Masked up and socially distant, it’s hard to imagine the words intimate and connected having a place in the 2020 lexicon in a positive way. Working from home via Zoom meetings and exchanging emails has led to a more detached experience for many – but at Pixar, some of these changes made for more comfortable, collaborative work on their latest animated feature, Luca.
At the global press conference for Luca, the cast exchanged their own thoughts on the process of recording their lines from home. Actress Maya Rudolph, who voices Luca’s mother, said that “It couldn’t have been more enjoyable, under the circumstances.” Where actors traditionally record lines at one of several Pixar studios or other recording booths, much of Luca‘s cast had to record remotely. “Everything was shipped down to me,” Rudolph said. “We made this amazing makeshift little recording area. But obviously, they were the best possible people to make it, so it was pretty easy breezy. I just got to show up.”
Jim Gaffigan, who plays Luca’s father, had a similar experience. “All the stuff was sent, and we had rented a house in Westchester in New York. There was something about that was almost kind of comfortable about recording at home where there wasn’t the commute or you weren’t in an unfamiliar space.” Free from the distractions and stressors of a traditional studio environment, voice actors were still able to be in communication with the director and receive guidance on their performances – all from the comfort of their homes.
Voice of Luca himself, Jacob Tremblay spoke to the challenges of voice acting; “You really have to go a hundred percent on all your performances or else it’s gonna fall flat. So I have to make sure I sound [confident] and step out of my comfort zone.” At the center of the film, Tremblay’s performance was make-or-break for Luca, so it was a relief for the young actor that, despite COVID, he “got lucky and then was able to record at the studio in Vancouver.”
From its very inception, Pixar’s Luca was an intimately personal story for director Enrico Casarosa. The Italian-born filmmaker grew up in the port city of Genoa, spending his childhood on the coast of the Mediterranean. In many ways, Luca‘s coming of age story is an homage to Casarosa’s own upbringing – exploring some similar lessons, locations, and people that he encountered on a daily basis.
“I was born in Genoa,” he said. “Which is this poor town right on the Riviera. I was a shy kid, a little bit sheltered by my family, and when I met my best friend at 11, my world opened up.” Like Alberto in the film, “[my best friend] was a bit of a troublemaker; he didn’t have a whole lot of supervision.” The final film was created to speak not only to Casarosa’s own specific experience but to a wider truth of childhood friendships and growing up; “It really made me think about how much we find ourselves with our friendships, or how much friendships help us find who we want to be.”
The actors took the true-to-life nature of the story to heart and strove to bring this kind of personal story to life in the most honest, genuine way.
When voice actress Maya Rudolph first received the script for Luca, she expected her character to be a caricature but was instead pleasantly surprised by how sincere and true-to-life it really was. “I actually did think like, ‘Oh I’m gonna be this Italian mama, and here I go with my big old Italian accent.’ But I just got to be the essence of a mama, which I really liked.” This kind of caring portrayal of parental figures clearly came from a deep place. “Getting to see Enrico’s vision, I did feel those feelings of this sweet timeless story. There’s something very personal here.”
Gaffigan felt similarly, referencing his co-star’s comments. “It did feel like we were working on something very personal to Enrico,” he said. “It didn’t feel like a job. It felt like capturing someone’s vision and tone, which is always something funnier than just trying to land a joke.”
Aside from its heartwarming stories and lovable characters, Pixar is also known for its attention to detail; from the dusty, cobwebbed floorboards in Toy Story 4 to slippery septapus physics in Finding Dory, no detail is too small for Pixar animators. In order to better understand the world of Luca and bring Casarosa’s fantastical childhood fairy tale to life, Pixar creatives took a number of research trips to the region before the pandemic hit. Immersing themselves in the worlds of their stories helps animators, art directors, and lighting technicians become more personally acquainted with their subjects. As such, the research trips to Italy involved a lot of unorthodox tourism.
“[The team] was taking pictures of the stucco wall corner and they’re like ‘look at the way the paint is peeling in the corner, and all the different layers, the way the water’s reflecting on the wall.’ All these strange photographs to people watching them take them,” said producer Andrea Warren. “But it’s all about capturing that feeling of the place.”
Whether in the comfort of their own homes or overseas in an Italian coastal village, the team behind Pixar’s latest film has gone to great lengths to find their own personal connections to their work. This hard work and dedication will hopefully be clear to audiences once Luca hits Disney+ on June 18.