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Carlos Saldanha Talks ‘Rio 2’

Blue Sky and Blue Macaws are back in this expansive and energetic sequel.

'Rio 2.' All images TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Hitting U.S. theatres today is Rio 2, Blue Sky Studio’s sequel to their 2011 hit Rio. At the helm again is Carlos Saldanha, who this time brings a much larger visual and musical canvas to the proceedings. Touching on humanity’s thirst to profit from environmental destruction as well as Rio’s villainous Nigel and his thirst for revenge, Rio 2 takes us into the heart of the Amazon forest as Blu, Jewel and their kids reconnect with long lost family. Packed with lush rainforests and even lusher music, Rio 2 is a non-stop animated family travelogue.

I recently had a chance to speak with Carlos, who shared his thoughts on music, teamwork and the challenges of directing such a massive production.

Dan Sarto: From where do you draw inspiration? What inspires you to make films?

Carlos Saldanha: I try to find truth. I try to find truth in personalities. Truth in character. Truth in visuals. Movies that have strong characters. Movies that inspire me are movies that take me on a journey I can’t forget. Good movie visuals excite me, but not just by themselves. I enjoy very simple movies with very compelling stories. They inspire me. They don’t always have to be funny or beautiful. That’s why I love going to the movies. I leave with something that has touched me in some special way. It helps drive me to find that in my own movies as well.

DS: What were you able to accomplish in this second Rio film that you weren’t able to do in the first?

CS: The main thing was I wanted to have a soccer game. I couldn’t do it in the first film. We just didn’t have enough time in the schedule and it didn’t fit right into the story. But I wanted to reflect that side of Brazilian culture. Starting work on the second film, I was determined to figure out how to do a soccer game. Luckily, it fell right into the storyline, having a competition between the different birds. It was one of the toughest sequences to conceive and to execute. But I put my foot down that I wanted to do it in the second film.

DS: On the production side, what were the main challenges you faced bringing this film to the screen?

CS: It’s such a bigger and fuller movie than the first. It’s always a challenge to manage such a big production with the limited amount of time we have. On any animated movie, the biggest challenge is the story, how it all pieces together. This film is complex. You have a lot of the old characters, you have a lot of new characters. You have elaborate music and visuals. Bringing all these elements together successfully was a huge challenge.

We had some complications in the beginning of the production with the unfortunate and sad passing of Don Rhymer. But we never lost faith in the project. Of course every movie we make we learn so much. Lessons learned on Rio and Epic allowed us come up with a picture that blended both worlds. Our film could feel big and lush visually but also be fun and emotional to carry on the stories of our first movie.

But managing all those elements was much harder on this film than on the first one.

DS: You’ve spoken previously quite passionately about the use of music in this film, not just regarding specific songs but the overall “feel” and tone of the film score. Music sometimes seems like an afterthought in many films but it’s a critical and central component of your film as well as Brazilian culture. How did you approach the film’s music development?

CS: We took a very holistic approach to music. Luckily, I have a dream team of musicians to work with. John Powell is our composer. Sergio Mendes is our overall executive producer. And Carlinhos Brown is just a music machine, making such amazing music and sounds. On this film, the key was planning everything ahead of time. I started brainstorming right away with these guys. I wanted sounds from all the regions of Brazil. I wanted to show the diversity. We explored everything. As the outline of the story evolved, I started to identify where music would be necessary to advance or enhance things. That early planning helped us identify the styles and the vibe of music we wanted throughout the film. From there we were able to focus on specific scenes and songs.

For example, we wanted the opening of the film to feel like you were going to a party. But it’s New Years. It’s not Carnival or a religious festival. It could be any regional style. It’s a party at the beach. What songs and sounds would we hear today? We had more freedom with the sound, with the lyrics and with the performance.

In the middle of the movie, we have the big celebration song when Jewel dances with Roberto and all the tribe is dancing. It’s a big spectacle. I wanted that to feel regional, from the north of Brazil. So we explored different rhythms. And then we brought in Barbatuques from Sao Paolo, a group that does body percussion. We got them to write a song using more earthy percussive elements, stomps, claps and hits coming from their bodies and mouths.

So we started early, did a lot of planning and worked with the emotional centers of the film to create the right music.

DS: How did you come up with Kristin Chenoweth’s fantastic song, Poisonous Love?

CS: That’s an interesting story. It was one of those surprises that just come about. Carlinhos had submitted a few songs to us. We already knew where we’d use a couple of them. But he had one he kept pitching and singing. He’d call me from Bahia and say, “This is a great song!” But I didn’t know where to put it. It was about children singing of the beauty and joy of the forest. A very nice, sweet and upbeat song. I just couldn’t find a place for it. I showed the song to John. He thought it was a beautiful song with a strong melody but it didn’t have the right vibe. We had been entertaining the idea of a love song for Gabi. So he dissected the melody from Carlinhos’ song and said, “This song could become that love song.” I didn’t see how that could be. The song was so upbeat, so fast. He said, “No, I can work with the melody.” He started playing with an operatic version of it and little by little, he discovered our song. Randy Rogel came on to write lyrics and with the voice of Kristin Chenoweth, it became something unbelievably powerful.

DS: What in particular about helming a film like Rio 2 gives you the most personal sense of satisfaction?

CS: I enjoy the people I work with. The team. That’s what gives me joy every day. Of course, the result of that team is the project you fall in love with, that makes you feel proud. At the end of the day, when I watch one of our movies, I want to feel proud. I want everyone who worked on the film to feel proud. We all worked together. The everyday connection to such a huge team, over 500 people, all so talented with great ideas and dreams of their own, their passion, that’s what makes me proud. Animation is such a step by step process. Each step gives you motivation to move on to the next one because you see or feel something new. When you see it all put together, it’s like a jolt of excitement, knowing it was such an amazing collaborative project.

It’s impossible to do by yourself, but it’s still hard to do as a group. Being bombarded creatively from all sides. Having to manage this giant process while still coming up with something that feels like it’s your own creative vision. At the same time, you have to allow everyone involved to feel that same sense of satisfaction and pride in the outcome. It’s very difficult to make that happen. But doing that gives me the most joy.

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

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