We’ve got yet another talent over at Pixar hitting feature director status, the director behind the Academy Award nominated short film, La Luna, Enrico Casarosa. With elements from his own childhood in the mix, his upcoming feature directorial debut Luca puts the spotlight on the title character (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and his best friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer.) While they may appear to be two boys having a summer of a lifetime on the Italian Riviera, they’re actually sea creatures from a hidden realm. While they can adopt a human form while on land, if they come in contact with water, their true forms will be revealed.
With the new trailer for Luca now available to watch, I got the chance to hop on a call with Casarosa to discuss his experience making the film. Check out our full conversation below to hear all about the Luca voice cast, the inspiration behind his sea creatures, the magical and biological qualities of their transformation, and so much more!
Luca is set to hit theaters on June 18, 2021.
Of all the other films you’ve worked on over at Pixar, whether it’s as a storyboard artist or in any capacity, which would you say prepared you the most for directing your own feature film?
ENRICO CASAROSA: Boy, that’s a very good question. I do say this often, that making a short doesn’t fully prepare you for it. The journey is much more arduous and longer. It’s a true marathon. I pitched this almost five years ago. I think I would say, because of the stamina required, the longer productions where I was there for the longest – it makes me think about Up. I think [that] might be the one. I was also really early on Ratatouille, so both the ones that you have to stay with and keep on working at it. We worked so hard on making these movies work and they never work upfront, and you slowly work and work and work to make them better. So that is the hardest part of the process and you need a lot of stamina, and always getting back up and making it; let’s just keep on moving it forward, you know?
So being a story artist certainly helps with that because you are the person who ultimately is there like, ‘Okay, we just put up a screening. Let’s fix these five things and here we go again!’ So that was a big part of it. Weirdly, La Luna was so smooth. I had boarded it and it was one of those kind of gifted little projects that came out pretty baked. Longer movies are harder puzzles, so I think I had the luck – and the not-so-luck – to not incur a whole lot of troubles or challenges [on La Luna]. This one, making these movies is a much more fulfilling and challenging experience.
When it comes to specific animation techniques or tools being used, is there anything happening for the very first time on Luca that people should keep an eye out for?
CASAROSA: Maybe not specifically tools, but we’ve worked hard on the transformation, as you could tell from the teaser. We have changelings and that is not a small project for us. We have to really figure out how something magical [and] organic works. We’ve done many, many iterations of that, so that was a big effort. For me, the other big, big effort was finding a different look. So, you’re using the same tools roughly and you’re not completely reinventing, but you’re trying to bring some warmth, some texture, some imperfection. The computer naturally kind of wants to be a little bit realistic and perfect. So, for me, it was like, why don’t we bring some painterly vibes to our pictures? How do we bring texture so that it’s a little more imperfect? And watercolor paper. I love to draw and I love to see the hand of the artist showing through and being a little bit expressive – in the world, because we were also wanting to take people to [see] Italy in this wonderfully enhanced and stylized way, but also in performances and the characters, wanting to make them feel a little bit handmade.
You just use the word “changeling.” Is that the official word you’re using to describe the characters in creature form?
CASAROSA: That’s a good question. I think it’s a little more, what you hear in a more general sense? I think there’s a lot of stories that certainly inspired us, you know, the selkies or the foxes from Japan. I love those kinds of stories. Something that isn’t what it appears to be, I always love. So it does come a bit from those kinds of stories, but it’s maybe too general a way to put it. We do have sea monsters that have kind of developed almost a defensive way of hiding in plain sight, so that when they’re dry, when they’re out in the open, they can look like humans but they’re not truly humans, and water will bring it back, so it will truly show [them]. And we have this fun, dangerous tension of, ‘If you get splashed with water, you’re in trouble,’ and that is how this transformation works. It’s a little bit magical, but it’s actually a little more biological in some weird way, because we let octopus’ camouflage inspire some of the look, so we were also looking a little bit at, how could it really work?
When it comes to the sea monster element, is it going to be like Inside Out, Coco and now also Soul where you have two distinct locations in the movie? Or does most of the story rake place on land?
CASAROSA: Our protagonist comes from a hidden community and so there is part of the movie there, but the majority is a little bit more into where they go, which is of course, the neighboring town. There is two worlds. The motion is a tiny bit more toward the human world. Also because in many ways, we want to take all of the world to Italy, [to] this little quaint, small Italian town, which is a lot like the kind of low towns I grew up [in] when I was a kid and spent summers in. So a little more of that, but yes, you’re right, there is that duality.
