Lava All You Need Is Lava

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red alert -

Nthat Pixar does things the easy way. Take the stu­dio’s lat­est short, Lava ( in cine­mas this sum­mer in front of In­side Out). In most an­i­ma­tions, char­ac­ters ex­press them­selves through move­ment. But in this mu­si­cal tale of a lonely vol­cano look­ing for love in what will even­tu­ally be­come to­day’s Hawai­ian Is­lands, the mas­sive Uku – and Lele, his heart’s de­sire – had to re­main still.

“As an an­i­ma­tor I love chal­lenges,” direc­tor James Ford Mur­phy tells Red Alert, “and I love the chal­lenge that th­ese char­ac­ters can’t move. What are you gonna do to make them en­ter­tain­ing and like­able so an au­di­ence can iden­tify with them? It frus­trated us in­cred­i­bly, but it forced us to come up with so­lu­tions we wouldn’t have if we just an­i­mated it the way that we al­ways an­i­mated some­thing.”

Mur­phy’s Lava was in­spired by the Dis­ney mu­si­cal shorts of the ’ 40s and ’ 50s – films like Susie The Lit­tle Blue Coupe and Wil­lie The Op­er­atic Whale that told their sto­ries through song – as well as Mur­phy’s own love of mu­sic, par­tic­u­larly the melodies of the South Seas.

“Vis­ually I was go­ing for the feel­ing of an old ’ 40s or ’ 50s car­toon, al­most like a lost Fan­ta­sia [ seg­ment]. At the end of the day we re­ally wanted to cre­ate char­ac­ters that were also be­liev­able as places. That was the bal­ance I was try­ing to walk – have a sweet story told by song that harkens back to those old car­toons, but do what we can do in this medium to bring a singing moun­tain to life in a way that you be­lieve.”

Mur­phy wound up bas­ing Lava on over a mil­lion years of ge­o­log­i­cal his­tory. “If you know the his­tory and the ge­ol­ogy of the Hawai­ian is­lands, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how they just go over this hot spot and then they just kind of melt back into the sea and an­other one pops up… That just seemed like a love story to me – ‘ Does this one know? Do they have any idea? So it’s kind of tak­ing po­etic li­cence with ge­ol­ogy.”

The film­maker – a vet­eran of movies such as Toy Story 2 and The In­cred­i­bles – says he spent a year mak­ing Lava, af­ter an ini­tial eight months of lis­ten­ing to ev­ery piece of Hawai­ian mu­sic he could find. His re­search paid off in the Poly­ne­sian- style song he wrote for the film, sung by its an­thro­po­mor­phised lovers. While Pixar chief John Las­seter green­lit the film in part for the sense of scale it re­quired.

“One of the things that John got re­ally ex­cited about was scale. He’s like, ‘ We’re just not re­ally good at es­tab­lish­ing a true sense of scale.’ What we learned as we got into it was scale is de­fined by the speed of the ve­hi­cle with the cam­era on it. I imag­ined this would be shot by he­li­copters. But if you go any faster than a real he­li­copter, all of a sud­den your model shrinks.”

“That,” laughs Mur­phy, “was our big rev­e­la­tion.” Lava can be seen be­fore all screen­ings of In­side Out, re­leased 24 July. Check back next month for an in- depth look at In­side Out.

A heart­warm­ing tale of vol­canic love and Hawai­ian singing.

Lava direc­tor James Ford Mur­phy.

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