‘Wish’ Directors on the Power of Making Wishes and Honoring Old and New Animation Techniques

Disney recently held a special presentation of their forthcoming Wish for a select group of journalists. And we walked away from the experience feeling excited to see generations of visual artistry and wonderful music merging together to commemorate the studio’s 100th anniversary. So it seems fitting that Chris Buck (Tarzan, Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (story artist for Raya and the Last Dragon) be paired to direct Wish. And we got to talk to Buck and Veerasunthorn about the upcoming film and what it means to celebrate such an occasion.

Disney’s latest tells the origins story of the Wishing Star, and how one sharp and witty idealistic 17-year-old named Asha (Ariana DeBose) makes a passionate plea to help the people of the Kingdom of Rosas, and how the cosmic forces answer her by sending Star, a literal star whose boundless energy and one-of-a-kind magic cannot be contained.

The Nerds of Color: I couldn’t help but notice that this film has an interesting pairing of different generations with its producers and the two of you, the directors. It’s quite significant given that it’s Disney Animation Studio’s 100 anniversary, where there’s a merging of two different animation styles, the old 2D styles and the new CG. I was wondering why Jennifer Lee thought the two of you would be a good pair for Wish?

Buck: [Laughs] Because the old and the new. I’m old legacy.

Veerasunthorn: Because we enjoy the diversity in our story room. It creates a richness.

Buck: This is true.

Veerasunthorn: I think we have a lot in common in terms of like we grew up with Disney films. even though different eras. But, you know, we connect over like what Disney film has inspired us. You know, the aspect of joy, hope, imagination, Pixie Dust, believing in your dreams and never giving up? I think that part is like across generations has been an important DNA of Disney.

Buck: I didn’t realize till Fawn told me that actually Tarzan brought her together with her husband.

Veerasunthorn: My husband was in college for biology. And he saw Tarzan. to seeing the animation of that was blown away changed the whole course of his life. Start taking life drawing and went. Went to art college. That’s where we met. And now that we have a young daughter, often tell Chris that because of you, because you decided to pursue your dreams to become an animator. Our family has to thank you Chris.

INTRODUCING ASHA – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” sharp-witted idealist Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) makes a wish so powerful, it’s answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” features original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice. The epic animated musical opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Because it all started with the idea of making a wish upon a star, Wish celebrates that common theme that has recurred throughout most of the Disney films. So I was wondering why it was so important to circle back to that notion for the studio’s 100 anniversary while also honoring the classic hand-drawn techniques of the past with the new modern CG, and how this merger would help usher in the future of the studio?

Buck: Well, from the beginning to do a film that celebrates 100th anniversary, it just seemed perfect that we embrace our legacy, which is so much fantastic hand drawn animation, and with those gorgeous watercolor backgrounds and styles that we did, along with, you know, the recent, our recent history, which is the with the computer and the CG.

So that was important to us to be able to do a style that would embrace both. We didn’t know exactly how we would do it yet. We had done some shorts here at the studio, that were testing those things out. but we’ve never done a full feature. And so it was up to everybody. We’re you know, our desire was there. And then the once you put that out there to all our incredible artists and technicians, you know, they’re the first ones to say ‘we don’t know how we will do this, but we want to do it.’ And so they would go for it and they would keep pursuing and pushing to create the new technology that we’ve got.

So you’ve got that again beautiful watercolor styling some some from Snow White and and there’s also design elements from sleeping beauty design elements was from from Alice. But then the CG world you know of all being able to move around and have this incredible thing and, and then the characters themselves were able to do some line work around the characters that harken back to to handdrawn. Now that was no small feet either. Which lines you know, do you do keep which ones because lines do not need, you know, to keep it aesthetically pleasing.

Veerasunthorn: There’s a lot of proprietary technology that was created that were created for this film specifically, that we know it will be a building blocks for other films in the future. And we thought what a fantastic way to kick off the new century, the next 100 by making something new.

Visual development art of King Magnifico from Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish” by Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay (Associate Production Designer). © 2023 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Did you learn anything about yourselves as storytellers as you screened the film and saw the rewrites?

Buck: I, myself, personally, you know, I want something that has heart. But I also want to make sure it’s always got some entertainment to it. So I’m always looking for how to squeeze the most entertainment out of something, whether it’s, whether it’s humor, or drama, or whatever it is, but always kind of, we always kind of push ourselves to say, well, this is, this is good, it’s okay, but can it be better? Could it be funnier? Could it be more exciting, whatever it is. So I think that’s, I know, that’s something that I always look for.

Veerasunthorn: In animation, we look for specificity and I think that’s what make whatever we’re making unique, you know, like, we’re not searching for perfection, per se. We’re looking for like quirky little things. And, and for me, I always coming from story, I always step back to look at the big picture. Because you can have so many fun things, but at the heart of it all, each sequence represent a point of view with a point of view on wishing and what it means for each of our character, what it means to have a wish, what it means to pursue a wish.

Wish opens in theaters on November 22, 2023.

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