How did the evolution of animation technology help you out?
We have five live actors inside the animation. They are integrated inside the animation. I’m shooting the film, so it’s not something that is completely drawn by the animators. They had to come to our world. I’m shooting a two-hour movie and this sequence is 15 minutes and is shot with major musical performances, singing and dancing. They needed to fold into our world. The integration was so detailed. We had to do previsualization and storyboards for every little bit of it. We also had to fit into the animators’ world as well. I have to say “A Cover Is Not the Book.” It was wonderful to create a theatrical number set in a music hall stage with an audience, with theatrical lighting, spotlights and background and stage lights. Of course, we’re lighting it at the same time, but it needs to be completed by the animators. To see this theatrical performance inside this animated world is fantastic. We also took the four penguins from the first film and gave them a little more distinct personalities. It was so much fun to put them in the musical num- bers. That was one of the big highlights for me. The animation sequence is one of the many adventures that Mary and the kids have in this movie. The first one is an underwater adventure they have as they go inside their bathtub. Meryl Streep plays Cousin Topsy, and they visit her and the whole room turns upside down. All of the adventures have a point because Mary has this master plan, which is meant to heal the family. It helps the children learn something and move forward. There are so many big set pieces. There’s a whole finale that takes place in the air. It was a wonderful sequence that Travers wrote herself.
We cherry-picked many of these adventures from the eight Mary Poppins books she wrote. It has to do with the magical balloon lady, and if you pick the right balloon you fly. So there’s a big musical number called “No Way to Go But Up” that is a big CGI event. When I work with actors, I really try to limit the amount of CGI work because I want to see how much we do in the real space. We did a lot of the balloon number in a real space, shot in the backlot at Pinewood Studio, which became our city park. Then, we moved it to greenscreen. But we tried to integrate it all so you didn’t feel like you were in this fake world. I did this movie because I really wanted to send this message of hope and joy out into the world. I just feel that we live in such a dark time — that this was a necessary movie to remember your childlike sensibility, to remember the light against the dark. Lin-manuel Miranda plays a lamplighter, and that’s both a figurative job and a literal one: He is bringing light into the darkness of London. I feel that our film is doing the same thing, and that is bringing light into a darker time. That’s why such great actors like Meryl Streep and Colin Firth signed on, because they also felt that this was the right time to send this message out into the world. ◆