Summertime Splash: A Q&A with the Filmmakers of Pixar’s ‘Luca’

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to give our readers a sneak peak at Pixar’s latest film, Luca, and the hard work the geniuses at Pixar have put into crafting this bright and sunny coming-of-age story. You can check out those full articles here and here. In addition to getting a fantastic behind the scenes look at the film, we were also treated to a press-wide virtual Q&A with director Enrico Casarosa and producer Andrea Warren. Here’s what they had to say to various questions from the press about the latest Pixar classic-in-the-making:

Director Enrico Casarosa and story artist McKenna Harris discuss a Luca story sequence in the story room, as seen on July 15, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Pixar has been known for breaking barriers in terms of animation, especially, back in 2003 when it changed the game in terms of animating water, and obviously Luca’s a very water heavy film, so I’m curious, how far would you say the studio’s come since 2003, and how does Luca continue to push the boundary of animating water?

CASAROSA: You’ve gotten a pretty good taste of it in John’s presentation. we really wanted to look for something that was more controllable and designable. So, that was an interesting challenge for us. So, the tools of the trade are getting better and better at capturing realism. We wanted to work on stylization and beautiful shades and lyricism. So, that is the bit where we pushed the tools to do something a that they don’t necessarily want to do. For me it was a lot about just trying to make a beautiful shape and a little — when is less more? I find that sometimes, a lot gets thrown at us in detail, and I was really just trying to make it rich, but also trying to make it designed and beautiful. So much of this movie is about a kid experiencing things for the first time and I wanted a sense of the light and wonder to really be part of this movie, in all its details, because it’s really someone who’s in love with discovering the world. We looked at the water. And the other side of it is emotion. We always think about emotion. And so, when I think about water and effects — “How does this support an emotional moment?” So, we have wonderful, wonderful stuff that you haven’t seen yet, but, in moments of the movie where the emotion comes out, where the water supports it. Where the waves support it. Where the weather supports it. We have more control, and we were able to really try something a little bit different, that looks a little different. To feel the most emotion and have it a little less realistic and more stylized. And there’s a playfulness to it, a lyricism to it that I was after.

WARREN: I would also only add, Enrico, that I think our team really worked hard to make sure that this water felt like it was from the Mediterranean versus tropical water or other settings. We wanted to make the audience feel like they went to the Italy. And so, are there some of the elements of the water you would mention, Enrico?

CASAROSA: Yeah.

LUCA

WARREN: I know there’s the murk of the water and some of those details that are a part of the setting.

CASAROSA: It’s very true, it’s very specific to the place. What happens is that, the coastline — you saw for some of the photos, is deep. So, it’s a lot of cliffs, not a whole lot of beaches. So, the color is so deep. And blue cobalts, greens — we wanted to make sure this did not ever feel tropical. So, the beautiful water, a little bit when you’re in it, the murk is present. It’s a beautifully colorful murk. So, we also used that to represent, for our character, a little bit more of a limited world. We used it is to say, actually, the underwater world doesn’t enable our protagonist to see as far. We love that kind of sense of sharpness that happens once we’re out in the surface. Since this journey is about seeing more of the world, we also thought that it was the specificity of the place represented a little bit of a world that is not as spacious down there.

LUCA

How does the film’s specific time period setting impact the narrative? And how do films like La Strada or Roman Holiday serve as tonal inspirations for this film?

CASAROSA: That’s a great question. So I feel that in this idiosyncratic way, I’m about to say something that doesn’t make sense, but when you make something very specific and timely, it can be timeless. I was after, first of all, a period that I love. So, part of it is just my love of that golden era of film and cinema in Italy. I love the music in all these coming-of-age stories of summer, music is a huge, huge part of a movie. So, I just love the music of the ’50s and ’60s in Italy, so we’re using a lot of that. And then the design, the old Vespas, the old, little carts-bicycle, I just love the sense that this has an old feel. So, we really, were inspired by so many of these little details. I feel, like, to me, what makes it interesting– if we put a cell phone there, how is it different? I just think that there’s a little bit of a timelessness and a nostalgia to it. Those were the things that we really chased as far as the period. And I’m making it feel a little less specific, but also specific, which is an idiosyncratic thing there. And to speak to the movies, for example, there’s Visconti’s Tera Trema. I don’t know if any of you have seen it. It’s about a fisherman going out at sea and it’s wonderful. You know, Visconti used non-actors, so we looked at the clothing, it’s post-war so some of it was beautiful reference for us to just figure out what is a working-class fishing town like. It’s in black and white, so you have to extrapolate a little bit. There are movies I love, of course. You know, we just wanted to share with the crew the love of Italian cinema and we wanted to make homages — one is to Divorce, Italian Style — we even hid little signs around town. The beautiful opportunity we had, designing the signs with their beautiful homages to all our favorite filmmakers, writers, and things like that. So, that is a bit how the movies inspired us. It’s a little less specific plot wise, but more like reference for the period, and just an amazing era of Italian cinema that ended up actually inspiring a lot of American and American-Italian filmmakers, for so many years.

