La Luna was screened on Sunday evening at the Japan Society in New York City in conjunction with the Films For Hope Festival. The one-day festival was held as a benefit for those affected by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11. As part of the centerpiece, the Pixar short was screened along with Dai Sato’s Five Numbers, a short anime piece. La Luna director Enrico Casarosa was there, along with Sato, to provide the audience with an in-depth look at the behind the scenes process of bringing the short to the big screen. Read on for some snippets from his presentation! (Note: I have kept it spoiler-free.)
As a reminder, here is the official synopsis for La Luna:
La Luna is the timeless fable of a young boy who is coming of age in the most peculiar of circumstances. Tonight is the very first time his Papa and Grandpa are taking him to work. In an old wooden boat they row far out to sea, and with no land in sight, they stop and wait. A big surprise awaits the little boy as he discovers his family’s most unusual line of work. Should he follow the example of his Papa, or his Grandpa? Will he be able to find his own way in the midst of their conflicting opinions and timeworn traditions?
To kick off the centerpiece screening, La Luna was shown to a packed house. I felt fortunate to be viewing the film for the second time, as I had caught it at the D23 Expo last month when it was shown during the Pixar shorts panel. My feelings about the film line up right alongside what Jerrod wrote in his review. Overall, Pixar’s newest short is easily one of the best from the studio – visually, story-wise, and musically. It feels like an independent film, while also boasting the incredible production value that audiences viewing Pixar films have become accustomed to. There is a charm to the characters that is quickly established on screen – this is the reason why La Luna will connect with moviegoers all around the world.
When the end credits began to roll, those in the screening room clearly loved what they saw, as they applauded for a significant amount of time. When director Enrico Casarosa took the stage, he remarked that he was a bit choked-up, saying that the room gave him one of the best responses he has seen during the La Luna festival tour over the past few months.
To lead off his presentation, Casarosa began by speaking about how he pitched the idea to John Lasseter. He brought three ideas for a short (as is customary for those at Pixar who pitch ideas for shorts), of which Casarosa felt La Luna was the best developed. Lasseter agreed but also provided feedback on how to improve upon the idea. The Pixar Chief Creative Officer suggested that this story be the “first time” the young boy is taken to work with his father and grandfather, as the audience would be along for his big trip.
Storyboards were created, followed by the recording of scratch voices. Casarosa actually recorded the scratch “voice” of the grandfather. “Voice” is in quotes as viewers will find that no real language is used by the characters. First finding it difficult to have the characters speak in this made-up language, Casarosa was intent on keeping it in there, as he was inspired by old cartoons such as La Linea that utilized these grunts and screeches as speech. Here is an example from that show:
He received suggestions from others to simply play the film over music, but he was insistent on the made-up language, as he believed it was a way to add some comedy to the storyline. We were shown some hilarious voicing sessions for the voice actors, Tony Fucile and Phil Sheridan, who played the father and grandfather, respectively. The choices for the roles were not easy to arrive at, but Casarosa stressed that finding the perfect actors was well worth it.
Moving onto the artistic aspect, Casarosa spoke about the choices that were made for all the different objects that appear on the screen. Artists Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo were essential in the design process and really helped with honing the look of the various objects.
Here are some more tidbits from the talk:
- For the character designs, “1920s, 1930s, Mediterranean, Italy, peasants, and fishermen” were all mentioned as their inspirations.
- Artist Daniel Lopez Munoz designed some sculpts for the characters after Casarosa realized that his own drawings felt a bit too 2-D
- His image boards, which he created using watercolors, provided texture, which he wanted to incorporate into the final visual design of the short
- For research, Enrico and his team went to John Lasseter’s backyard, where they floated around in a boat. Although there was a full moon that night, the moon was not visible due to cloud cover
- For the gesticulation of the characters, they looked at Italian actors such as Massimo Troisi
- Hayao Miyazaki was a big inspiration for Casarosa, who inserted a little “love letter” to the legendary director in the short
- Michael Giacchino provided the score, which Casarosa remarked that he “absolutely loved”
There were so many more stories and details that Enrico Casarosa provided from his behind the scenes work on the film. I am hesitant to give away any more information, as I do not want to take away from audience members’ first time viewing the short. Just like the young boy’s first trip with his father and grandfather is a wondrous adventure, so too should be your first trip through La Luna.