’t ask for help.”
Coming out of Pixar’s SparkShorts animation program—which has spawned films like Loop, Out and Kitbull in the past—Burrow was made in just six months with a limited budget. To work within these tight production constraints, Sharafian got creative. The team relied on painted backgrounds rather elaborate layouts, and looped some animation to cut down costs, she says.
Now that she’s had a chance to direct, Sharafian is hopeful that she’ll have more opportunities to lead productions in the future. She’s currently working on Pixar’s latest feature Turning Red as a story artist, and is also honing her style through personal art and comics projects that she shares on Instagram and Twitter.
“I’m biding my time. I’m creating my own art and working on my unique flavor so that when I have the chance to have a platform again, I’ll know what story I want to tell,” says Sharafian. “The next chance I have, I’m going to make sure I push the envelope.”