How did you come up with Silencio Bruno?

LUCA

CASAROSA: Silencio Bruno is from our writer Jesse Andrews, our amazing writer. One of my favorite things is that the movie talks about the voice in your head. I have plenty of it, I don’t know if you guys have it, but — the insecurity, the voices that tell you, “No, you can’t.” And we thought, “But what’s an Alberto way of describing it?” We didn’t want this to be, you know, in any way, pop psychology. This is a silly kid, but how can he give him a good suggestion? Right? It’s actually a good tip — don’t pay too much attention to those voices, but in his own very silly, crazy Alberto way. And, it came out of Jesse Andrews, who’s an amazing writer. You might know him from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. That’s the movie we love, that he wrote.

WARREN: Yeah. I think we wanted a shorthand version. It’s a lot to say, “You know that voice inside your head and if you listen to it, it’ll hold you back?” It was such a fun way to capture that idea in a quick phrase. And to be honest, I really hope it’s something that kids, as they watch this movie, glom onto as a concept as they grow up. How great would it be for them to recognize that voice in their head and question it as they’re making decisions and deciding whether to take risks in their own lives as they’re growing up. So, we do hope it’s something that becomes meaningful to our audience.

CASAROSA: With apologies to people named Bruno.

WARREN: Yes, that’s true!

Being that we’re living in a time where racism and violence against minorities is rampant, particularly with the Asian community right now, do you think that there’s a certain relevancy now to the messages from Luca in regards to the prejudice against, for example, the Sea Monsters, and that metaphor?

LUCA

WARREN: I think that we liked the idea always that the metaphor of being a sea monster can apply to so many different things. You haven’t seen the third act and we don’t wanna give away any spoilers, but, there is a theme of openness and showing oneself and self-acceptance as well as community acceptance. Confronting, the idea that there’s more to sea monsters than they realize. You know that they’ve only seen it through one perspective, one lens, and so I think that that’s a wonderful theme in the film, which is that those ideas weren’t right and that there’s more to learn. So, I do find that, a really useful and hopefully helpful metaphor for all the things that are going on.

CASAROSA: Yeah, I would agree. We hope that sea monster could be a metaphor for all sorts of feeling different — like being a teen or pre-teen. That moment where you feel odd. There are all sorts of ways of feeling different. It felt like a wonderful way to talk about that and having to accept ourselves first, whatever way we feel different.

What kind of pride do you feel in bringing your hometown to a big stage like this?

CASAROSA: Oh, it’s such a pleasure. I was talking a little bit about the details we’re putting in the background, and the pleasure of even talking about our dialect, we have a Ligurian dialect, it is very specific. Of course, all of the regions of Italy have a dialect, most of the world does. But we’re putting little Genoa in. We wanted was much focaccia in this movie as possible. Focaccia is our bread. We are one of the few people that dunk it in their coffee, by the way. I could not fit in a dunk in the coffee in the movie, but I wanted to. I have so many little details that I’m, like, “Ooh, this one is very specific and people in Liguria would probably understand.” It’s a wonderful city, it’s a wonderful area of the world. So, I feel, you know, it really goes so well with our ethos of authenticity and specificity, to embrace these wonderful details. We want to take people in an authentic way to a place. So, I’ve a lot of pride as an immigrant, as you were asking, I think the more you’re far away from you roots, the more you appreciate them, and honestly making films has really become my way to embrace my roots as much as possible. You know, my daughter is 13 and I speak to her in Italian every day. So, it’s such a fun way to share the language with her. So, the movie is very similar. I’m so happy that we can find all the specificity to bring to the world.

