Directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, screenwriters Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen, and producer Osnat Shurer discuss “Raya and the Last Dragon,” available on Disney + since June 4.
New blood in Disney animation studios! If the director Don Hall is a regular at the house, where he has already signed Winnie the Pooh and The New Heroes, several of his partners on Raya and the Last Dragon are neophytes. And some come from live action, like director Carlos Lopez Estrada (Blindspotting), and writers Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen (the Envoys elsewhere series).
Alongside the producer Osnat Shurer, they evoke this feature film which is finally released on Disney + after having been scheduled for theaters. And which immerses us in Asian culture thanks to this adventure full of action, adventure and magic, where it is about saving a divided ancestral kingdom.
AlloCiné: What inspired you in this universe, this time that we see in the film?
Don Hall (Director): The starting point goes back about six years, which is a common production time for an animated feature film. We weren’t there at the time because we were hired a year and a half ago. But, from the start, it was about giving birth to a fantastic adventure – a genre we all love – and the creative team were particularly inspired by Southeast Asia, after a trip. research that blew everyone away.
There, they visited different countries, and all were inspired by the people they met, what they saw and ate. It may sound simplistic, but it all started with artists who were inspired. And everyone liked the idea, if only because the culture of Southeast Asia is under-represented. In the cinema, and in animation at Disney. It was a great way to pay homage to this culture, in a fantastic adventure.
Adele lim (Scriptwriter) : When I first came to the project, there was this idea of the kingdom of Kumandra divided into five different territories, and you only have to look outside to see how divided we ourselves are. And that’s not the world we want our kids to grow up in. In South East Asia there is a very strong sense of community, which is stronger than anything. There are however big differences within the countries, and in particular in Malaysia where I grew up, because there are many races, cultures and religions.
It would be easy to look at each other and see in these differences things that separate us and make us enemies in the eyes of others. But if you take a closer look and observe what makes our culture so amazing, between art, history and food – the best street food in the world! – we owe it to these differences and their respective influences. And Kumandra works the same way, showing these two aspects. That’s what inspired us, it was the perfect solution.
In South East Asia there is a very strong sense of community, which is stronger than anything. (Adele Lim)
Did films and paintings also inspire you to build this fictional universe?
Osnat Shurer (Producer): We have dug very deep in thinking about this world. The first time we told our decorator what we were doing, she replied: “Do you realize you are asking me to design five films in one?” And we were well aware of it. We needed to make Kumandra’s story feel real and know the details even if you don’t see them on screen.
We have given a lot of thought to the design principles that the regions share. Because there are very varied regions, a dozen countries, multiple cultures and religions… But there are common principles. Because of the location on the world map or, as Adele said, this combination of influences that gives birth to something unique. We looked for them and then transposed them in our world, in an organic way. We also looked at hundreds of references for the costumes, imagining all kinds of situations to design them.
Who were your role models for the action scenes?
Don Hall: They already had to be organic in the story. That they are not obligatory, even if we are in an action and adventure film. It had to move the story and the characters forward. But Qui has helped a lot to design his sequences, thanks to his experience as a choreographer and martial artist.
Rumor has it that the film could have been more violent. Is it true ? And if so, to what extent could it have been?
Osnat Shurer: (laughs) It was a joke of the directors. What happens is that we have the script and a storyboard with which we put together a first version of the film, without the vocals. To then throw everything away and rework with the writers and directors. You can also benefit from the advice of other Disney directors, which is beneficial. During this phase, we push the sliders, even if it means going too far while knowing it, so as not to rest on our laurels.
The staging here is different from what we had done before, the combat sequences are very very realistic and seem visceral. And I think that’s what they were referring to: we went too far at one point, without seriously thinking about it. Otherwise someone would have pointed it out to us (laughs)
You are several to come from the cinema in real shots. Did it help you, or did you have to learn to write and conduct differently?
Carlos Lopez Estrada (Director): A bit of both. It helped me in the sense that there is a very cinematic approach to animation in Raya, and the live-action staging concepts were adapted here. That being said, the way that Disney makes movies and develops stories is very specific: I knew a lot of the language of animation, without really having had the chance to immerse myself in it, and Don was very helpful in helping us figure it out. this subject.
Who Nguyen (Scriptwriter) : Writing for Disney is different from anything you can usually do in any other medium: in a play, a series or even a live film, you write a screenplay whose director or director en scene then takes hold to appropriate it. At Disney, the writers are involved from start to finish, which allows us to make improvements. The script is constantly evolving.
Adele Lim: First of all, you have to know that writing an animated film for Disney is an incredibly collaborative work. We are often seen as strange, lonely creatures locked in a room, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially at Disney. It’s a bit like writing for television. What I had to learn, but love and which is my favorite part of the process, is working with each storyboarder.
You write a scene, which the storyboarder then takes over. Then he calls you and shows you what he got out of it, which gives you ideas to put on paper. As a writer you are inspired by the drawings and the little visual details on the characters, and it’s like a conversation. And I learned that storyboarders are also directors, cinematographers, actors.
No one thought the result would be as timeless as it really is. Which makes what we are talking about even more necessary. (Carlos Lopez Estrada)
“Raya and the Last Dragon” takes place in the past but remains relevant today, when it talks about a divided world and the importance of trusting others and living in community. Did this speech interest you here?
Carlos Lopez Estrada: When we joined the project a year and a half ago, they already seemed relevant and timeless to us. And it only got worse over the weeks. And today our country is entering a new era with a new president, who spoke, in his inaugural address, about ways we can be united again. Which corresponds to the concepts of the film.
We were inspired by the conversations going on, and how we could approach them to learn from those divides. But there is a big part of coincidence, because no one thought the result would be as timeless as it really is. Which makes what we are talking about even more necessary.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on February 24, 2021
“Raya and the Last Dragon” has been on Disney + since June 4: