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Interview: Diving Into the True Story Behind ‘Out’, Coming Out, and Jim the Dog with Steven Clay Hunter

Chances are if you’re an animation fan, you’ve seen at least one work by Steven Clay Hunter. Those chances are exponentially higher if you grew up watching Disney animated films as Hunter has worked on an impressive amount. From Hercules to Finding Nemo to the latest Pixar movies Onward and Soul, it’s safe to say that Hunter has made his mark on the animation industry. His latest venture, however, has been writing, animating, and bringing to life his own animated short, Out.

The twelve minute long film follows Greg, his partner Manuel, and his dog Jim as Greg decides when is the right time to come out to his parents. The short has gained much attention from critics and the Academy alike, and it’s clear why. I was incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to discuss Out with Hunter. Check it out below:

Kendall Tinston: So I have to start by saying I’m such a big fan of yours, Steve. Pretty much every animated movie you’ve worked on quickly becomes a new favorite animated movie of mine. Between Hercules, Wall-E, Soul, and now Out, I’m a big fan.

Steven Clay Hunter: I know, I’ve been very lucky. Thank you!

KT: So obviously I loved Out. It was funny, touching, cute, and of course I loved the dog, Jim. As much as I love animated movies I’m not going to try to pretend that I know everything about them. With Soul it’s more obvious that everything was done digitally, but with Out it appeared to be more similar to artwork. I was wondering if Out was created solely digitally or if you also used different mediums to animate it?

SCH: Yeah, that’s very cool, we were really trying to but it is 3D. It’s the same 3D models that we used on Toy Story. You know what we did? We just took the eyes out and we put little pieces of geometry over where the eyes would have been and made those for the dog eyes to give it that Tin Tin kind of look. But a lot of it was just digital models in our back lot that we had. Some of the stuff, like the apartment, we built. But a lot of the props we could just rip off from other movies and really just tried to piece it together as best we could like an indie movie inside the monstrosity of Pixar.

KT: Very cool. I guess we’ll start from the beginning. The short starts off stating that it’s based on a true story. I guess the question is: Who’s true story is it based on?

SCH: It’s all of our true stories. We’ve all been visited by a pink and purple dog and cat on a magic rainbow at some point in our lives, haven’t we?

KT: Absolutely!

SCH: But it is loosely based on my coming out experience. Mine was quite different, but I grew up at a time where we didn’t have the language to talk about these things, y’know? So it was like, back in the early 80’s and 70’s, it wasn’t a thing people had the language for, and if we did it was negative. Everything was negative about it in culture and every day life, and so I think it was just a question of wanting to get people talking.

KT: Speaking of the cosmic rainbow cat and dog that I loved so much: I feel like there are a few different interpretations you can take from those characters, but when you were creating the short what did you want them to symbolize?

SCH: Outside of the general kind of magic aspect of it, I really wanted to set up this idea of like a Twilight Zone episode where Rod Sterling begins and ends every episode. That was the feeling I was going for because what I wanted to say was: Here’s the structure of these two magical beings that come down and visit this guy and help him come out to his family. I wanted to set up that this is only one coming out story, this is not the coming out story, it’s not everyone’s coming out story. Some coming out stories end up even better than this, some end up worse than this. I have a lot of friends whose parents still don’t accept them to this day. Some of them just haven’t even had that conversation. So I wanted to set up a way of saying: This is one story of this experience not every experience.

KT: Absolutely. And you included dialogue, which not many shorts choose to do, but I’m not sure you could have even told the same story without dialogue, so it really strengthened the short.

SCH: I can’t even imagine that!

KT: I can’t even wrap my head around what it would have been like otherwise. It is a short film, but I’m curious to know how long did it take you to write, animate, and make sure Out was what you wanted it to be?

SCH: I was working on other films with Pixar and helping those get made while I was doing my own storyboards and writing and getting it all edited. I was poking away at that from probably Spring of 2018, I think all told it was about 14-16 months. I kind of was puttering away until I got an editor, I got storyboard help, and we really dug into it through much of 2019, and then we had animators, about 8 animators, for about a two-month period in 2019. We actually got shut down too so we could go help out on Onward. So then we went and did that, and then we came back and we got our animators and then we powered through and we got done in time for the Christmas company meeting screening of 2019, so we got it done before the pandemic and then the pandemic happened and we were like, “Aw, man!” I was really hoping we’d get it into frame line. A premiere at the Castro theatre was my dream, to see it at my old neighborhood. But then it’s on Disney+ and everybody gets to see it so I can’t complain.

KT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this the first short that you’ve written?

SCH: Yes.

KT: Can we expect more shorts or maybe feature films written from you in the near future?

SCH: I sure hope so!

KT: I do too! And what’s your favorite aspect or character from Out?

SCH: I think my favorite thing is just hearing how much it’s resonating with people. I’ve said it before, but hearing from the families of kids that are like, “What’s the big deal?” to older gay men in their 50’s like me who are like, “Man, I really wish I had had that as a kid, to see myself in.” Just seeing those kinds of things, or hearing the conversations that are happening with families is really great. I think for every positive reaction to it I’ve heard, I’ve heard maybe .25% of a negative reaction. It’s just been such an overwhelming response.

KT: It’s amazing how much things have changed.

SCH: Isn’t it? Now we just need to stop with this anti-trans business that is happening every day this week.

KT: There is always progress to be made.

SCH: I know.

KT: Last thing I have to ask is a silly question for myself: Did you have a dog named Jim?

SCH: Yes, I did, you want a picture of her?

KT: Yes! Did she look like the dog?

SCH: She looks exactly like the dog!

KT: I can’t wait! Well, I loved Out and I wish you the best of luck with it. Thank you a million times for taking time to speak with me today.

SCH: Anytime, I love talking about it!

As I discussed in my interview with Hunter: there is always progress to be made. Out is the first film created by Disney or Pixar to be centered on the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s about time. To have such a film that is very serious as well as lighthearted, humorous, and touching is no small feat. Steven Clay Hunter has done that and so much more with Out. Make sure you check out the short—available now—on Disney+.

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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