The fight to make Luca: how the Pixar team achieved their latest animated success


In many ways, Luca is a typical Pixar movie. Gorgeous visuals, multi-faceted characters, an interesting and meaningful story – every building block is there. But it is also the first film from the illustrious animation studio that was made during the confinement.

It revolves around a sea monster, Luca, who dreams of exploring the world above the surface, but the fear of humans has been forced into his mind by his parents. Both curious and worried, he procrastinates until another sea monster, Alberto, practically drags him over the water.

In Luca, sea monsters have adorable purplish or bluish skin, flat feet, and large, curious eyes. When not in contact with water, they lose their true appearance and look like humans.


Judge by the reception, it’s another win for Pixar.

Pixar’s first feature film was Toy Story in 1995. While its animation and character designs seem dated today, back then it was nothing short of groundbreaking, an absolute milestone of a movie, as influential to the medium as The Snow White of 1937. It was also the first fully computer animated film.

Pixar films carry unique design sensibilities. Great care is taken with the writing and emotional weight, which helps the stories and moments linger with you. In summary, they are beautiful to look at and tell stories with thematic resonance.

Pixar is the benchmark for animation. Over the decades, he has built an excellent, motivated and multi-talented creative team. So the flurry of acclaimed hits like Up, The Incredibles and Coco, which are as much entertainment as they are works of art.


The process of making a Pixar movie, like any creation, starts from an idea. For Luca, it’s director Enrico Casarosa, who drew plot elements from his own childhood spent on the shores of the Italian Riviera. The sea monsters in the film are inspired by real-life myths prevalent in the region.

Luca, Enrico Casarosa For Luca, director Enrico Casarosa drew plot elements from his own childhood spent on the shores of the Italian Riviera in Genoa, Italy. (Photo: Disney / Pixar)

In a roundtable interview, the director said that this autobiographical touch helps give Luca some authenticity. “To get to the heart of what you mean, it helps when you look back on your life. It just gives you a little kernel of idea, a goal. If I can’t tell this story about someone who is extrovert, I can tell this one, ”Casarosa told

He added that a personal connection to history gives you an internal compass. As although the story keeps changing in the process, the core remains the same.

It helped that Luca had universally relevant ideas like the inherent sweetness of childhood friendships that the team behind the film could relate to. “We’ve all had our different versions of childhood friendships and what they meant to us and whether we’re Luca or Roberto. But something that everyone contributed was a bit of their own piece of childhood, which made the story richer emotionally, ”he said.

Once the pitch has been accepted, the screenplay written, the film ready to be shot, it’s up to the production designer to visualize everything. In animation, a production designer, just like in live action, is responsible for the overall “look” of the film. They lead the writers, animators, and VFX artists to make sure the product is to their liking.

Daniela Strijleva Daniela Strijleva highlights the detail of Giulia’s knees from the character of Luca in the sculpture. (Photo: Disney / Pixar)

Luca’s production designer Daniela Strijleva said: “Enrico wanted a more stylized look, with more hand painted textures. No real pores on the skin, but the texture that looks like the character has that detail. The challenge here is to take the technology we have and say to our technical counterparts, “Can you simplify this water because it’s too detailed? It’s beautiful, but we want something a little more poetic, a little more lyrical, more like a storybook, like a painting.

While Daniela oversaw Luca’s look, the job of Animation Supervisor Michael Venturini was to control the quality and style of the animation and make sure it dovetailed well with the artistic vision.

He said: “We had 63 animators and we had to help them understand the animation style. It involved a lot of training. I was also responsible for the casting of the scenes. So when a sequence came into our department, I had to find the right animator based on their strengths, and make sure they followed the director’s notes.

Luca’s most difficult aspect was conceiving sea monsters and transforming them into humans. The reason was that the required technology did not exist.

LUCA Luca’s most difficult aspect was designing sea monsters and transforming them into humans. (Photo: Disney / Pixar)

“We had to build this technology from scratch. The whole success of the film depended on our ability to transform a sea monster into a human, ”Venturini explains.

Artists have come to seek out real-world creatures that possess the ability to alter appearance, such as chameleons. “We thought what can we learn from nature? How can we apply this here? . “

One of Luca’s character supervisors, Beth Albright, said: “It was exciting when Enrico came to us with his presentation of the works of art he had made, other works of art that he had made. he derived from paintings, photographs, puppets and stop-motion. It was also difficult to pull it all together in characters styled in a way different from other Pixar features. “

Beth albright Character Supervisor Beth Albright at a Luca Art Show. (Photo: Disney / Pixar)

Animated films also need visual effects artists, although here their role is slightly different. In live action they are responsible for any non-human creature, explosion, smoke, etc., but in animation their job is to deal with natural phenomena.

Water plays a huge role in Luca, which was a gigantic challenge for VFX supervisor Jon Reisch and his team. “There are only hundreds and hundreds of shots of the ocean or of children splashing and playing in the water, and bodies of water above the land. And water is always a tough thing for the effects team.

There were also challenges specific to Luca. While most of the animations strive for a realistic look to the characters and surroundings, the goal of those behind Luca was to make him more artistic than realistic.

“In keeping with the direction we’re taking as a studio and industry, we love expressive languages, form, color and lighting, which help support storytelling. With Luca, we tried to get that kind of lyricism and storybook. Our instinct as effects artists is to add details to make, for example, our water more realistic. Enrico wanted to go the other way. If we could draw a picture of water with 15 lines, he wanted us to draw it with 3 and it worked, ”Reisch said.

Many critics have praised the painterly and textured aspect of some of Luca’s scenes. This helps to enhance the already unique visual style.

Venturini revealed that it was done on purpose and that he had a well-defined creative goal. “There was a lot of exploration to get this look. The pictorial aspect is due to the high saturation of the colors. And this is mainly done in our lighting department, ”he explained.

“We explored different looks that had a kind of brushstroke, an artisanal look. Sometimes it had a negative effect. For example, if it looked like a brush stroke, it would make the whole thing look like a miniature – a small, hand-painted model. Then we realized that the color palette had a lot to do with it. Computers can make millions of colors. But an artist has a limited color palette with which to mix and paint. So we just limited the color palette of the water, and then it started to become pictorial and artistic, ”he added.


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