Early Press Day: Filmmakers Talk on Animating Disney/Pixar’s ‘Luca’

On June 18th, courtesy of Disney and Pixar and exclusive to Disney+, Director Enrico Casarosa takes audiences on a trip to the Italian Riviera in the upcoming animated feature Luca.

LUCA poster

Luca tells the story of a formative summer in the life of a young sea monster.  Warned from birth about the dangers of humans and life on land, Luca is nevertheless fascinated by the world above the sea.

Introverted and rule-abiding, Luca can only marvel at the debris that floats down from the surface à la Ariel until he meets Alberto–a fellow land-loving sea monster his own age who is brash and daring and everything Luca is not.  Together, the two embark on a summer filled with the magic of youth and friendship and gelato and Vespas, all against the background of the beautiful Italian Riviera.

BIG DREAMS — Jack Dylan Grazer and Jacob Tremblay lend their voices to sea monsters Alberto and Luca, who look human when they’re out of the water. Fascinated with all things human, Alberto and Luca decide to venture into the Italian seaside village of Portorosso for an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Directed by Academy Award® nominee Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna”) and produced by Andrea Warren (“Lava,” “Cars 3”), Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” debuts on Disney+ on June 18, 2021. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

We earlier reported back on the press conference part of our virtual press day, and then heard from director Enrico Casarosa and some of the other creative team about the genesis of the story, the casting and development of the art style.  We continue on, taking a closer look at some of the different and challenging aspects of animating Luca.


One of the most important images the animators needed to create for Luca was the transformation the sea monsters undergo as their appearances change to human and then back again.  Character supervisors Beth Albright and Sajan Skaria spoke a little on how they successfully created that effect.

Beth Albright listens during a Luca art review on July 31, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

At the core of Luca is the concept of transformation:  Through the course of this one magical summer, Luca and the characters around him are transformed both physically and internally, as they make this journey of self-discovery and exploration.  While they didn’t want it to look creepy, they knew it had to look natural and aquatic and as if it came from the inside to the surface of the creature.  A ripple effect shows scales moving over the surface of the character’s body, and distracts from the larger changes like tails retracting or fingers disappearing.

LUCA from monster to human

Rules had to be created as far as what caused the transformation.  Ultimately it was decided that it was driven by the monster getting wet or drying out, and not some underlying magical process.

LUCA transformation

Technically, the main battle was to construct a method where the artists would be free to depict the transformation in a manner that fit the art style and worked to meet the acting needs without worrying about the technical aspects.  A system was developed to help keep human and sea monster animation in sync so the transformation is seamless whether or not it is sped up or slowed down for the demands of the story.

LUCA transformation

Next, Jon Reisch, Effects Supervisor, joined us to present some of the impressive work the Effects department did on the film to create all the natural phenomena and give the characters a sense of tangible reality.


Pixar constantly strives to push the limits of its technical achievements from one film to the next.  In Luca, the main challenge was to create the stylized look Casarosa desired with hardware and software programed for realism.  A blend of the simplified elegance of Pixar’s 2-D influences and the visual richness of Pixar’s traditional CG was needed to support the storytelling and the visual language of the film.

LUCA effects

An example is the representation of water, which has been done to photorealistic extents in films like Finding Dory.  Here, animators wanted the same kind of dynamic physics they had before, but with more simplified, sinuous reflections that would result from integrated artistic control.


Mike Venturini, Animation Supervisor, gave us a short presentation on the new approach the animators had to take to develop the specifically stylized look of the movie that Casarosa wanted.

LUCA Alberto concept art

Looking at the mouth shapes of the characters, they show a clean, round silhouette without a lot of distracting anatomy.  The key qualities they aimed for were simple, graphic, and bold.

LUCA multilimbed animation

Multi-limb is a 2D animation trick used to show fast movement.  Animators incorporated some of that as well into the film, as one more way to bring in the personality of 2D.

In case you missed it, here’s the trailer for Luca.

Disney and Pixar’s Luca will debut exclusively on Disney+ on June 18, 2021.

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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