INTERVIEW by GARY GOLDMAN |PHOTOGRAPHY by DEBORAH COLEMAN/PIXAR
Enrico Casarosa has come a long way from eagerly watching Japanese cartoons while growing up in Italy to directing his first short-movie for Pixar, which is set to release next year. While the storyboard artist of Ratatouille and Up is keen on maintaining a fair amount of secrecy around the project that took two years to make a reality, La Luna will be the poetic story of a little boy stuck between the strong personalities of his father and grandfather. A family man himself, Casarosa is drawn (no pun intended) to creating alternate realities that still contain universal concepts and are able to move the crowds — after all, isn’t the mix of fantastical elements with deeply personal themes the very strength of a studio like Pixar? Before running to a theater or festival near you to discover La Luna in the next few months, meet a man who still talks about comics with the excitement of a child and whose directorial debut is sure to be the beginning of a promising new page in his brilliant career.
First off, congratulations on premiering La Luna last month in Annecy (France)! How was it?
It was great! Annecy is really fantastic, a great town and a wonderful festival. And as far as La Luna‘s premiere goes, it’s fair to say that the reception was really warm; there was a lot of applause and great compliments.
Can you give us a brief overview of what La Luna is about, or at least what themes it deals with?
Growing up in a seaside town in Genoa with my grandfather and my father in the house, I had to deal with two men who never quite got along. As a young boy, I was very often stuck in the middle of two personalities that clashed somewhat. With La Luna, I really wanted to try and tell the story of a little kid stuck between two bold individuals, a boy who has to learn to find his own way. Without giving away too many spoilers, the main concept is also very fantastic, as this little boy will be confronted for the first time with the strange family business his dad and grandpa work in. La Luna is about this little boy finding out about this unusual job, and finding himself in the process.
Very simply and given your great experience on previous Pixar films, could you give us a brief overview of what being a story artist is?
Sure. It’s usually about creating visual sequences from a script page. But it’s also much more than that. The writer and/or the director can give you five pages of fully-figured-out script, and you’re responsible for visualizing it and choosing what angles to use, the cinematography that fits the moments. On the other end of the spectrum, you often are called to help the writer and director brainstorm ideas, talk about structure, and discuss character arcs. Story artists, as the term implies, are storytellers and writers, except usually, we write with images; this skill makes it easier to dive into the directing world. When I see the credits of our short: “La Luna, written and directed by Enrico Casarosa,” it makes me smile because in the process there was a lot of drawing and thinking involved but not a whole lot of actual writing.
Could you actually tell our readers how the pitching process goes over at Pixar? I personally imagine a very open, utopian space.
It is. Pixar is a pretty open forum, and you always have to pitch three ideas instead of just one for features or shorts. I pitched my ideas around the development team, and started meeting with a bunch of people before pitching it to John (Lasseter, Director and Chief Creative Officer at Pixar). It really was just a matter of me saying: “I’d love the opportunity to pitch some ideas, here’s three stories I believe in…” They really liked one of them and decided to take a chance on me.
What kind of advice did you get from other Pixar directors, if any?
It was such a pleasure and privilege to receive the help and advice of directors like Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Brad Bird. And all of that on top of John Lasseter’s guidance. It was really an amazing learning experience. They were all a huge help, they all come at it from a very different angle and sensibility. That’s the strength of this studio, on any given project you get great notes from amazing directors with disparate points of views. So I learned to try and address the spirit of a note and really take something good from all feedback. Ultimately the short got so much stronger with all these little adjustments. It was really like sculpting: chipping away and making things clearer and more solid.
Animation has evolved so much for the past sixty years, and never more than in the past fifteen. What do you envision for the future of the industry?
Good question. You know, I hope that there’s more and more embracing of the different. There is so much that animation can do, stepping away from what we normally see being made… I hope that with the increase in animation productions, there’s room to play with the fine lines of what may be commercially successful at the theater. This year, movies like Rango, for instance, made me feel good about the future of the industry: it is possible to have a large production but still make bold choices when it comes to story and visuals.
It seems like family is a very important theme in your work, right?
Yes. I love the balance that exists between tradition and finding your own way. Finding out what you are meant to be, and understanding how that fits with your background. I think that the universality of this theme is precisely why people are responding well to La Luna: it goes back to something personal. I also wanted to create something different visually and tonally; I wanted to tell a story with a poetic feel, without gags. A story that hopefully stays with you a little after you’ve seen it. Makes you smile and think a little.
What is the future of La Luna, and when can our readers expect to see it?
The idea is to slowly introduce La Luna around the world in festivals before a wider release. It will be showing at the Los Angeles Shorts Festival on opening night, July 21th, and then on the 24th. The screening on the 24th will be followed by a “making-of” talk that I will present. After that, let’s see, we’re going to be in Vancouver for Siggraph in August, the short is also screening at Anima Mundi in Brazil this month and after that we have quite a few more dates starting to take shape… I send updates on dates and venues where to catch the short from my twitter account.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your sucess?
I would try and come out to a film festival where La Luna is playing, hopefully not too far from you. And if you see and enjoy our short let the world know! Just maybe don’t give the whole plot away when you do. This short is a lot about discovery, I hope you can all help me in keeping major spoilers away…