VFX Exclusive: Creators of Disney’s ‘Strange World’ traverse through the making of the emotional, picturesque, fantasy film -

Exclusive: Creators of Disney’s ‘Strange World’ traverse through the making of the emotional, picturesque, fantasy film

Left to Right: Roy Conli, Don Hall and Qui Nguyen (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Known across the globe for the creation of popular animated films such as Zootopia, Lion King, Encanto and many more, Disney is yet again set to bring to the world a picturesque and action-packed adventure animated film, Strange World

It is a story about a family, specifically three generations who each are seeking their place in the world. Searcher Clade is a brilliant family man—who, as a teenager, discovered a plant-based power source, Pando, that changed the world. He built a successful enterprise growing, harvesting and distributing the crop alongside his wife and son. Searcher’s dad, Jaeger, set out at a young age to be the kind of explorer legends are made of. A statue in town confirms he achieved his goal but lost during an expedition, nobody’s heard from him in decades. Searcher’s son, Ethan, is a happy 16-year-old with a great sense of humour and a decent work ethic. Ethan helps on the farm, but he’s not sure he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. The three Clades have huge differences that prove divisive—and at the same time, they have more in common than any of them is willing to admit.

Animation Xpress attended the exclusive screening and interacted with director Don Hall, producer Roy Conli, writer and co-director Qui Nguyen, senior/lead animator Chatrasal Singh and general technical director Norman Joseph. 

Giving an experience of partly living in a fantasy world, one of the most unique parts of the film are its creatures. With almost 450 artists on board out of which around 100 were animators, the creators have put a lot of thought into the making of the film. Right from the word go, the film has everything in place to hook the audience throughout the film as it has what it takes to take one on an emotional journey. What makes it extra special is the fact that director Hall has given a personal touch to the film as he brought in certain aspects of his family life to the film. 

For Hall, it all started as an idea, wherein he thought about his sons and “the world they are going to inherit, how is it different from what I inherited from my dad?”. According to the creators, the story brought them together and to both producer Conli and writer and co-director Nguyen, Don Hall inspired them to be a part of this film and their common goal was to tell the generational story. Conli shared, “The worlds that Hall created were just phenomenal and I love them! In the film, there are worlds that relate to our world but can only be seen in animated avatar and what also appealed to me is its three-generational storyline.”

Commenting on the challenging part, Hall said that the concept art consumed enough time as they had to create new creatures and lands from scratch or enhance the assets that were available; be it for the state of Avalonia, the newly discovered pink planet or the Clade farm. Whereas, for senior/lead animator Chatrasal Singh there were technical challenges in the film as through the film they were trying to tell an action-adventure story which unfolds on different surfaces created by the team. “As animators, we are used to focusing on performances. It’s so much about acting while also doing a lot of action to convey the story. Another challenging aspect was the tricky camera movements,” revealed Singh. According to general technical director Norman Joseph who was responsible for the proper and smooth functioning of the pipeline, creating/animating the character of Splat and building the environments was challenging. 

Left to Right: Chatrasal Singh and Norman Joseph

Joseph and Singh both had an amazing experience working with Don Hall, and they both mentioned how Hall has always been open to ideas and implements them if they fit best. For Singh, Strange World is the first Disney film that he is working on, so building those never seen before environments was interesting and they had to take references from the Pulp Fiction magazines that were published from 1896 to the 1950s. The team had fun designing the different parts of Strange World while taking inspiration from old book covers and the idea of what the future might look like presented in them. They have also focused on the colour palette used in the film. There are different colours shown for the sequences based in the city of Avalonia, Clade farm and the hidden world. 

Assistant production designer Justin Cram gives insights about the colour palette used:
Avalonia: For this artists play up warm colours, such as white, orange and red. “We wanted to create a kind of utopia, a warm, nostalgic feeling to emphasize that this is a wonderful culture that everybody enjoys,” says Cram. Avalonia is featured in both pre-pando and post-pando times.

Clade Farm: Cool colours such as lush greens and blues dominate the landscape. “I was looking at old Kodachrome images from the ’30s and ’40s and trying to connect emotionally because it’s really about the close relationship between Searcher, Ethan and Meridian,” added Cram.

Hidden World: In the midst of an important mission, the Clades stumble upon a hidden world that is like nothing they’ve ever seen before. In the strange world, those cool colours from Searcher’s farm are used sparingly. According to production designer Merhrdad Isvandi, “When we get to the strange world, we don’t have any greens except pando. We reserved green for the pando, and we got away from blue in the sky. Our brain is adjusted to seeing blue skies. Removing that option and thinking of something else to make the image beautiful was an exciting challenge throughout production.”

Releasing on 23 November worldwide, the voice cast of Strange World includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, Dennis Quade as Jaeger Clade, Jaboukie Young-White as Ethan Clade, Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade, Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal and others. All the cast members hope that this film will touch the hearts of the people with the story, emotions and creativity.