Re­turn to Rio

Di­rec­tor Car­los Sal­danha and Blue Sky Stu­dios fly Blu, Jewel and friends into the un­known ter­ri­tory of the Ama­zon in Rio 2. By Thomas J. Mclean

Animation Magazine - - Features -

For Car­los Sal­danha, the 2011 an­i­mated fea­ture film Rio was a pas­sion project — one that was a love let­ter to the city he was born and raised in. That the quirky tale of Blu, a stuffy do­mes­ti­cated blue macaw par­rot who can’t fly and is forced to loosen up when a sci­en­tific trip to Rio de Janeiro goes awry, was a hit was an added bonus.

But not as much as the film’s se­quel, Rio 2, which al­lowed Sal­danha and the team at Blue Sky Stu­dios to re­visit the world of Blu, Jewel and their new fam­ily in an all-new stereo­scopic 3D ad­ven­ture due in the­aters April 11.

“There was so much more that I wanted to do in the first movie,” says Sal­danha, a na­tive of Rio de Janeiro who came to the United States in the early 1990s to at­tend the School of Vis­ual Arts in New York. “When you fin­ish you have that feel­ing of, ‘I could have done this,’ and ‘I could have done that.’ And then this one, it al­lows me to ex­plore some of that.”

No stranger to sequels, hav­ing shep­herded Blue Sky’s Ice Age fran­chise since co-di­rect­ing the first in­stall­ment, Sal­danha says the chal­lenge for Rio 2 was to keep the story fresh and ex­plore ev­ery as­pect to take it to a new place.

“I think movies are about the jour­ney of the char­ac­ters and how you tell that story is how you keep it fresh,” he says.

“That’s what I try to do with my movies, is try to make sure that I keep what works for the per­son­al­i­ties of the char­ac­ters from the first one and ad­vance them or just do new things with them and the new char­ac­ters that come along.”

Vanessa Mor­ri­son, pres­i­dent of Fox An­i­ma­tion, says that ap­proach was very much in line with the stu­dio’s plans for a se­quel. “Af­ter the suc­cess of the (first) movie, the ques­tion that Car­los had and that we had is: Are there more sto­ries to tell with these char­ac­ters? Are there more per­sonal sto­ries to tell with Blu and Jewel and are there more places to go with these char­ac­ters?” says Mor­ri­son, whose purview in­cludes Blue Sky Stu­dios. “Car­los came to us with a re­sound­ing yes and re­ally had con­structed a vi­sion of the story we wanted to tell.”

With orig­i­nal leads Jesse Eisen­berg re­turn­ing to play Blu and Os­car-win­ner Anne Hath­away back as Jewel, the se­quel in­tro­duces sev­eral new char­ac­ters — most no­tably Jewel’s

Anne Hath­away and Jesse Eisen­berg re­turn as Jewel and Blu for this time with three chil­dren who meet their grand­fa­ther (voiced by Andy Gar­cia). Be­low left, Blu’s owner LInda (Les­lie Mann) and bird preser­va­tion­ist Tulio (Ro­drigo San­toro) fol­low Blu’s trail, while Jewel meets her old friend Roberto (Bruno Mars), bot­tom right.

ma­cho, tra­di­tional fa­ther Ed­uardo, played by Andy Gar­cia, and her child­hood friend Roberto, voiced by mu­sic sen­sa­tion Bruno Mars.

“I wanted a fa­ther was very pow­er­ful and strong and in­tim­i­dat­ing and I felt that Andy al­ways had that pres­ence for me,” Sal­danha says.

For Roberto, find­ing the char­ac­ter was a process of dis­cov­ery for both Sal­danha and Mars. “It was a hard char­ac­ter to cast be­cause I didn’t quite have the char­ac­ter in mind,” he says. “When I saw Bruno on Satur­day Night Live, I looked at him and I thought he had so much en­ergy. He was funny, he had pathos — he had all those things I wanted to bring to the char­ac­ter, so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s give it a shot.’”

Roberto makes a rather dra­matic and funny mu­si­cal en­trance in the movie, an idea that to get right re­quired a lit­tle im­pro­vi­sa­tion from Mars. “We had a first ses­sion with him and we recorded the script pages and it was fun and we got it, but then I kept feel­ing we’re miss­ing some­thing spe­cial,” says Sal­danha. “When we came back for the next ses­sion, we talked a lit­tle bit about why don’t we try to add mu­sic to you as a char­ac­ter, a mu­si­cal in­tro­duc­tion that’s over the top and fun. And he was on board with it, he was ready to do it. And it took him an hour: He went out­side, brain­stormed a lit­tle bit and he sang that open­ing num­ber and it was like his in­tro­duc­tion and it was so funny.”

