Among Hugo‘s admiration for the classic Georges Méliès silent film A Trip to the Moon, the new Air album of the same name, and Newt Gingrich’s obsession with establishing a lunar colony, the Earth’s celestial satellite has been getting a lot of attention of late. Add La Luna to that list, the new Pixar short film that’s been nominated for Best Animated Short at this year’s Academy Awards. The simple but breathtakingly whimsical picture follows an Italian family — a small boy and his father and grandfather — that, for reasons I wouldn’t dare reveal, travels to the moon.
La Luna, along with the other Oscar-nominated short films, is currently playing in select theaters. But if there aren’t any showings near you, or if you’d like to watch a sneak peek, EW is proud to debut an exclusive clip from the movie. Check out the video, plus an interview with director Enrico Casarosa, below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
ENRICO CASAROSA: I grew up in Italy. I made it to the States to study in New York in 1994. I always loved to draw, and I studied a little bit of illustration in Italy. But then I left and really followed animation more specifically in New York. I did a lot of TV animation for smaller studios, and then ended up at Blue Sky Studios [which produced the Ice Age movies]. After a couple of years there, I got an offer [to be a storyboard artist] at Pixar in 2002, and I’ve been here ever since.
Where in Italy did you grow up?
I grew up in Genoa, which is on the Riviera. The sea is a big part of growing up there. That’s something that I was trying to bring to La Luna.
How does the process work at Pixar for getting short films up and running? Is anyone allowed to pitch ideas?
Yeah, it’s pretty open. More than two years ago, I went up and raised my hand and said, “Could I pitch something?” And they were like, “Sure.”
Was it out of the ordinary for a storyboard artist to be pitching a short film?
No, there have been animators and story artists that have done it before. In many ways, you have a leg up being a story artist because we deal so much daily with the structure and writing of a story. So once I came up with the story I wanted, I was able to illustrate it. I made 30 watercolor images to pitch it with. I’d flip through my images, almost like a kid’s book, as I was telling the story.
You usually present three ideas — that’s the structure. You present it to [chief creative officer] John Lasseter and [president] Ed Catmull. John is the one who executive produces these shorts, so he’s kind of the gatekeeper. He immediately liked La Luna and embraced its Italian flavor. And then he kind of shepherds you through the process. We checked in with him during production every other month. It’s a great learning experience.
How long did the actual production last?
The production was roughly nine months, but I’ve been working on it for closer to a year and a half. Once we were done with production, I quickly started working [as head of story] on Pixar’s Untitled Dinosaurs Movie. Meanwhile, I still went for a few days to finish the short and get it scored, so it all overlaps a little bit.
You had Pixar’s go-to composer Michael Giacchino write the score, which is beautiful.
We had in our temp score a lot of Nino Rota and some Fellini soundtracks, plus some old folk Neapolitan songs. I sent Michael these CDs to kind of inspire him and tell him, “Reach for your [Italian] roots!” And he totally embraced that and really captured something that feels a little Felliniesque.
Speaking of embracing one’s roots, how much of La Luna has to deal with your own upbringing in Italy?
The core of it is really my relationship with my dad and grandfather while growing up. My grandfather lived with us, and my dad and he didn’t get along very well. There would be tense dinners where they would ask me a question but would never talk to each other. I felt like I was the bone of contention in the middle of these two dogs. I thought there was something interesting there for a nice coming-of-age story about a boy finding his own voice between two bigger voices.
The other influence was that I was reading Italo Calvino, who has these wonderful fantastical stories, and specifically one called The Distance of the Moon, which is about someone putting a ladder up to the moon to get milk. There was that, and books like The Little Prince, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short A Grand Day Out, where they go up to the moon and have cheese and crackers because the moon is made of cheese. All these wonderful, crazy ideas about the moon really made me think that it’d be fun to come up with my own fantastic myth about it.
And the last influence is [anime director] Hayao Miyazaki. I grew up with his work in Italy. For some reason, in the ’80s they had a ton of Japanese cartoons. And in the ’90s, when I discovered his movies, they totally connected with me.
La Luna reminded me a bit of that flashback sequence in Howl’s Moving Castle where Howl actually catches a shooting star.
We looked at those beautiful shooting stars. The amount of imagery that I love in Miyazaki’s movies is so pervasive that it totally seeps into my tastes and even the way I draw.
By the way, you have to try playing the game Super Mario Galaxy, where you can travel 360 degrees on all these little planets.
You’re not the first one to tell me that! There’s something so fascinating about having a tiny planet. That’s what I got out of The Little Prince — it’s so tiny that you can take a walk and be in the same place after two minutes.
Going back to your dad and grandfather… Did they ever mend their relationship?
Not quite. In some way, La Luna is my way to make them get along. There were some serious rifts between them that are obviously deeper than what I reference in the short. After my dad saw La Luna, he told me, “I never knew that you were that affected by that relationship.” But I think people have very strange ways of showing affection and love, so I always like to think that [their love] had to be there.
Many Pixar shorts focus on quick humor, while La Luna has a more patient, poetic kind of narrative.
While I was starting to make La Luna, they were finishing [the 2010 short] Day & Night, and that showed that Pixar was open to some curveballs. Pace-wise, La Luna is a huge difference. It’s the longest Pixar short, and they were supportive of a slower pace, which is challenging because there’s only a certain amount of money. At first, it was supposed to be four-and-a-half minutes long. But with the same budget, we were able to make it almost seven minutes, so it worked out. But if I had said at the beginning, “I’m going to make a seven-minute short,” they probably would have killed me. [Laughs]
In terms of the short’s style, this is the closest I’ve seen CG animation simulate watercolors.
Yeah, given that I had made all these watercolors in the beginning, it gave us something to aim for. The story seemed to support it, too, since it’s a fable. I wanted it to feel like a kid’s book, so we tried to use as much media as possible straight on the screen. Some of our backdrops were big pastels that we scanned into the computer. And the big shot of the moon coming out of the water was just a watercolor painting. We were okay with it looking flat, as if it was a Fellini movie set.
Not to get you down about your Oscar odds, but a Pixar short surprisingly hasn’t won since For the Birds did 10 years ago.
I’m quite aware of that! [laughs] It’s been an uphill battle. Sometimes we feel a little bit like the Yankees, in that we are a big studio. But this is a little movie. We made it with a small team. In many ways, we felt like a little studio within a bigger one. And I hope people can see that it was made with a lot of love.