Hello everyone! Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of participating in an amazing virtual conference to celebrate the release of Disney’s Us Again as it arrived on Disney+! The conference was hosted and led by superstar dancer & choreographer, Derek Hough, whom we came to find out was a big fan of the short film as well! We gained some insight into what exactly it took to put this short film together and afterwards received the opportunity to speak with some of the amazing talents as well! So, here we go! Here’s my conversation with Composer, Pinar Toprak and Producer, Brad Simonsen along with some information they shared during the Conference!
Us Again is streaming now on Disney+!
Set in a vibrant city pulsating with rhythm and movement, an elderly man and his young-at-heart wife rekindle their youthful passion for life and each other on one magical night. The years fade away as the joy of dancing propels them across the exciting cityscape of their youth and revives fond memories and ambitions. Director/writer Zach Parrish (head of animation on Big Hero 6, and director of Disney Animation’s Short Circuit film, Puddles, now airing on Disney+) taps into personal themes, family observations, and a love of dance, and joins forces with award winning choreographers/dancers Keone and Mari Madrid (performers on World of Dance, choreographers and/or dancers for Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, and other top artists), and acclaimed composer Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel), to create this experimental musical fantasy. Brad Simonsen, associate producer on Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Ralph Breaks the Internet, served as producer. Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios, executive produced.
Told entirely without dialogue, and set to an original funk and soul musical score reminiscent of the mid-60s, Us Again uses the art of animation and emotional storytelling to entertain and inspire.
“Our characters go from old to young, young to old, their hair grows in, it disappears, they get sunspots and wrinkles, all while draped in wet clothes… Our crowds team created 1,400 unique characters to dance through the backgrounds of our city. They really-we really wanted to feel like the world was young, grooving, and thriving. Then, as if it wasn’t enough complexity, we covered it all in rain. There is falling rain. There are drips running down characters in environments. There’s a lot of rain in this little film, and the FX team made it look as if it was real.”Bradford Simonsen
BRADFORD SIMONSEN (Producer) lends his expertise and diverse experience in the worlds of animation and visual effects, along with a personal connection to the film’s “youthful magic theme,” in his role as producer of Us Again. He first joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2012, and has served as associate producer on two Oscar®-winning features, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, as well as the 2018 Oscar®-nominated film, Ralph Breaks the Internet. He also recently produced the animated short film, Weeds, which garnered festive acclaim and Academy consideration.
Simonsen attended the University of Washington School of Business in Seattle, where he earned a degree in Marketing and Human Resource Management. During that time, he was also active in the school’s drama department as an actor, writer and occasional producer of stage plays.
Upon graduation, Simonsen moved to Los Angeles where he launched his industry career as an assistant director. He segued from production to feature film development with an assistant role at Jan De Bont’s production company. This was followed by a stint as director of production at Robert Redford’s film banner, where he worked on such titles as “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” “Spy Game,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” among others.
Developing an interest in visual effects, Simonsen landed a job at Sony Imageworks in 2001, where he coordinated the production of “The ChubbChubbs!” and went on to work as digital production manager over the next nine years. From 2010-12, he worked as a digital producer at the award-winning Digital Domain production company.
“Keone and Mari came along on this journey with us, and Pinar worked closely from a musical standpoint to get the music as early as possible and as close to final as she could so that our choreographers could be as specific as possible with their movements and direction. It was fascinating to see the process and the close collaboration between the music, the reference choreography and Zach’s vision for the layout and animation. The film has a timeless and life-affirming message and an emotional resonance that is uniquely entertaining. Zach’s love of dance and animation, and his willingness to take chances as a filmmaker, made this a true labor of love.”Bradford Simonsen
“It… from the start, honestly, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life because I’ve never been involved in something from, you know, that early on and every step of the way… It really was like we were all kind of dancing together throughout the whole process it really felt like… and the fact that we didn’t have dialogue meant that every note mattered, every choice mattered, every instrument mattered… the dances just, the choreography is so incredible. I would keep seeing evolutions throughout and that just kept inspiring me more until the end. I’ve seen it at this point, I don’t know, three billion times, and I still cry at the end, so it’s a special film.Pinar Toprak
PINAR TOPRAK (Composer) is one of today’s most talented composers having written music for superhero sagas such as Captain Marvel (the first female composer to score a Marvel film) and Justice League (additional music), for television shows including Krypton and the DC Universe/CW series Stargirl, for the 2018 animated Pixar Sparkshort, Purl, and for the sensational online gaming success, Fortnite. For her work on the 2020 HBO docuseries, McMillions, she received an Emmy nomination in the category of “Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special.” Additionally, she has earned a reputation for bringing versatile stories to life by creating unique sounds and moods for her projects across medium, genre and tone.
Toprak was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, where she began her classical musical education at the age of five. After studying composition and multiple instruments at the Istanbul State Conservatory, she moved to Chicago to study jazz, then on to Boston to pursue a degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. She then came to Los Angeles, earned a master’s degree in composition at age 22, and joined the film score company Media Ventures International (now known as Remote Control Productions) established by Hans Zimmer in 1992.
“Hearing Zach’s original pitch, I knew the film was going to be important and incredibly personal. As creators, everything we do needs to start from a personal place, and hearing what this story meant to him and why he wanted to make this film, really touched me. I would cry at each new version of the film that they showed me. It’s a beautiful thing to know that you’ve been part of something so special, heartwarming and moving. I was honored to be part of this project from the very beginning, and I’m proud of the music because it’s so honest and fun.”Pinar Toprak