Before the first Disney Plus Premier Access launched in March (the film is now available to all Disney Plus subscribers), TechRadar sat down with the head of the film's story, Fawn Veerasunthorn and Disney environment pattern maker Liza Rhea to discuss how Raya reflects Disney's progression forbecome a more inclusive studio.
We also talked about how the cast of the film contributed the push towards greater representation and the difficulties of making a film during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Film making during a pandemic
(Image credit: Paul Felix / Disney)
Raya and the Last Dragon follows Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a warrior in search of the last living dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) after a cataclysmic event The Druun - an evil and stupid plague born of negativity - has wiped out largepans of the human population of Kumandra, and it's up to Raya to find Sisu and destroy the Druun menace for good.
It 's not the case. be easy. Sisu's Dragon Gem - a magical stone that ended Druun's first attack 500 years earlier - was destroyed in an altercation mass between the warring factions of Kumandra, and it isRaya to repair the gem and restore peace to her world.
The plot of Disney's latest film may be built around working together to achieve a common goal, but the team The film's 900-member staff had no idea its themes would soon find its way into the real world.
At the height of Raya's production in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. With the team now forced to complete development remotely, many issues arose. Equipment had to be purchased and delivered to over 400 homes, internet issues had to be resolved, workflows and pipelines were changed, and spontaneous visits to people's offices were no longer .
In the cases of Veerasunthorn and Rhea, however, these issues were paltry compared to a much bigger issue: family.
"One of the biggest challenges was the work-life balance, ”says Veerasunthorn. “Suddenly the schools closed, so I had a child - who was in kindergarten - who was at home all the time and running around. She had to come to the meetings [about the production of Raya] because there were no other options. "
" I was five and a half months pregnant when the lockdown took place, "Rhea adds. “I was concerned about how I would work ergonomically at home. But Disney worked so quickly to get us everything we needed. It was something we had to figure out quickly. “When can we get the job done? "And" When can we meet? But there was a lot of leeway in figuring out how to get this going again.
Celebrate Southeast Asian culture
(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)
Before the pandemic, the biggest challenge Team Raya faced was to authentically recreate a region of the world often overlooked in mainstream popular culture: Southeast Asia, which Disneyhad not yet explored in detail in his films.
Although the film is set in the fictional land of Kumandra, paying homage to the variety of real-world cultures and traditions in Southeast Asia was a key focus throughout production.
In order to portray Southeast Asian heritage and lifestyles on screen, the Raya team was made up of Disney employees with ties to the region and experts from different countries in the real world.
Thai-born Veerasunthorn, alongside screenwriters Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen, whose roots reside in Malaysia and Vietnam respectively, provided an overview of the film's many details. Disney 's Southeast Story Trust - made up of prominent academics led by Laotian visual anthropologist Steve Arounsack - also ensured that the details, including costumes, foods, fighting styles and lore strong Southeast Asian women leaders, soient faithfully recreated.
The pressure to authentically represent his and other cultures, in Veerasunthorn's opinion, was evident from the start. Still, a general sense of motivation to provide a true representation of Southeast Asia eventually took precedence over his worries.
“There are many overlapping lifestyles between different crops in this region, ”explains Veerasunthorn. "The proximity of water and its importance in our rituals, awareness and respect for the invisible world, and the importance of family and respect for your elders. This will be the first time I see my culture portrayed on this scale before, so it is necessary to get it right. When you think of Asian representation, people think of East Asia. I think this film will be able to show that there are different, Persian and beautiful cultures on the continent.
For membersof the team who do not have these experiences, research trips (made before the pandemic hit) to countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia helped to immerse them in different cultures . Communication between Raya's consultants for Southeast Asia and the many film departments, such as modeling and animation, was also vital to ensure that the environments, architecture and people of Kumandra were done correctly.
"Even though this is a fantasy adventure film, you can really feel them [the cultures of Southeast Asia] in environments and works of art, ”said Rhea. “As modelers, we've worked closely with the Art Director (David Wormsley) and the visual effects team, and we've got a library of photos and videos to watch and really put ourselves in that open space. . I think that goldAs people see the movie, they will see that the environments are so rich in inspiration from Southeast Asian cultures.
Given the distinctions between the nations and cultures of Southeast Asia, it was crucial that each was uniquely represented. The five lands of Kumandra - Heart, Talon, Fang, Spine and Tail - have all been given their own personalities and aesthetics to provide them with individual identities and to tie into the film's goal of inclusion and persistence.
Although each country's environments differ in style and tone, there is one constant throughout that points to a universal heritage of Southeast Asia: the preeminent role that plays water in the region.
Along with Sisu is inspired by the Naga serpentine dragons of Southeast Asia and the historical context of water in his culture, Rh L ea's experience working on another water-based movie - Frozen 2 - helped create the right environment.t for the aquatic footage from Raya.
"Our departments are
Character charm and missing musicals
(Image credit: Ami Thompson / Disney)
Selecting the right actors for the various roles of Raya was equally important from a representational standpoint. become an extremely controversial topic within the film industry and only recently Marvel Studios (a Disney affiliate) admitted regret over choosing a white actor - Tilda Swinton - as The Ancient One, an individual of Himalayan origin, in Doctor Strange from 2016.
As Disney continues to struggle with, recognize and have own contentious story with cultural stereotypes, predominantly Asian cast de Raya seems like a step in the right direction - even though the film is aimed at has drawn criticism from some quarters for its lack of representation of Southeast Asian actors.
Disney therefore has some way to go to rectify these issues. . Where the studio excels, however, is creating believable and relevant relationships between the various protagonists of its films. In Raya and Sisu, Disney's latest animated feature features two of these characters who come to life in stellar fashion through their voice actorss.
"Every time Awkwafina recorded, I looked forward to hearing what she brought," says Veerasunthorn. "Sometimes she imposed and the directors encouraged her. And, for Kelly, I think there is a subtlety to her playing that makes you feel like a warrior and a very nice person that you want to get to know. You want to show strength, but not in a stoic or serious way. I think Kelly really gave him a good balance.
Raya and the Last Dragon has a lot of traditional Disney characteristics, but perhaps its most surprising exclusion is the songs to sing. As good as James Newton Howard's moving score is, some fans may be disappointed that Raya's cast doesn't regularly engage in the song. Veerasunthorn reveals, however, that this was never the plan.
"It didn't start out as a musical to begin with," she explains. "Our realsateurs were intending to try and do something contemporary, so we had to use split screen, quick cuts, and comedy that the team really enjoys. It was cool that we have a movie that loo ks like a historical era play. The story is classic but still has all the heart and fun of Disney.
Raya and the Last Dragon represents a significant step forward for Disney. This isn't the first of his many films to begin to deliver on its promise of greater representation, but it is a film that celebrates the originality and uniqueness of Southeast Asia. -Is with such stunning details.
With its Stories Matter program leading the charge in redefining the way whose The Walt Disney Company reflects the monof those around it, we should see a more persified lineup of Disney movies in the future. Providing a space to tell stories about different cultures and regions of the world is imperative these days, and it's a hope many viewers are hoping Disney will follow.
"We knew we wanted to do it. of our film a contemporary subject so that today's audiences can enjoy it, ”says Veerasunthorn. "But we also want people to have a conversation with their family members about these topics [surrounding
Raya and the Last Dragon is now available to stream for everyone on Disney Plus.