Over the past 25 years, Pixar has established its own style of animation and storytelling that is unique to any other studio. Pixar has thrived on its innovation with making computer animated graphics that look true to life, whether we're with the toys in Andy’s Room, in the ocean with Nemo and Dory, or on the race track with Lightning McQueen in the Cars films. But for the studio’s latest film, Luca, the filmmakers chose to take on a new style of storytelling that will have Studio Ghibli fans excited.
Luca is about a pair of young sea monsters who come up to the surface to experience summer on the Italian coast. For all its big and bold visuals, the Pixar project has a small and intimate feel to it that its director Enrico Casarosa has likened to his love of Hayao Miyazaki’s work in films such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. When CinemaBlend spoke to Luca’s animation supervisor, Mike Venturini, he shared why the upcoming Disney+ release may remind you a bit of Studio Ghibli movies:
Looking at Enrico’s personal artwork, you can certainly see the influence of some of those films on him as a young artist that has kind of materialized in his current work. So part of it was understanding where some of his design sensibilities come from. Some of the specific details we gleaned from anime in general, certainly Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli work, it’s emotionally expressive in a different way than western animation is. Western animation, even in 2D always has a certain amount of anatomy and realism that’s very impressive, it’s hand drawn and built in a certain way.
Although Luca is a 3D animated film, the movie was created with a lot of 2D stylings at work. Some of the studio’s focus on realism was thrown out the window in order to usher in a movie that playfully disregards being accurate to life.
The Pixar crew told us they were challenged to rewire how they’d been doing things on past projects, with one reference point being the visual behavior of characters in anime. Mike Venturini continued:
Mouth shapes for example, that was something we saw in the Miyazaki films. They’ll be really big, long expressive mouth shapes and it’s not meant to be realistic, it’s meant to illustrate the character’s emotion and we wanted to be emotionally expressive in this film because it’s kids having fun and experiencing things for the first time and everything’s big and bold to them. So, it just felt right.
It’s a really exciting development to see Pixar implementing new styles into its repertoire with Luca. Since the movie is from the perspective of young kids, the animators were given the freedom to move away from being visually accurate for a larger-than-life approach to the world around them. The film’s animation supervisor also shared this during our virtual interview:
The other thing with Miyazaki films is as expressive and big as they can be, they can also be very still and quiet. He spends a lot of time in his films seeing the world. So, Enrico for as a filmmaker, we used the word ‘lyrical.’ His storytelling is kind of lyrical, he takes quiet moments to just kind of be in the world which is uniquely pacing wise… and then in those moments, characters are more reserved and sit in beautifully-drawn poses, so that influences us to want to lean into our posing a little bit more.
Miyazaki films are often sweeping epics that also felt like slice-of-life stories. The Japanese animators take its audience on a journey that feels immersive in its beautifully-crafted 2D drawings. Disney certainly has a history with Studio Ghibli dating back to the ‘90s when it became the distributor of its beloved films. The animation studio has since broken off from Disney and its entire library is currently available on HBO Max.