Speaking of your own childhood, I was reading the quotes you gave about your own experience, describing yourself as a shy kid and having met a troublemaker of sorts. So in the movie, who’s the shy kid and who’s the troublemaker?
CASAROSA: It’s definitely Luca. The protagonist is the closest thing to me. And Alberto, who is the other kid, is definitely the troublemaker. Actually, my best friend’s name is Alberto, so we left the name. It was such a wonderful friendship. We were close. We found each other around 11 or 12, right when you step [towards], ‘I need to kind of try and separate from the family a little bit,’ try to look for yourself. And he had complete freedom and he was passionate and he had a new thing every day, so it really helped me kind of get out of my comfort zone. And we were very different. And when we started talking about relationships like that, it’s been wonderful to find how many people have that kind of experience of figuring out who you are compared to your closest best friend. You know, finding the limits. What do you take from them? What did they teach you?That is a big part of the movie, their relationship and how do they learn from each other?
And the fact that we were spending summers on the Riviera. I had the luck and privilege of growing up there. We were from Genoa, which is [a] town on the Riviera, and then would spend the summers on the coast. There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about the summer of our youth, and how much happens in the summer and the period. We even really rooted it in the 50s and 60s even though it’s not entirely when I grew up, but there was something about the golden age that feels timeless. The music is wonderful in that time, the design, the cars, the Vespas, so we wanted to capture a little bit of this timelessness of summer.
Most of the music is from the era. The designs are pretty specifically from late 50s to 60s. We usually look at a range without being too uptight about it, but yeah, there’s something beautiful about those scooters. There’s something beautiful about those old Fiats. It’s part of wanting to take people there in all the little specific ways – a jukebox, the bar, the design of a sign, the boats. There’s beautiful fishermen boats from Italy that are from Roman times. So we wanted to bring as much specificity and richness to it.
We know Jacob Tremblay is part of the voice cast. Are you allowed to reveal anyone else on the roster?
CASAROSA: Yes! It’s an amazing cast. Jack Dylan Grazer is our wonderful troublemaker. Amazing, naturally confident, but also vulnerable. There’s a depth there. We have a newcomer, Emma Berman, as Julia, the wonderful outsider, misfit girl they find in town. There’s some kinship because she’s odd in her own wonderful way. She’s from San Francisco. We found her here on our search, and bubbling with joy and wonderful textured voice. She has an intensity that’s natural.
We have Maya Rudolph as Luca’s mother and we have Jim Gaffigan as his dad. Such an amazing pleasure to work with them – from their homes. We had a microphone set up, sadly. We haven’t been able to really be face-to-face, but boy, they’re such professionals, amazing range, both complete comedians, improvisers. We had so much fun improvising, but also them bringing the depth [and] warmth and, especially in my eyes, this strength. She’s a stern mother. She’s a difficult and very controlling mother, but there’s this other warmth to her that balances it.
Some of the supporting characters are Italian. We found an Italian comedian as our villain. He’s a bully kid in town. His name is Saverio Raimondo. Massimo, the big fisherman, Marco Barricelli, who’s this theater actor and director who has this booming voice. There’s so much. We’ve had so much fun with this cast.
Are you completely done or are you still doing any remote voice recording?
CASAROSA: Casting wise and recording, we should be done. We hope to be done. You never know. [Laughs] You never know. But we’re running the last couple of miles if you look at the marathon. We are still animating and getting to the last mile, which is tricky because then you’re a little bit like – it’s a marathon if you had a cutoff, I think. [Laughs] We can’t go past a certain time because we need to finish it in time, but it is an exciting time because the characters have come to life, you keep on seeing performances. It’s so much fun to work with the animation when the characters really come to life.
Because I have a few minutes with Jacob later, is there anything he did with his performance that surprised you?
CASAROSA: I love how earnest and innocent he is naturally. And he’s playful and he’s not afraid to try stuff so it was so much fun to improvise with him. I think he’s also really fun with anxiety. Finding Luca was also about finding what holds him back. So stressed out, overly anxious, polite. It was so much fun to find the slightly comedic side of being an introvert and being overly polite in weird moments. He’s so good at that. I really enjoyed that. But yeah, there’s an earnestness also in his curiosity and pathos. It’s pretty amazing. He truly has the talent.
And it was so much fun; he’s actually one of the few actors we had time to work with before the pandemic, so there it was so much fun. We skateboarded a couple of times together at Pixar. He was able to kind of hang out at Pixar with us, which was like, ‘Oh, I wish we had more of those opportunities.’ But he’s such a pleasure to work with.
Plus, what were Joss Whedon’s contributions to the script?
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