Raya and the Last Dragon Director Talks the Challenges of Making the Disney Film

Raya and the Last Dragon debuts next month, opening in theaters where available as well as arriving on Disney+'s Premier Access on March 5th and when it does, it will be a film of firsts. It's the first film from Disney Animation Studios to be inspired by Southeast Asia, which also makes Raya, voiced by Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran the studio's first Southeast Asian Disney princess. But there's another first with this film and that's how it was made. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, work on the film had to be completed remotely and while that presented a whole new challenge, according to co-director Carlos Lopez Estrada, it also ended up making the team stronger.

"I mean, this is my first animated movie so it's it's you know I only have so much to compare it to but it seems like every from what I hear from Don and everyone else at the studio, you know every single one of these is a miracle to make just because so many people, so many things need to happen in a very specific order and period of time, and, you know, every time a movie is finished everyone just looks at each other and says, 'How do we do it' so I feel like this was not unlike that in any way," Lopez Estrada told ComicBook.com during a recent press day. "But in addition to that, we had a lot of surprises in the production period, one of them being the fact that we weren't going to be able to work in a studio in a community. And that is really sort of like what makes Disney animation so special just the fact that every single person that works in the movie works under that same roof, that there aren't any like outsourcing your people, you know, outside of that Burbank lot that touches a movie. And we weren't going to have that and I think that's what really gives all the Disney Animation movies, the flavor that they have, and the crews really that sense of belonging to this storytelling team."

He continued, "So, we, we really, I think we were all a little bit confused in terms of how we were going to be able to do that and how people were going to be able to still have that intense level of collaboration when we were in over 500 different homes. And I think that we found out what was most exciting was that our movie deals with themes of trust and community. And people coming together, despite the very difficult circumstances and we found out that the themes of our movie were actually playing a key role in the way we were making our movie, and we were all of a sudden in separate lands houses, having to continue moving on the same path having to trust each other, having to know that we were all working towards the same goal, even though that that the circumstances around us were very very difficult. And it really ended up bringing us together, despite the fact that in the last year we haven't been in the same room together with some exceptions that were safe and distanced, but our team grew so much closer. I feel like we all appreciated working from home, being able to see our families being able to see what other people's spaces look like, and we finished the movie and everyone was so emotional because we accomplished this impossible task, and everyone just felt like such a part of it and I think that was both the biggest hurdle and also just the biggest satisfaction I think our team really came out stronger than it ever could have."

Producer Osnat Shurer shared similar sentiments, but also noted that having to work separately helped them learn to delegate more and everyone stepped up.

"And another thing that's really been interesting is that this formate has forced us to delegate a lot more than any of us did in the past. And that means that what is happening is we're trusting each other a whole lot more to bring to the table," Shurer explained. "Life imitating art, to bring to the table our A-game, our A+ game even if we're not able to go to the theater to see that wonderful little thing they did in the corner because we're moving on iPads, everybody brought that and brought it higher and then as they were wrapping people will talk about how they felt trusted and that made them rise even more in their game. And we eliminated some of the reviews we usually have and just trusted the artists to run with it. The onus was on us, as leaders, to give a very clear brief to tell them exactly what we wanted. But people rose up and that we want to keep as well."

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Raya and the Last Dragon arrives in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on March 5th. If you haven't signed up for Disney+ yet, you can try it out here.

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