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Luca: Capturing the Italian Riviera & Creating Sea Monsters

Luca is a beautiful film set on the Italian Riveria, and in this creators interview they discuss bringing it, and the sea monsters, to life.

luca concept friends

Disney and Pixar’s Luca is a coming of age story that is truly a love letter to real friendships, according to the Director, Enrico Casarosa. In this film Luca meets a new friend, Alberto, but they are not normal kids. They are sea monsters that turn to humans when they dry out.

The Friendship

Alberto has an adventurous side to him, and convinces Luca to join him in a small town on the Italian Riviera. This is a place where the humans clearly feel threatened by sea monsters, so not exactly a safe haven for the two friends. In order to talk about creating this beautiful setting, all of the characters, and of course, the sea monsters, there was a virtual press day so the creators could share some behind the scenes information on bringing it all to life.

Casarosa says that he determined very early on the film would be told by the point of view of 13 year old Luca, and focus on his friendship with Alberto. They bond very quickly when they first meet, partly because they are both lonely. “Sometimes it is hard to have a meaningful, strong friendship.” explains Casarosa. He goes on to say that most people have an Alberto, a friend who is willing to literally push them off a cliff to get them out of their comfort zone.

“Alberto’s bravado is the perfect counter to Luca’s hesitation. If they were at a party, Luca would be the wallflower in the corner taking it all in. Alberto would be the guy on the roof jumping into the pool.” – Story supervisor John Hoffman

Friendship is at the heart of the story. The character of Alberto is based off the director’s actual best friend named Alberto who was wild and free, and very different from Enrico. “Alberto got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me off many cliffs. Metaphorical and not.”

luca town

The Setting

Enrico grew up in Genoa, Italy and has warm summer memories of gelato and the music — which is what inspired the setting Luca. Has memories of swimming in the Mediterranean and spending summers with friends.

All of these Italian towns have old legends that have to do with the mystery of the seas. Enrico explains that the fisherman in fishing towns would say “don’t go to that spot because it is infested with a sea dragon” and later you would find out that it was their favorite fishing spot and they were just trying to protect it.

The creative team took a trip to the Italian Riviera so that they could be inspired by the setting — and it worked! They wanted to capture what makes the Mediterranean so unique, especially the color, and did a lot of sketching, which is a great way to remember details. They ate a lot of pasta and gelato, and watched Italian films from the time that the movie takes place. There were also consultants involved so they could make sure to capture the fun of Italian gesticulation and the language.

“1960s Italy needed to be part of the movie, but also expressive and playful and kids having fun. Like jumping into a kids book.” – Director Enrico Casarosa

ercole luca

The Characters

The character designs are of working class people. Every single character was given a specific job. The artists were sure to capture the gestures and the humor in the gestures of the Italian people. Enrico and Alberto are (literally) fish out of water and so they needed them to feel out of place.

The cat is the cat version of Mossimo, right down to the mustache. Guilia’s red hair matches her personality and determination, and her outfit fits the working class. Luca’s design is gentle and he has the biggest eyes because of his curiosity. His eyes have hand-painted textures which is quite unique to this film. The color and light are very important in helping the audience feel Luca’s loneliness, or excitement, or fear, or hopes and dreams. 

luca's sea monster family

The Sea Monsters

The underwater world is shown differently than the human world. There are no straight lines to be found, and it is always moving. The team created the sea itself, and the stylized water effects. Their goal was not photo realism, they wanted something unique with the look of Luca. Something they call simplified elegance. There is clearly a 2D influence, and there was a lot of inspiration from studio Ghibli and Japanese wood paintings. The sea is not just integrated into the world, but is there to enhance it and ultimately support the storytelling.

This was a challenge though because Pixar is comfortable with realism, and simplified elegance is a hard turn away from what they know. They had to grow as artists but were sure to inject an artist’s touch in every stage of the process.

Luca and Alberto’s transformation from sea monster, to human, and back again, is part of the major theme of friendships. It was also one of the hardest things for the team to make work. They quickly concluded the transformation should not be creepy, but should be bold. The transformation comes from the inside, and occurs when they get wet, or dry out. In order to get the transformation right, they built the sea monster and human models separately and then loosely connected them.

Want more? Check out all of our Luca coverage!

Luca Movie poster

About Disney and Pixar’s Luca

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the original animated feature is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.

Luca comes to Disney+ on June 18th!