LUCA

How daunting was it taking on the directorial reigns for your first feature?

CASAROSA: I feel like it is daunting. It’s like, you know, having played in the minors, and having had a home run, and then you go to the major league. It is daunting, and I can assure you, there’s a lot of Silencio Bruno, imposter syndrome and all those doubts and difficulties. To be completely honest, Luna was a short we put together very effortlessly. Somehow that one came together easily. This is a bigger puzzle, a lot more work, it’s a long marathon. I’m a runner, I always use the marathon metaphor. And it’s much more difficult. You get knocked down and you get back up and you keep going. But it’s what makes it even sweeter when you get there. You know? It’s a refrain you’ve heard from Pixar probably a lot of times, that it takes us a while to make our stories great. It was a big journey, but I think I’m so focused on enriching it and how much growth there is in trying to lead a project like this. So, it was really wonderful to have that opportunity through the difficulties. We’ve had so many things that happened while we were trying to make it — all of it outside of our control. So, it’s so wonderful — you persevere and it makes it sweeter, and we are very close to finishing now. So, we’re already starting to feel that those difficulties make it even more meaningful, and they connect to the movie, that’s what I loved about it. I’m not too far from this little kid and it’s wonderfully meta.

(Right) Director Enrico Casarosa gives feedback during a story review, as seen on July 18, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

For Andrea, what was it about La Luna and this movie you loved?

WARREN: To answer your question about La Luna, the little story I always tell about it is, long before I was even working on this film, I was in the kitchen chopping vegetables and things for dinner, and my kids were flipping around stuff on the television. And I heard the music for La Luna and without even exactly remembering what it was, I dropped what I was doing and ran around the corner and sat down with them. And I think that there’s just something about that short: It’s such a beautiful experience and I think I just wanted that in that moment. I find it so poetic. I love that it pulls the essential elements of relationships, of the beauty, and it’s so sweet. So, it’s always moved me so much. It was really delightful to feel like I got to be a part of bringing more of that into the world.

There is clearly a lot of influence from 2-D animation in how the film was more stylized and how the realistic effects of Pixar were pulled back to create that caricature-inspired design. Did you ever consider making this film 2D? Or was it only ever a 3D film because it’s Pixar?

LUCA

CASAROSA: That’s a good question. Someone asked me that when I was making La Luna, because, you know, I pitched La Luna with all watercolors and pencils. At Pixar, we have amazing tools, and we have amazing technology with art. So, I always felt there was a way to make something even more special by the meeting of the two things. And that is also more immersive. I did not want to lose immersiveness. And there’s something about the 3D world that I find a little bit more transportive. And so that is the plus of Pixar’s amazing tools, to me, that it takes me there even moreso. Now, I love 2D and I absolutely adore it, but it’s because of Pixar, but it’s also because I think we can make something even more special.

After Luca’s first trailer was released and people got a chance to meet Luca and Alberto and get a sense for the movie’s tone, there was speculation as to whether Luca might be Disney and Pixar’s first film about, queer characters on a journey in self-discovery. From your perspectives, were people reading a bit too much or too deeply or projecting onto what they’ve seen of the film? And could you speak a bit about what sort of emotional dynamics that you really wanted to center within Luca, the film?

CASAROSA: Yeah, that’s a good question. I was really keen to talk about a friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends comes in to complicate things. Interestingly, even narratively, once Giulia comes into the picture and we looked at the structure of it, sometimes the story would pull you toward some puppy love or romance, and to be completely honest, I wanted to talk about friendships. So, we really said, “Well, this is that moment before those things come in to complicate the picture.” So, that was really never our plan and this was about their friendship in that pre-puberty world… We had a metaphor for that. Alberto was Luca’s shove off the cliff. You know? There is that kind of friendship that is gonna push you into trouble, push you into change, push you into finding yourself. I also felt like it’s that moment in life when you’re leaving the bubble of your family. They’re not really seeing Luca. Grandma’s the only one who can see him a little bit. And so, Alberto appreciating him. “Oh, that was cool. What’d you do there?” So, we made sure that there’s an appreciation — they’re both nerding out about the human world. So, we wanted to make sure they see each other, they bring something to each other, and that Luca is also seeing Alberto and appreciating Alberto. They’re both lonely, there’s a loneliness at the heart of it that I think is filling a void in all these kids because they feel a little bit odd and lonely. Giulia is the same thing, we wanted to make sure there’s a little loneliness so there’s the space that gets filled with an important friendship. That’s a lot of the things we talked about that felt really important to talk about in a way that, especially today, like, how hard it sometimes is to have the meaningful strong friendships. How do differences challenge us? Right? Because I think we had so many people saying “Oh, I had an Alberto.” It’s interesting, not a lot of people said, “I’m an Alberto,” which tells you something about some [of the?] characters. But, I think it felt very true to a lot of our relationships and how, confronting each other, understanding what we are and what we’re not, is held by someone by your side that is kind of your opposite.

