Natalie Nourigat Talks How ‘Far From Tree’ is Personal and Speaks to a Larger Audience

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Far From Tree may feature a pair of raccoons as the main characters, but they have very humanistic qualities. Like the protective instincts of a parents or the genuine curiosity of a child. Set on a quiet idyllic beach of the Pacific Northwest, audiences will get to see how the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree applies to every parent and child relationship, even those who are raccoons.

The Nerds of Color had an opportunity to talk to director Natalie Nourigat about the upcoming short that is set to appear in front of Encanto. During the interview, Nourgiat talked about the animation techniques that went into creating the illustrative look and feel, as well as her personal connections to the short’s setting and how she hopes the story resonates with everyone.

The Nerds of Color: Far From Tree feels like a comic book come to life because it merges these watercolors and illustrative artworks together. I was wondering what exactly inspired you to take this approach to telling the story in that kind of way?

Natalie Nourigat: Well, I come from comics, I love illustration, especially things that have to do with watercolor textures, copic markers, and textures. And we were looking at a lot of comics and 2D animation for inspiration for this film.

It’s also building off of Exchange Student, and what we got to do on that film. It was really nice, having more time, more resources, more artists, to just push the ideas of that art style further. So this time, we were able to actually, you know, model our environments, and then do 2D paintings over the top of them, we have more time to infuse our look with several different influences.

Manu Arenas’ art was huge influence on the stone. And just getting those copic marker and watercolor textures in there that feel really evocative of the Pacific Northwest and this kind of moody color palette and texture that I like so much.

You just mentioned the Pacific Northwest, a place you have close ties to. Can you tell us more about doing the research there and what it means for you to tell that story that resonates with you, but also can speak to a larger audience?

So we hope that the film is universal in a way that everybody who watches it feels seen and recognizes themselves and their family in this in this movie. But also, of course, we love looking for things that are specific and that we can speak to in a personal way. So for me, getting the show Oregon on screen feels really special. Getting to show this this actual beach Cannon Beach that I went to with my family so often as a kid to see Haystack Rock drawn in a Disney style in a Disney film. It’s just a dream come true, of course.

My last question is regarding Meander, because I read that you guys use that animation tool. And you can see that obviously in Paperman and Maui’s tattoo in Moana. So, what made this the perfect tool for this short?

I think that we really loved the idea of building on top of exchange students. So, finding that hybrid art style that allows us to utilize all of the amazing tools that CG gives us, like these complex camera moves, and the subtle character acting and CG, with that looks that we all love, the illustrated look, the hand drawn look. So, meander is this really clutch tool that allows us to add frame to frame, hand drawn line art animation on top of these CG models with a flat color publish.

And it was really cool. Ruth has heard me tell the story so many times, I apologize. But I got to learn how to use meander, because we ended up wanting to use it on so many more shots than we initially thought. It just adds so much that we went from thinking we’d use it on 10% of the shots to about 95. And that meant that I had to learn the software and jump in and help out with Rachel Dibb animating. It was so fun.

Here’s the official plot synopsis for Far From Tree:

Parenting is tough, especially when the stakes are high. On an idyllic beach in the Pacific Northwest, curiosity gets the better of a young raccoon whose frustrated parent attempts to keep them both safe.In the all-new Walt Disney Animation Studios animated short, Far From the Tree, this young raccoon will learn that while there is reason to be fearful, as danger lurks around every corner, it is still possible to live with an open heart. Far From the Tree is directed by Natalie Nourigat (director, Exchange Student, and story artist, Ralph Breaks the Internet). The short will make its theatrical debut to audiences around the world with Disney Animation’s feature film, Encanto, in 2021.

You can see Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Far From Tree when it appears in front of all showings of Encanto on November 24, 2021.