In Rio 2 (April 11), we go from Rio to the Amazon for a richer and more musical comedy/adventure with newcomers Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars. Meanwhile, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and their three kids travel to the rainforest and encounter more than family trouble. Director Carlos Saldanha, who signed a five-year deal with Fox to direct both live-action and animation, discusses raising the bar at Blue Sky.
From Rio to the Amazon. Let’s talk about that.
It was really interesting to go there. I was born and raised in Rio and the Amazon is far but I always liked that mysterious vibe and had a need to go there. And I was always into the environment. But I never got the chance until after I finished the first movie and I wanted to put it in there. Was is it about it that interests people — that interests me. It’s so big, so vast, so diverse. What was it like to be there and what makes it so mysterious and difficult?
What’s the light like? What are the colors like? What are the textures like?
Exactly. I’m a research freak but nothing prepared me for it. I remember walking into the jungle and just feeling how dark it is on the bottom. And then we up this gigantic tree and I wanted to get up to the top. It’s light, it’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s lush. And I wanted that for the movie because that’s how I divide the world: Nigel lives at the bottom where it’s dark and dingy, and the birds live at the top, where it’s like Shangri-La. And that’s how we art directed the two worlds. There are purples and blues and then we tried to come up with colors that feel part of it. And the red is a great contrast. The blue is trickier because there’s the green and the yellow of the sun, but we managed to pull it out. So we always tried to have shafts of warm light coming through the canopies to allow the blue birds to really stand out.
How much of Epic were you able to leverage as far as the forest?
We didn’t use the same trees but some of the technology for that creation. But mostly it was scale for the amount of characters. The evolution happened behind the scenes… the rigging. We advanced the rigs because we have more characters and we needed it to be faster. In the first movie, when we had all the characters in the scene, it was super heavy. The animator would click and stop because the rigs were very heavy. So for Epic, we developed a new rigging process that allows you have multiple characters and add more mobility to the them. It was much faster. So we adapted that to our movie and extended it. We re-rigged all our characters but used the same models. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to do the big dance number.
There appears to be a lot more detail here.
There’s way more detail. The feathers and the beaks are the same but with the new characters we add more, But we learned a lot from the previous movie. We also retooled for the 3-D and boosted the color more.
What is it about this family that you’re enjoying most?
The first movie was more of a romance between these two birds. Are they going to fall in love. This one was about family dynamic. I come from a big family and I have children as well so I always love playing those dynamics. When we played around with this, I like the relationship of in laws. I think that’s the fun part about how you try to keep it together without losing it.
But this isn’t as dysfunctional as the Ice Age family.
No, but it has an element of flaws and complications. I think it feels more holistic because it’s a defined family unit and is more relatable.
And always the jeopardy of being the last of their kind.
And the environment jeopardy. Now in the Amazon it’s much bigger. The movie talks about their homes being destroyed and the [negative] impact of the human presence.
And for Blu that’s hard because he has a more positive experience with humans.
And that also gives him an advantage because understands the human world more than the bird world so the story revolves around how much he can contribute to this new environment that he goes into. There’s a strong message there.
Yes, a lot of the crew, a lot of the story guys, a lot of the animators are parents, too, so we all see ourselves a little bit in the characters that we come up with. And I think that’s the fun part of animation: you manage to create elements that are familiar to you but you’re looking into a character that is not at all real. But you feel the connection, the empathy. And for a second you forget that these are just birds talking. It’s somebody that you know.
Music seems much more important to this movie as a tribal experience.
Yes, we pushed more. Musically, this movie is more multi-layered. I start with rhythms from Rio, and, as the story progresses, it starts to shape into its own rhythms of the jungle and the new sounds, and, by the end, it’s a mixture of the two. Musically, John Powell and Sergio Mendes allow us to get a nice music exploration. So it feels much more sophisticated
You’re finally doing The Story of Ferdinand.
I love that story. We’re still working on the script — it’s early stages. Even though it comes out in 2017, I feel that I’m behind already. But, yes, I’m looking forward to it. I might squeeze in a live-action film first, Rust [a post-apocalyptic adventure based on the graphic novel by Royden Lepp involving a family of farmers, a boy with a jetpack, and a giant decommissioned war robot].