RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON Video Interview With Directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada & Writer Qui Nguyen

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON <font color=red>Video</font> Interview With Directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada & Writer Qui Nguyen

As Raya and the Last Dragon becomes available to stream today on Disney+ Premier Access, check out our video interview with directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada and acclaimed writer Qui Nguyen.

After nearly six years of development and a lengthy delay due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Raya and the Last Dragon is finally now streaming on Disney+ Premier Access and ahead of its release, we were granted an exclusive opportunity to sit down with the filmmakers of the latest instant Disney classic. 

With the pandemic interrupting production around this time last year, the Raya team was forced to take the film home, just months after the new filmmaking team, including directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada and writer Qui Nguyen, had come aboard, so more than 95% of the film had to be completed from the homes of over 500 animators, writers, cast, and so on. 

Director Don Hall elaborates on the daunting task they faced and how they came together to overcome the challenge to deliver arguably one of Disney Animation's finest films to date.

"Just for context, the movie’s been around for six years, but we came on about a year and a half ago. So, we hadn’t gotten very far in terms of taking the story where we wanted to take it and we’d only been on it a few months. I think there may have been a handful of shots that were approved in animation and then we went on lockdown. So, at least 95% of the movie was produced at home, at various homes, 450-500 homes, and so, it was a massive undertaking as you can imagine.

Technologically, it was daunting, but our tech team got us up and running over a weekend and we didn’t skip a beat. The bigger challenge was just the Disney cultural challenge because we were used to collaborating very closely within the same building, seeing each other all the time, for lunch, for coffee, passing each other in the hallway, we’re always talking story and ideas can come from anywhere, at any time. That’s just sort of the culture we have. Then, we go home, on lockdown. That was the hardest part really, just trying to - you can’t recreate it - but, we tried very hard to give everybody as much trust as we could. We had to trust people more than we ever did and I think the results speak for themselves in terms of the film because I think it’s our most beautiful film, and I think our crew had the best time making it despite the ridiculously hard conditions they were making it in."

The critically-acclaimed film introduces a number of new Disney heroes, none bigger than the titular Raya, who firmly establishes herself as the latest member in the pantheon of inspiring female Disney leads, and is yet another example of Disney expanding their scope to include more diverse lead characters. Director Carlos López Estrada tells us,  

"Raya is a very particular kind of project because the three of us came on board a year and a half ago after the project had already been developed for four years, but I know that we’re all developing our other different movies now that Raya’s done, we’re going back to our personal projects and those come from a really beautiful, introspective process in which the filmmaker is asked some really profound, existential questions about what are the things the character’s world that most matter to you and why. It really starts with that basic question, then from there you come up with some ideas and they’re all really vague, just possibilities and through a set of exercises, lots of research, lots of conversations with the development team and then, eventually you start bringing in collaborators, whether it’s Qui as a writer or you know, a production designer.

You start developing these ideas and start creating characters and then start creating worlds what the development team is so good at is always reminding you why you wanted to tell this movie in the first place. What is that seed of inspiration that drove you to want to tell the story? Already now, but more and more in the years coming on, you’ll see that the filmmakers at Disney Animation are all making projects that they feel extremely passionate about, extremely connected to and that speak to them as individuals. There’s also a very diverse group of filmmakers now, so you’re going to get to see some really, really incredible stories coming out of there, some that are announced like Encanto, and some that are not announced, but I can tell you from being inside, I am very excited for all these projects to start seeing the light of day because they’re beautiful, incredible, complex and very, very diverse."

While the directors would have loved to record their immensely talented cast altogether, the actors' busy schedules, as well as the pandemic, prevented them from experimenting too much with the actors playing off one another. Hall also touches on how the script remains in constant flux throughout the course of production, so as they inch closer and closer to the finish line, it becomes increasingly more difficult to coordinate schedules and it's usually just easier to record the actors one-by-one. 

"No, I wish we could record the actors together, but it’s just never, in all the films I’ve been on anyways, it’s rare that that can happen. A lot of it has to do with the actors’ schedules actually and the fact that it’s not like we write a screenplay and then just make that screenplay. The writing process continues on throughout the whole process of the film. So, we’re asking these actors to come back and do multiple sessions. 6- 8- 10- however many it takes. So, it’s almost impossible to coordinate actors' busy schedules with each other.

For instance, I know on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson had his actors come for maybe a week and was really able to record a lot of them together in scenes, which is great, but the problem with that, for our process, that wouldn’t work because we don’t have a locked script. Our script is still not locked and the movie is almost out. If we could make changes, we’re constantly wanting to fuss with stuff and so, we haven’t quite cracked that ability to record everybody together just because of our process, but one of these days, that is my dream because I think that would be really fun. Oftentimes, I’m reading with the actors and I’m terrible (*laughs*), so I’d rather get the real actors in there."

In the very early stages of development, a small group of Disney artists made a special trip to Southeast Asia where they fully immersed themselves in the culture and environment and began to slowly, but surely, visualize what would eventually become Kumandra. Estrada elaborates on how the film initially materialized and also seems to be optimistic that fans will one day get to return to the magical world of Kumandra.  

"It’s a really long process as Don mentioned, it’s almost six years in the making. It all started with a research trip that many of our artists went on in Southeast Asia. In those different countries in Southeast Asia, they met with different people there, they got to go to temples, they got to stay in people’s homes and I think that just immerses you into the world that you’re going to draw inspiration from and they bring all that knowledge back with them and share it with the rest of the studio.

What also happened is that from that trip, there was a group of collaborators, who we call the Southeast Asia Story Trust, who remained apart of the team and helped us in the architecture, the music, the crafting of every little thing you see on the screen to make sure that we were really representing cultures that we were getting inspirations from accurately. So, it’s a really long process and a lot of it services the story like once you realize what journey you’re sending your characters on and what are the places they have to go, then you start creating locations, creating the environments, and designing all these things that support the character’s journey.

In the end, our team really did build a world and because it’s CG, it’s not just like they have to work from certain angles, they have to generate the entire world with rivers, fields, rice fields, valleys, and all kinds of things that you only get to see a very small glimpse of in the movie. Hopefully, one day, there’s some other iteration. Namaari returns that get us to see more of the world of Kumandra."

Check out our full video interview with directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada and writer Qui Nguyen below and don't forget to like and subscribe

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well.
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