Over the years, Pixar has made a point of including certain elements in its films (such as the voice of John Ratzenberger and the Pizza Planet truck, both of which will be found in Brave). One such tradition is the short film that precedes the feature. These films are usually around 5 minutes long and are often tied thematically or aesthetically with the film to which they are attached; for example, the short with Up was Partly Cloudy, which featured a cloud as the main character; much of Up took place in the air as the house flew to Venezuela. As it happens, Brave is no exception. When audiences settle into the theater on June 22, they will find an extra treat; they will find La Luna to be an ideal appetizer.
Thematically, the Oscar-nominated La Luna covers some of the same territory as Brave, that of family relations. Where the main film focuses on a mother-daughter conflict, the short addresses three generations: a little boy, his father and grandfather, as the boy joins the family business. Artistically, the films share a rich and painterly quality. Where Brave features the saturated greens of the Scottish Highlands, La Luna contrasts deep blues and browns with the glowing gold of the moon and stars. All of the textures on every surface are hand-painted watercolors, giving the film a lustrous and organic feel. It’s frankly gorgeous to look at, and the story is charming.
During a visit to Pixar, I was able to meet with the creator-director of La Luna, Enrico Casarosa, to talk about the film, his career and his online art event. Producer Katherine Sarafian introduced him by promising he would “reveal the secrets of La Luna,” to which he replied:
Casarosa: There isn’t any big secrets. It’s just that I grew up with my dad and grandfather not getting along. When my grandmother died, our grandfather moved in with us, and they would never quite, you know, they would talk to me but wouldn’t talk to each other.
So I was a bit of the bone of contention often, and if you go back twenty-five years, and you see the kitchen and the dinners, it would have been a lot like this boat where it would be, like, my dad and grandfather, and I’d be in the middle. So that was something visually that I wanted to capture. And so it felt like the right kind of memory and personal story to then convey a coming of age, you know, a boy that has to find his own way when someone is telling him “do this – no, no, no, no, no, do that.”
And what do you do? So I remember feeling, “well, if I do this, I’m gonna disappoint him, and if I do that…” so it was my way for once to make them get along, you know, [LAUGHS], and to kinda bring up a little bit of that feeling, you know?
MacQuarrie: Do they know they’re the inspiration for that story?
Casarosa: Yeah, my grandfather’s long passed, but, my dad has enjoyed the short and we’ve had some good chats about it. He’s definitely told me, like, wow, I didn’t know that you felt that so much.
MacQuarrie: That you were so affected.
Casarosa: Yeah. And then he proceeded to tell me all the things that were wrong with my grandfather!
MacQuarrie: The reason that you felt that way was because of him, right?
Casarosa: Yeah, well, and, you know, I didn’t think I would fix them, you know, with this short, but, as I’m saying, maybe I made them get along for a little bit, [LAUGHS]. But then, you know, and I thought it would be fun to put this kind of slightly… I always like mundane things with very fantastical things. So, I thought that it’d be really fun to think of janitors. You know, what could janitors on the moon be doing? So it’s a very mythical setting but it’d be fun if what they’re doing is actually quite mundane, you know? And, so that was a little bit, the fantastical story that I put together with this more personal story.
MacQuarrie: It was beautiful. It was adorable.
Casarosa: Thank you, yeah. I definitely thought a lot, you know, I have a 4-year-old daughter and I thought a lot about, uh, a sense of wonder, a sense of slowly showing cards and making people curious and kids curious. I thought about kids a lot in making it because I enjoy even, as an adult, things that make me feel like a kid a little bit. So I thought it’d be in first important to give a nice message to the little ones like trust your instinct. Just go for it. And then, for us old, uh, older guys and girls to feel a little bit like kids again for five minutes….
MacQuarrie: Is doing the short a similar timeframe process, the same as doing a feature film, or is it a different pace?
Casarosa: Yeah. It’s very much the same process. We’re usually on tools that are plenty older. We’re like, the cheap version and the fast version of it, and we have to fight for anyone to help us, on the crew, so, we, they’re done scrappily, but that’s kinda what’s great about it, too; because you have a smaller crew, there’s a great camaraderie, everybody has to do a little more, so you to learn more, and you get to have a little more responsibility, so a lot of people are kinda using it as a new stepping stone.