The ac­tors re­turn­ing to their roles ben­e­fited from fa­mil­iar­ity with the ter­rain, which al­lowed them to fo­cus less on defin­ing their char­ac­ters and more on ex­plor­ing their in­ter­ac­tions with the story and each other.

The story pushes the main char­ac­ters into dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Blu and Jewel, who were re­vealed to have be­come par­ents in the fi­nal mo­ments of the first Rio, find their re­la­tion­ship chal­lenged by be­ing par­ents, meet­ing Jewel’s fam­ily and the var­i­ous dan­gers posed by their ad­ven­tures in the Ama­zon.

Sal­danha says those fam­ily dy­nam­ics cre­ate con­flict be­tween char­ac­ters that is uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized. “It’s ter­ri­tory that we are all very aware of,” he says. “So it al­lows me to make the char­ac­ters feel per­son­able and al­lows you to cre­ate fun com­edy at the same time.”

Com­ing only three years af­ter the first Rio — “a fairly short pe­riod of time in an­i­ma­tion terms,” Sal­danha says — there were no huge or ob­vi­ous in­no­va­tions in the tech­nol­ogy or an­i­ma­tion tech­niques used to bring the se­quel to life. Most of the in­no­va­tion came in ad­vance­ments in light­ing made on Blue Sky’s pre­vi­ous fea­ture film, Epic, and of­ten are largely in­vis­i­ble in the fin­ished prod­uct to most view­ers.

“For ex­am­ple, for Rio 2 we had to re-rig all the char­ac­ter again,” Sal­danha says. “We wanted the char­ac­ters to be faster to an­i­mate. We wanted an­i­ma­tors to have to spend less time hav­ing to move a point and spend that time act­ing for the char­ac­ters. ... Even though it was time con­sum­ing in the be­gin­ning, it al­lowed us to im­prove the an­i­ma­tion.”

While the first Rio was set largely in the epony­mous city it­self, Rio 2 ven­tures to new ter­ri­tory, head­ing west from Rio de Janeiro into the Ama­zon rain­for­est. It was a jour­ney Sal­danha him­self had to take first. “I had never been to the Ama­zon, so I wanted to have that ex­pe­ri­ence my­self. I wanted to see what in­spires me about the Ama­zon, how does it feel to be in the Ama­zon,” he says.

The ma­te­rial was mostly per­sonal ref­er­ence for Sal­danha, with the rest of the film’s crew re­ly­ing on the am­ple ref­er­ence work in books, pho­tos and movies of what the Ama­zon looks like and how light plays off its fea­tures. (That wasn’t the only trip Sal­danha took dur­ing the mak­ing of Rio 2. He also took three weeks va­ca­tion to shoot a short live-ac­tion seg­ment for the I Love Rio project, and hopes to di­rect a live-ac­tion adap­ta­tion of the graphic novel Rust in the near fu­ture.)

The Ama­zon was the set­ting for some of the most com­pli­cated an­i­ma­tion se­quences in the film, in­clud­ing the re­veal of the mas­sive sanc­tu­ary for the blue macaws and a type of bird-style soc­cer match.

Sal­danha says it was eas­ier this time around to an­i­mate the birds. “With this one, we walked in know­ing what we wanted to do with it. So we spent all of our ef­forts just try­ing to come up with fun act­ing for them, try­ing to come up with bet­ter stuff that we can do with their bod­ies or their wings.” Also like the first film, Rio 2 is a stereo­scopic 3D movie, though Sal­danha says Blue Sky’s pipe­line now in­cor­po­rates 3D into the process so well that prob­lems are caught early on and the process is rel­a­tively rou­tine.

With two films now com­plete, Sal­danha says he would be happy to turn Rio into a tril­ogy if the op­por­tu­nity pre­sents it­self. In the mean­time, work is pro­ceed­ing on his next an­i­mated Blue Sky fea­ture, Fer­di­nand.

“I do hope this movie is suc­cess­ful and that people will en­joy it and if so, we’ll deal with that when the time comes,” he says. “If it hap­pens, great. If not, I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far.”

Cre­at­ing Gabi started with a sketch ( above), moved into a ma­que­tte ( cen­ter), an­i­ma­tion

( lower right) and the fi­nal lighted ver­sion.

Rio 2,

Vanessa Mor­ri­son Car­los Sal­danha

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