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Director Enrico Casarosa And Producer Andrea Warren Spill Behind-The-Scenes Details About Pixar's Luca - Exclusive Interview

Enrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren are no strangers to Disney and Pixar films, having both worked on numerous projects for the two powerful studios. Warren has contributed to such animated fare as "Monsters, Inc.," "WALL-E," and the "Cars" franchise, while Casarosa has lent his talents to "Coco," "Up," and "Ratatouille." But with Disney and Pixar's latest release, "Luca," it's the first time each of them has taken the reins on a major motion picture, with Casarosa as director and Warren as producer.

"Luca" is a deeply personal story for Italian-born Casarosa, as it's loosely based on his real-life childhood adventures and his love for Italian culture and food. The animated film follows a young boy named Luca as he goes on a summer adventure in the Italian Riviera with his newfound best friend Alberto. But there's a twist — the two youngsters must hide their true identities as sea monsters.

"Luca" stars Jacob Tremblay ("Room") as Luca, Jack Dylan Grazer ("Shazam," "It") as Alberto, Jim Gaffigan ("Super Troopers," "Chappaquiddick") as Luca's distracted dad Lorenzo, and Maya Rudolph ("Saturday Night Live," "Bridesmaids") as his overbearing mother Daniela.

Ahead of the film's June 18 premiere on Disney+, Casarosa and Warren exclusively spoke to Looper about what went into making the film, where the story ideas came from, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected production.

Director Enrico Casarosa says Luca is inspired by 'the mystery of the sea'

Enrico, I know this is based on a real-life friendship of yours, but how and why did you come up with the idea of the main characters being sea monsters?

Enrico Casarosa: There's two sides to the answer to that. One is that we always want to find a really fun, animation-worthy idea. The fantastic is something I'm interested in. I even made a short film about a whole family that goes up on the moon [2011's "La Luna"]. But I knew I wanted to bring something that was really wondrous. And the other side of it is that these wonderful sea monster maps have always inspired me. They look really interesting, they're about the mystery of the sea, but they also really connect to a kid's feeling, in that tough moment where we're trying to find our way. Growing up, feeling a little bit like you're out of place or you want to fit in, but you don't know how to.

So the fact that these kids would have this secret felt very reminiscent of the feelings we have as we grow up, of feeling a bit like outsiders or feeling odd in your own skin in some way. So, really, from the first pitch, some of the other directors around Pixar that we pitched the idea to were like, "Oh, that's kind of fun; I remember that feeling." And so it felt like a nice coming together of those two ideas.

You've both worked on previous Disney and Pixar projects. How does "Luca" compare to other Pixar movies?

Andrea Warren: I think that it's fun. I mean, every project feels so different, and I think that especially now, we're really enjoying working with [Pixar chief creative officer] Pete Docter, he's really helping push a diverse set of filmmakers, and everybody kind of realizing their own angle on things. And this film is so fun. It's a love letter to Italy, and we just get to immerse ourselves in that world. Creating it with Enrico, it's a personal story, and we're really trying to tap into some of those deeply felt emotions of growing up and friendship. And I think it has a really beautiful look and feel that's a little bit different. We really wanted to lean into the hand of the artist. A world that feels like it pulls the essence of the place as opposed to being a detailed photograph. So it's really finding this beautiful style that is not perfect, that has texture and imperfections and characters that look more like Enrico's sketches.

Luca star Jack Dylan Glazer was forced to record his lines in his mother's closet

Now I know filming animation is done differently than live action, obviously — and there was the whole COVID thing going on while you were doing this — but any funny stories or memorable moments that stand out to you while filming?

Enrico Casarosa: I think one of certainly the biggest challenges we had was having to record our actors. We always talk about Jack Dylan Grazer recording his whole performance, from the first session to the last one, in the closet. He had blankets up, and I still remember that, very often, we would have to remind him to not lean on the hangers of his mother's skirts. So that is something we remember fondly, also as like "Oh my gosh, what a way to make this work." I felt for him — they were long hours in there.

Anything else funny? Well, I mean, what's amazing and what's wonderful about animation — because we have a team of animators — we were able to still find this wonderful connection. We would meet every morning and every evening with all of the animators that were making the shots so we didn't have to have performers facing each other and doing COVID tests and whatnot. So there were a lot of silver linings. We wish we had didn't have that distance, but still, because of the craziness we were going through, it created a lot of camaraderie. I was really surprised and happy that we still felt this wonderful team coming together, going through this kind of slightly crazy time, but making the movie pulled us together.

Andrea, anything on your end?

Andrea Warren: I think that those are all good points and good stories. I mean, everything was just more complicated and communication took longer. Like Enrico said, there were just a lot of hiccups along the way. I mean, there were some tricky moments because the actors had to be their own technicians, so sometimes we would be doing a performance and you'd think, "Oh my gosh, that was wonderful." And then the actor might say, "Oh shoot, I forgot to hit the [record] button." And you're like "No!" So there were just a lot of challenges along the way, trying to figure out how to keep it moving and make up for lost territory.

How Italian language and cuisine played a crucial role in Luca

Italian culture, Italian food, and, of course, the Vespa are all kind of characters in the film themselves. Enrico, what do you hope viewers learn about your culture through this film?

Enrico Casarosa: Yeah, I thought that the important thing was to be specific and authentic and that there's certainly a love letter to small towns of Italy and the small realities, the blue-collar realities of that world. You can go and still find it, off the beaten track. I feel that at least some of the smaller towns really have this wonderful flavor. So I think there's so much to go and enjoy there between, of course, the food.

If you ask an Italian where to visit, probably you get a list of the foods you have to try, which I've done quite a few times in the last few years. And so we wanted to bring the flavors as much as we could, probably make you want to make that pasta pesto. We want pesto domination in the world! It's from Genoa, my hometown. It's my daughter's favorite, and it's certainly my favorite sauce.

Even the language, there's something so fun about bringing the words, as many words as we could, because it's a beautiful language. Having married here [in the States], my daughter is half Italian, half American, and I speak to her in Italian. So every day, I'm there a little bit, trying to bring some of that identity to her, part of who she is. So it's wonderful to be able to share that with the world and kind of be like, "Oh, look, the language is beautiful. The place is beautiful. And look at these characters."

If you could pick out one small detail or moment in the film that really sums up what "Luca" means to you, what would it be?

Enrico Casarosa: That's a very good question. I will go probably with the moment where Luca and Giulia are in her room, completely geeking out. He's just learning and learning, and she's showing him more of the world, and they have this kind of bursting of joy. And the fact that not only are they getting excited about learning all these crazy things, but they see each other, and there's this sense of like, "I start dancing! Oh, I'm sorry." But no, it's okay. And that felt like it encapsulated what a good friendship is, which is, you're never too much for your best friend.

Do you guys personally believe in sea monsters and that kind of folklore?

Enrico Casarosa: [Laughs] Well, there is so much unknown in the deep, I feel like Uncle Ugo could show us some strange things there in the darkness of the Marianas Trench.

Andrea Warren: I feel like this film is the fun of imagining it, and sometimes it just feels like it is fun to be in a beautiful forest or something, and think, "Hm, I wonder if fairies are going to pop out." You know? It's fun to imagine.

"Luca" will be available on Disney+ on June 18.