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Raya and the Last Dragon Q&A Presentation

Official+promotional+poster+for+Raya+and+the+Last+Dragon+from+Disney.

Official promotional poster for “Raya and the Last Dragon” from Disney.

On Feb. 19, I received an interesting email from my former Cinema Studies Professor informing her students about an event that was occurring on the Feb. 24. This event was held by John Ripa and Paul Briggs. If these names do not ring a bell, then I am sure this will: Walt Disney. John Ripa and Paul Briggs are a part of the Walt Disney Animation Studio team, where they worked on various animations that we know today, including but not limited to films like, Tangled,” Moana,” Big Hero Six, and Frozen. The two artists hosted a virtual presentation and Q&A on their new movie: Raya and the Last Dragon, coming out in theatres and premier access on Disney+ on March 3.
The film takes place in a land that goes by the name of Kumandra, where humans and dragons once got along, living in peace and harmony, up until the villainous monsters known as Druuns come and wreak havoc on the land, causing a massive separation between its citizens. Years later, as the monsters are planning their return once again, it is up to one person to unite the people of the land, so that they could fight together and defeat the Druuns, once and for all.
Through this presentation, the audience was provided with some interesting background and inspiration on how the film and process came together. One such example is how the fantasy world of Kumandra is inspired by Southeastern Asian culture. According to an article written by Alex Reif, published on thelaughingplace.com, the screenwriter of the film stated that, “Even though Kumandra is a fantasy world, we wanted a name that would resonate across multiple cultures in Southeast Asia.” She later then goes on to share that she had an emotional connection with the name of the film protagonist, Raya, and the beautiful meaning that it holds in Malay, which is ‘Celebration.’ With this inspiration in mind, the makers tried to represent the culture as much as they can throughout the film, whether it be through the characters spiritual actions, what they wear, or even the food that they eat. A lot of this is resulted in an extensive amount of research done behind the scenes to get acquainted with the culture, which included traveling to various countries in Southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Artists from the Walt Disney Animation Studio that came from Southeast Asian descents were also heavily involved, allowing them to incorporate their own traditions and culture into the film, as well to ensure accurate representation and adaptation.
Another interesting fact that we learned was that the film took five years to make and produce. This also included them having to work from home due to the pandemic that started back in March 2020. It was refreshing to hear how they to also had to adjust towards working from home on zoom, especially on an animation film, where Mr. Ripa himself stated, “Animation is the most collaborative form of art in the world.” Mr. Ripa later goes on to say how much of a struggle it was for them when they went home and had to figure out how they were going to work it all out. I mean, imagine this: 450 artists working from home on one project with a tight deadline. If you were to ask me, I can barely handle a breakout room of four people, so to picture 450+ people all working together on a project, I can imagine it being stressful but inspirational. On top of that, they also had their unexpected guests and distractions on Zoom, like their pets and their kids. “Animation is a process of discovery, a trial and error,” they stated. In this age, I could not agree more. We need to take more risks and make more mistakes.
After the presentation the viewers, had the opportunity to ask the co-directors any questions regarding this film, its process, and about themselves as well. I have chosen my favorite three questions and their responses:
-          Where did the inspiration for the movie and its characters come from?
Paul Riggs: “Five years ago, there was a lot of chaos, a lot of division. The question that continued to arise is: How do we mend a broken world? It really all starts with trust. Maybe the world is broken because we do not trust each other. It became the heart of the film, Raya being a broken person who doesn’t trust anyone, and then Sisu comes along, and she has to learn how to trust, and come together with other people for the greater good.”
-          What is the difference in the process of creating a live action film vs. an animation film?
John Ripa: “Timeline. For live action, the shooting is like three to six months, and they are shooting from a script. Whereas animation is building the film continuously the whole time. Animation is constantly seeing it repeatedly, and perfecting the drawings, coordinating the sequences, adding the voices to these sequences. So, it’s going to take more time than a live action film.”
-          What advice do you have for starting a career in animation, and what is a good place to start?
John Ripa: “For me, in school is a great time to start to figure out what you respond to, where your passion is…. find what you connect to and go for it.”
Paul Briggs: “What drew me into animation is the incredible artists. I remember seeing artists work in the world, and I thought I would be fired by next week because I was not nearly as incredible. But the reason I did not get fired is because my head was continuously focusing on the story. Yes, focus on the story, but also focus on the character as well. Who is this character? What makes them different than any other character? To be a story artist you must be an artist and a strong storyteller. Everything is driven by storytelling, effects, lighting, characters. You have to constantly keep this question in your mind: What story am I telling with this?
Going into this event, I did not know what to expect, as it was my first time ever attending a professional Q&A. However, coming out of it, I would recommend anyone to participate in this experience. Occasionally, life will surprise you with events and activities you do not expect, and especially during these times, when all we need is a break, it is nice to participate in new firsts! Last but certainly not least, I’ll leave you guys with some pieces of advice that both Paul and John gave their audience: “Trust your instincts, trust yourself, and trust that fact that you will make mistakes, and you will get rejections, that’s how you learn. Also, buy good spaghetti sauce and good pasta. That’s the key to survival!”