During the Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon Filmmaker presentation, I took a deep dive into the plot details and the making of the movie.
Earlier this month I attended a press day for Raya and the Last Dragon where I dove into the plot, behind the scenes, and creation of this movie with the filmmakers. Events like these always make me appreciate the a movie so much more because I discover the why about it all. There are so many amazingly talented people involved in this movie, and I cannot wait to see the rest of it (yes, I got a look at 30 minutes of the film before the press day).
The full Raya and the Last Dragon voice cast was announced today — and trust me when I tell you that these actors form the perfect cast for this movie! There is obviously a lot of Southeast Asian influence in the movie and it was very important to the filmmakers to be as accurate as possible.
They went on research trips to Southeast Asia and brought in consultants and to make sure they did so. You might notice in that movie that the characters will remove their shoes when they enter a sacred place. Raya is an action movie and a a fantasy movie – but nothing is fantastical about the martial arts. What we see on screen is rooted in real martial arts and grounded in real-world physics – which they made sure to do by bringing in a fight choreographer and fight consultants.
“I know what a movie like this can mean to a kid like me. As a writer and a parent my goal is to create the superheroes [my kids will look up to].” – Qui Nguyen (Writer)
There is a history of strong female leaders and warriors in Southeast Asia, so it was important that Raya’s attitude encompasses that. Her sense of leadership and being able to kick some serious butt too. Well, from the footage I have seen, I say mission accomplished!
“The characters aren’t singing in the movie, but there is a lot of music. And, our composer, James Newton Howard, did a lot of research and worked with musicians from the region as well to find the specific instrumentation.” – Osnat Shurer (Producer)
Raya and the Last Dragon Plot
Raya and the Last Dragon is an original Disney movie that brings us a lot of new, lovable characters. The plot promises an action packed adventure like we have never seen before. The film is set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where long ago humans and dragons lived together in harmony. A mindless plague takes over, turning everyone it touches into stone. Together the dragons save humanity, while sacrificing themselves.
Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and unite its divided people. You see, the land has divided into five tribes: Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail. Each one with their own personality and ideology.
Raya ends up in ragtag team of misfits – herself, Boun, Little Noi, and of course, Sisu — as they learn that it doesn’t just take a dragon to save the world. After having experiences a betrayal that cut her deep, will she be able to learn to trust again?
“This is Raya’s journey of learning to trust, after her trust was so deeply broken when she was a child.” – Don Hall (Director)
“You can’t really get to unity without trust. And for Raya, it will take trusting a group of strangers if she is ever going to have a united Kumandra.” – Carlos López Estrada (Director)
It takes more than a dragon to save the world – it takes trust and teamwork.
Trust Vs. Distrust
One of the major themes of this movie, besides hope and teamwork, is trust versus distrust. Raya has a lot to overcome after the ultimate betrayal, and if she wants to save the world, she is going to have to place her trust in others.
These themes are heavily depicted in the look of the animation. From the lighting, to the angles. The team explained how they used these tools to create the feel of trust and distrust.
- eye level angles
- broad color palate
- shallow focus (bokah)
- water and steam creating a pleasant & calm feeling
- deep focus
- harsh world
- higher contrast
- stark shadows
- lower camera angles
- adding film grain
- arid look
A Look At The Creative Process
Another really cool part of this virtual press day for Raya and the Last Dragon is that we got a look at concept art, story boards, and visual effects. I personally love the behind the scenes stuff like this and getting to see how it all comes together.
“I know that a lot of people are super excited about Raya being Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess. But, for me, it is such a big deal for her to be my kids’ new favorite superhero. It is something that I didn’t get to see growing up, someone that really represented me, our voice, our culture. And to be able to have that for my children is a blessing that will last way beyond my time here on earth. So, it’s an amazing moment to be part of this.” – Qui Nguyen (Writer)
“A lot of it was work that was being done in all the departments by all of our amazing crew individually, and we would get to see the designs of our sets, the designs of the costumes, the food, the textures, the lighting. And they all had a really powerful story. When one of our art team members was on the research trip, he had this beautiful experience with a sunset and wanted to capture that same red sun that they saw while they were riding a boat down the river.
Every decision really has so much intentionality behind it, and I think that is hopefully what is going to transport you into the world of Kumandra, the fact that you can look everywhere on the screen, and there’s so much thought and so much research and so much love put into every single frame.” – Carlos Lopez Estrada (Director)
“Food became sort of a visual metaphor for trust in the film as well. We tried to use it to also just tell story. As the characters are coming together, they’re beginning to share food. And it became a really important piece of visual iconography for the film in just tracking that theme of trust.” – Don Hall (Director)
If you look at the photo above, you will see the difference something as simple as adding steam to a scene will do for a film. Just incredible. It is things like this I would never notice when watching if it wasn’t for press days like this. Lighting plays a huge part as well, which you can tell by looking at the story boards.
About Raya and the Last Dragon
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.