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Soul Writer On What It's Really Like Doing A Pixar Film - Exclusive

In Pixar's animated extravaganza Soul, musician, jazz fanatic, and middle school band teacher Joe Gardner slips into a manhole in a New York City street and winds up on a cosmic journey examining what makes each person unique.

Kemp Powers is the movie's co-writer and co-director. Though he is fairly new to the Pixar animation team, he came to the job with a glowing resume that includes three L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards and four NAACP Theatre Awards for his ability to tell an impactful story. He's also served as a writer on Star Trek: Discovery. Joining the Pixar team, even with a wealth of industry experience, was a very unique experience, as Powers told Looper during an exclusive interview.

"It was like boot camp," he says. "I feel like I'm a Navy SEAL of animation now because they threw me in the deep end." Soul is his first animated film, and there was a steep learning curve. "It's funny, you make certain assumptions being from the world of live action, that animation is going to be easier. In reality, it's very different. In live action, you build a set. Well, we have to do the same in animation just as much. The attention to detail was something that was pretty overwhelming -– there's nothing that happens in an animated film or that you see in an animated film that is there by accident. Like, in live action you might accidentally see a coffee cup in a shot. Trust me, if you see the coffee cup in an animated shot, we put it there."

Kemp Powers discusses the importance of the Pixar Braintrust

As a screenwriter, Powers says he wasn't used to collaborating with so many colleagues, but it's a facet of his position at Pixar that he absolutely loves. "Writing and storytelling at Pixar is a team sport; many people do contribute to telling the Soul story and that collaborative spirit is very unique."

Pixar's process, to Powers, is reminiscent of some of his previous experiences, but on a whole new level. "Everyone knows about the Pixar Braintrust [a group of creative leaders who oversee the development of productions], but in addition to that group weighing in, we take notes from everyone within the organization. From everyone who works at Pixar, from the people working in the kitchen to the other directors, are the audience. We want to make sure that everyone gets it, everyone understands it. This beta testing nature is something I've never really been exposed to, but now that I have, I understand why everything feels razor-sharp when you see a Pixar film. We really do test everything again and again and again."

Powers' wish for Soul is that it resonates with viewers. "I hope people will [feel] more connected to humanity than staying divided and separated from it," he says. "One of the big lessons we teach in Soul is how connected we all are to one another and to everything. I hope people have more of a sense of that after the movie is over."

Jamie Foxx stars as the voice of Joe Gardner, with a cast rounded out by Tina Fay, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, and Questlove. Soul will be available exclusively on Disney+ on December 25.