Interview with the Filipino Artists Behind Disney’s ‘Strange World’

In a virtual roundtable interview, the two artists talked about their processes in working on the film, how they relate to its characters, and more!

Disney has yet to take us into another adventure with their new animated feature film, Strange World!

Promising to be another fun family flick, Strange World follows the Clades, a family of legendary explorers who sets foot on an uncharted and treacherous land where fantastical creatures reside. But as they embark on this journey, the Clades’ differences will threaten their most crucial mission yet.

Before the release of the movie in cinemas, we got to chat with two Filipino artists who worked from behind the scenes of Strange World: Mikee Sevilla (Raya and the Last Dragon, Encanto) who served as an animator for the movie, and Virgilio John Aquino (Frozen 2, Raya and the Last Dragon) who served as a modeler. In a virtual roundtable interview, the two artists talked about their processes in working on the film, how they relate to its characters, and more!

Check out the highlights of the interview below:

What has it been like to witness that shift of diversity and representation in these animated films from Disney?

Mikee Sevilla (MS): I think it’s very important obviously, to have representation in films. That’s something that we’re always trying to strive for. Hopefully, this film inspires young kids to be themselves, be who they are, and allow them to be more comfortable.

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Virgilio John Aquino (VJA) : I totally agree. Disney always strives to tell different stories and we always deal with different themes. In this case, we have three generations of the Clades, and they’re trying to get along and trying to figure each other out because everyone has their own dream. When kids see themselves, they’re gonna relate to young Ethan– all the kids who aspire to be themselves and just be accepted to be who they are, and just be allowed to be humans.

Strange World 1
Photo: Disney website

In Strange World, did you have a favorite model to work on?

VJA: Yes actually. I worked on the Venture, which is the big exploration ship that they used to go on this fantastic journey into this unknown space. It’s a big task because it has to be a functioning, kind of ship, and it’s always great to see it on the big screen and on the small screen whenever we do testing and stuff.

How was it working on Disney films, before and during the pandemic, and now that we’re almost back to normal?

MS: I started with Disney when the pandemic happened. Even up to now, I’m still working from home, but they’re starting to bring people back in. Actually, in two weeks, I’ll be working onsite at Disney which I’m very excited about!

VJA: For me, it’s been a learning experience, especially during the pandemic. We’re always used to having our fellow artists in the next room, we’re always collaborating. But when the pandemic hit and we had to revert to working from home, it was a little disconcerting but you know, we worked it out and we were able to get our work done. Because we would be concerned that, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we gonna make films now? How are we gonna tell these fantastic stories?’ but when there’s a will there’s a way, and we were able to work from home and as Mikee said, we’re starting to get back into the building… It’s great that Disney is allowing us to have that flexibility to work from home, work hybrid, or just go in [and work full-time].

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Photo: Disney website

To which character were you able to relate to the most?

VJA: I think for me, it was more with Ethan, because we’re talking about three generations in the film that are coming together. They’re trying to figure out how to relate to each other and stuff. For me, I’m always relating [them] to my father and my grandfather. You’re always gonna be the young one, you’re always gonna relate, because you grew up being a kid under their eyes, and then you grew up a little, and all of a sudden you have your own thoughts and your own ideas.

So I think that what’s interesting in the film, for me, is how they explore those relationships. And with Ethan, to me, he’s my point of view as far as how he deals with the generational gap and the communication gaps when you talk to your father and grandfather. Sometimes they cannot relate, and that’s fine. At some point you have to work things out.

Strange World 3
Photo: Disney website

Is there a particular sequence that you worked on that was most memorable for you?

MS: I was cast on a few family shots where Ethan is talking with his mom in the Venture. That was a very meaningful sequence to work on, mainly because you could see Ethan just longing for something, and his mom being super supportive of it. And working on Ethan, in general, was very meaningful for me, because I got to be involved in pre-production for the character so that’s really figuring out who this character is and how this character moves and behaves. So one of the things I enjoyed doing was, sort of incorporating– although Ethan was I would say generally masculine, you know everyone has both feminine and masculine sides to them– and I think being playful, creating this character, and showing his softer side, that was really fun to do.

How different was it working on an animated film that has a sci-fi adventure genre?

MS: I think for this particular film, since we didn’t really do any research trips on this film, it was really just from your imagination, so I feel like the director was really responding to just strange, weird things. So it’s really just, go crazy, and we’ll sort of pull back if it gets too far. That’s a little different than the films that I had to work on because for films like Raya and Encanto, those are very cultural-specific things, so certain gestures are from that culture. So yeah, this one’s different, I would say, for sure.

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Photo: ‘Strange World’ on Twitter

VJA: I think that for this film, there was a pandemic going on and stuff. You know, what I had to do was really find that adventurous part of myself and inventive part in myself as well. And when I was tasked to model the Venture, there were a lot of mechanical things that I wasn’t privy to, because I’m not a mechanic. So I had to research online just how things work, how certain mechanisms would work if it was a real ship.

Then just before the pandemic, we actually had a team that took pictures of going into a real ship and just taking pictures of the interior of that ship. I was able to draw from that as well. But you know, I would like to have gone onto a real ship and looked at it myself, being a modeler and stuff. But a lot of it was like, 80% of it was research online, and 20% of it was pure imagination and just making stuff up, that’s very unique to the film, and I think that we pulled it off.

With the arrival of Disney+ in the Philippines, what are your top three recommendations from the streaming platform while we wait for Strange World to come out in cinemas?

MS: Well, Raya and The Last Dragon, Encanto, [laughs], and John, you give the third recommendation. What else would you recommend?

VJA: Zootopia, yeah, that’s a good one. For me, it would be Raya and The Last Dragon [laughs]. I always liked the classics, I always say, “Watch Beauty and The Beast.” That’s one of my favorite animated films of all time. And if I might be a little self-appreciating– self-promotion I mean– here, go see Lightning in a Bottle at the Short Circuit, there are a lot of great short stories there, but yeah, see mine too.

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Photo: ‘Strange World’ on Twitter

ALSO READ
WATCH: Pinoy Animator Mikee Sevilla on Working for Disney’s ‘Encanto: A Magical World’


Strange World opens in cinemas today! Buy your tickets here.

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