The stunning sets of Walt Disney Animation Studios strange worldExclusive to cinemas today, invite viewers to a place beyond their wildest imagination.
Disney Animation’s 61st feature film is set in a vast hidden subterranean world where bizarre creatures, looming dangers and unknown points await a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they and a ragtag crew navigate the uncharted, treacherous Land is navigated by a mischievous lump, a three-legged dog and a multitude of ravenous creatures.
Directed by Oscar®-winning director Don Hall (big hero 6, Raya and the last dragon) and co-director/writer Qui Nguyen (co-writer, Raya and the last dragon), the film features voice acting, directed by Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, a farmer who finds himself on an expedition into the unknown; Dennis Quaid as Jaeger Clade, Searcher’s larger-than-life explorer father; Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade, a pilot, natural leader, and Searcher’s wife and partner in all things; Jaboukie Young-White as Ethan Clade, Searcher and Meridian’s 16-year-old son who longs for adventures beyond his family’s farm while struggling through a school crush; and Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, the chief of the country of Avalonia – a valley surrounded by mountains so steep that any explorer who has tried to climb out has never returned – and the leader of the exploration party.
Given the title strange world, the film’s look had to be weird, fun and extraordinary, and the artists were determined to create something unexpected for audiences. They started with Pulp Fiction – magazines that appeared from 1896 through the late 1950s, so named because of the cheap pulp paper the magazines were printed on.
Production designer Mehrdad Isvandi summed it up: “It’s a nostalgic adventure, but there are contemporary themes. It feels timeless in a way and embodies the idea of simplicity in life.”
As the concepts for the alien world began to take shape, the filmmakers realized that this setting required a unique approach. Typically, filmmakers at Disney Animation create familiar environments. “A tree is a tree and a waterfall is a waterfall,” Isvandi said. “In the strange world a tree may not be a tree; a waterfall may not be a waterfall. Its jungle-like landscape consists of all colors except green. As a result, our brain doesn’t know how to feel. We challenged ourselves to design a world that feels otherworldly, yet is grounded and relatable, and also not too pretty to distract.”
in the strange world what looks like plants might suddenly take off; what moves like a primal animal could perhaps take root. Some elements, it seemed, were both background characters and part of the environment.
“Our films always have some level of animated environment,” said Steve Goldberg, visual effects supervisor. “For example, an ambient breeze blows in through the forest frozen 2. This can be quite procedural – we set it up once and use it throughout the movie.
But the scale of the lifeworlds in strange world was an order of magnitude beyond that. It wasn’t just about having a breeze. It was as if the surroundings were alive. What would normally have been a job for the effects department suddenly became a job for our entire character asset pipeline.”
Sean Jenkins, Head of Environments agreed, “These are some of the greatest environments we’ve ever created at Disney Animation. In fact, when we first built it, we didn’t have computers big enough to show the whole world.” He explained that the filmmakers “have to work with the talented team that we have to try and figure out how we can get the richest world, from the smallest blades of grass to the largest structures, and still be able to fit it onto our computers.”
Ben Fiske was selected as the animated environments supervisor – the first film at Disney Animation to call for such a role. Tasked with setting the landscape in motion, Fiske got to work early in production. He worked hand-in-hand with the production design team to figure out how they would bring the bizarre to this quirky world. “With the strange world, we tried to create the unexpected,” said Fiske. “One of the things I find really rewarding about a role like this is defining the rules of the world. You really create a world on a level that many people don’t get to experience that way.”
He continued, “Animated environments are really fun to look at – we have plants that burp and some that do little dances – but that must never come at the expense of character portrayal… One of the most difficult things about this work is that we need to make it engaging, imaginative and a little unexpected, but at the same time never cross the threshold where you divert focus from the story being told.”