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How Vespas and visual storytelling shaped Pixar’s upcoming film Luca

Pixar will bring another family-friendly adventure to the screen this year with Luca, a Mediterranean fantasy that follows a pair of young sea monsters exploring the human world on their homemade scooter.

Directed by Enrico Casarosa (La Luna), the animated feature Luca is based on Casarosa’s own childhood spent on the coast of Italy, where his friendship with a rebellious boy brought him out of his shell and shaped his outlook on the world. Luca casts Jacob Tremblay (Room) as the film’s titular sea monster, whose chance encounter with the impulsive Alberto (It actor Jack Dylan Grazer) kicks off an adventure in the human world and forms the foundation for a life-changing friendship.

Disney and Pixar’s Luca | Official Trailer | Disney+

Casarosa and Luca producer Andrea Warren gave Digital Trends an early look at the film and explained how Vespa scooters and the evolution of visual storytelling techniques shaped the look and feel of the Pixar adventure.

“There is something so beautiful about an old Vespa,” said Casarosa when discussing the project that brings Luca and Alberto together outside a little town in the Italian Riviera.

Having seen humans cruise by on the iconic scooters from afar, the pair decide to create their own scooter to explore the land beyond the coast, using discarded material they find on the seafloor. In the eyes of the film’s protagonists, what might look like a hodge-podge of scrap to us becomes a work of immeasurable beauty and opportunity.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“[Vespas] are ubiquitous in Italy [and] although theirs is a little bit dodgy and beat up, they still love it,” he laughed.

“It really shows that wonderful childlike thinking — that seeing the world on a homemade Vespa is something you could do, you know?” added Warren. “It captures that spirit of imagination, and not really understanding how the world works at that age.”

In order to see the world through Luca and Alberto’s eyes, the film’s creative team first had to capture the unique visual aesthetic of the film’s setting: A seaside Italian town in the late 1950s. And for both Casarosa and the film’s protagonists, an important part of that setting was the water itself.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“[The water in Luca] is very specific to the place,” explained Casarosa. “The coastline [of towns like this] are a lot of cliffs, and not a lot of beaches. So, the color is deep — blue cobalts and greens — and it should never feel tropical. When you’re in it, there’s a murk to it. A beautifully colorful murk. And for Luca, [that murk] represents a more limited world. In his underwater world, he can’t see as far.”

“Our team worked hard to make sure this water felt like it was from the Mediterranean versus tropical water or other settings,” said Warren. Making the audience feel like it was visiting the Italian coast during that particular time period was a vital element of visual storytelling in Luca.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“The tools of the trade are getting better and better at capturing realism,” said Casarosa. “So much of this movie is about a kid experiencing things for the first time and I wanted a sense of that light and wonder in the movie, in all its details, because Luca is someone who’s in love with discovering the world.”

That Luca and his friend accomplish much of that discovery on the back of — as Casarosa calls it — a “janky Vespa,” only adds to both the symbolism in the film and his own, very personal memories of childhood adventures on the Italian coast.

“A Vespa is perfectly made for two people, so it represents their friendship so well,” he laughed.

Pixar’s Luca will premiere June 18 on the Disney+ streaming service.

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Rick Marshall
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