Is Pixar losing their touch? They’re no longer the coolest animation house, having ceded some of that street cred to the international curators of GKids and the stop-motion prestidigitators at Laika. They’re not the most profitable, either, as their box office receipts are regularly dwarfed by the money factories erected by parent company Disney or even Illumination. (Last year’s mega-smash Finding Dory was sorely needed after the underperforming The Good Dinosaur.) Pixar’s rep as the industry’s most unfailingly excellent studio has faded as they’ve leaned a little harder on moneymaking sequels — Cars 3, coming soon! — but today brings the news that they’ve taken a significant step into regaining supremacy over the industry.

At computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH, Pixar will hold court in a panel called Smash and Grab: Off-the-Rails Filmmaking at Pixar, as noted by the newshounds at Pixar Planet. The description is below:

Pixar launched an internal, experimental storytelling initiative to create short films without executive oversight, to explore new creative visions and increase studio opportunities. This talk shares Pixar’s six-month journey of creating seven-minute shorts, with limited resources, amidst the backdrop of a busy studio, juggling multiple feature productions.

In keeping with the name of the panel, the first official short to result from this program will be titled Smash and Grab, a directorial project from Brian Larsen (who worked on the stories for both Brave and Piper). Overall, it’s a heartening move from the studio, and a clear indication that they remain committed to the artistry of animated filmmaking. This studio took its work to underwater, to space, eschewed dialogue — a return to that boundary-pushing ambition would be most welcome.

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