I kinda equate it to the old jalopy you inherit from your parents, you know. They give you the keys to the little car, and maybe a little beat up, but it’s kinda fun, it’s your first car, and it’s more maneuverable than the big car, and so it’s a really fun process. But yeah, ultimately the same exact, uh, the kind of things that the new movie … a movie like Brave has usually new technology, that we didn’t have. And that’s how, I wish we had. Just for example, Brave has amazing hair as you probably heard. We wish we had that because we had a hard time making our talking beard and mustaches.
You know, we’re kind of trying to make the short pretty quickly, and, you know, this was a good short that we thought we could produce, because it didn’t have that many huge characters or huge crowds or sets, so they kind of like, this would be a good one to try and make it with this much time. And we did, and we made it even much longer than they gave us the budget for, so it was an interesting challenge. Because I also wanted to let it breathe and have space, rhythm, you know, I wanted it to be lyrical. Our story reels were four minutes and 45 seconds, and they gave us a budget for four-and-a-half minutes. We ended up with a, uh, it’s almost seven minutes, so we we’re able to stretch that money.
MacQuarrie: Do you have any animators that are your inspiration?
Casarosa: I’m a huge fan of Miyazaki, and that’s probably the biggest influence I have, you know? Specifically, the look of it was something — we wanted to do something different and, what I thought would support this kind of fable-like story was something that could be a little illustrative, a little more like a kid’s book, a little more, almost like, uh, we went a little bit theatrical this time. It almost feels like there’s a backdrop to this scene, and we thought that that could create this feeling of a slightly different reality.
So we did a lot of watercolors and pastels and really scanned them and used them in the short. So we, I also love the idea of bringing some of the imperfection and kind of texture that real traditional media give, which computers aren’t so good at, you know? There’s a certain, a computer naturally would go more toward something a little colder. So bringing some warmth and some texture was something that we were really after, and also to just build something that was more credibly old.
We wanted a feeling of, like, these guys have been doing this job for generations. It’s kind of timeless feel, so tried to age stuff a lot, and texture is really a big part of it. And so that was really kind of a fun part. I think it comes a little bit from the way I worked. The first images I made to think of the story, I kind of write visually. I don’t really write sitting down on the computer. I made images in watercolor and pencils, I made 25 images to tell the story to pitch it to John Lasseter, and that kind of gave us something to maybe not aim for, but to bring into the computer world.
We didn’t necessarily want it to do flat watercolor animation which is what it, anyway, it required some research and development because, because it doesn’t exist. But we tried to bring some of that warmth and texture and, and unusual feel of water colors to it.
MacQuarrie: What is Sketch Crawl?
Casarosa: Sketch Crawl. Like a pub crawl, but just a sketch crawl. It’s a strange thing. It’s actually an event that I, that I started a few years back. It’s a drawing marathon. We set up days four times a year where everybody in the world goes and draws all day. That’s a little bit ridiculous.
MacQuarrie: A question from a high schooler. Does use Pixar use any off-the-shelf software or is it all proprietary, and how difficult is it for a kid who’s proficient in Maya to transition in?
Casarosa: The first question is, is there any off-the-shelf — there’s a little bit. There’s a little bit, and I think most people here come, most of the technical people probably have some proficiency in Maya. There’s some very specific packet that gets a little bit technical, but there’s, Mudbox. It’s something that modelers can use, which is just a way of sculpting something on a computer. You’re just dragging points, a little bit of a sculpting tool. There’s some in effects. Effects are like software packages that can make fire or dust, and there’s one called Houdini which we use.
As far as coming in and, of course, you know, that is not a problem. I mean, we have animators that come in that are completely 2-D animators that draw with a pencil. If you’re an amazing animator, you’re still gonna get hired by Pixar. They’re gonna come and teach you, and a lot of people have made that transition quite successfully. And that would work quite the same way with someone who’s talented. So it’s a little more about showing something that you have, make a kind of a little short, or, you know, usually the way to get in here is really showing how do you think and what can you come up with, and things like that. You’re showing what’s inside you.