Disney and Pixar’s Luca is a coming-of-age story about a boy sharing summer adventures with a newfound best friend. But their fun is threatened by a secret: they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface. Directed by Enrico Casarosa (La Luna) and produced by Andrea Warren (Lava, Cars 3), Luca opens in U.S. theaters June 18, 2021. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

How important do you think, diversity is necessary in today’s world? Luca’s about Italian people from Italy; now Disney has already brought on one-off projects, based in countries in Asia and Europe as well. So how important is such diversity and do you think it’s necessary in today’s world? And,  is there a necessity to maintain a balance when using something unique as Italian’s culture without making it look too stereotypical?

WARREN: We didn’t want to water those stories down, we want to tell the real story, we want it to be authentic. And so, you know, obviously Enrico was a resource of a lot of that, but we did also create — we call it a Pixar culture trust — which includes different folks from that area and it was really wonderful to hear a little bit of a different perspective on what authenticity means. Because, as you can imagine, you know, everybody has a little bit of a different experience. So, we really appreciated all of that, all of that advice and input to create the best version and the most authentic version that we could, of Portorosso.

CASAROSA: It’s an interesting question. I keep on thinking, you know, of course the closest thing we have in the movie is someone who’s having to hide his own difference. So, we thought a lot about that. Of course, our main theme is really friendship. But then this sense of self-acceptance is a huge part of this. Talking to the stereotypes — it’s an interesting challenge, and that is why we need the culture trust to double check all our assumptions, and how do we bring someone to the place in an authentic way, in a loving way. This is a love letter. So,  again, a lot of the wonderful details that I hope people can appreciate and feel like they’re being taken there. I think storytelling in general, right, is let’s walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I do think that is still one of the goals of storytelling. I love to be transported through somebody that isn’t me. So, I hope that this movie can also do that as far as being taken to a different place. There’s always some empathy building to me in all the storytelling, and that is a wonderful thing to aim for in storytelling, I think.

How can fans and viewers at home enhance their experience while watching on Disney+?

WARREN: I always think, “Make some pesto.”

CASAROSA: We should make pesto popcorn-that does not sound like a good mix, though. Some Italians are probably cringing at that idea. We are sad that we can’t experience this together in the theaters. We make these movies for the large screen, and for them to be experienced together. In a few parts of the world they will be experienced that way. But Disney+ is wonderful because so many people will get to see it. So many kids will get to see it. And to be honest, we put so many layers and secrets and things that we’re really excited that there is an ability to watch it repeatedly.  There’s a lot of “Oh, look at that guy in the background doing this and that.” We are very intentional in making this such a rich world that I’m very excited about repeated viewings because of that. The other side that we start talking about is, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool to do a viewing party and I can start telling you about how that sign means this or that is my favorite Italian author. You should read his books.” That is one thought that we’re thinking about. And, of course, our crew is hard at work at some little documentaries that give you a bit of a glimpse behind the scenes. But those are the kind of things that come to mind. I do love to think that despite this new world where, sadly, we’re not quite-yet able to be safely in theaters in big numbers, how we make that viewing experience special? I would love to have viewing parties. That is something that’s on our list of things to try.


Regardless of the distribution model, Pixar always brings its A-game. And I, for one, can’t wait to see Casarosa’s great work come to life in all its glory this summer!

Luca charms its way on to Disney+ on June 18! And check out the adorable new poster for the film below!

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