Interview: ‘Luca’ Visual Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch on the complex shape of water and creating an idyllic Italian seaside town
Jon Reisch has been at the forefront of Pixar‘s dominance of the animation landscape for 17 years. He’s been involved in everything ranging from Up to Cars to The Good Dinosaur. Pixar has set the standard for photorealism and eye-popping visuals which is why when I heard during the press conference for Pixar‘s latest project, Luca that they were going to go towards more elegant simplicity in this film it was shocking.
Luca takes place on the Italian Riviera, where an unlikely but strong friendship grows between a human being (voiced by Room‘s Jacob Tremblay) and a sea monster disguised as a human (voiced by DC Comics’ Shazam‘s Jack Dylan Grazer). It is directed by Enrico Casarosa (La Luna) and produced by Andrea Warren (Lava, Cars 3).
Instead of being left with tons of questions, I sought answers from the man himself. We were lucky enough to talk with Reisch about this change in Pixar’s approach as it pertains to Luca.
DS: How did Jon Reisch ended up working for Pixar?
JR: I’ve been at Pixar for 17 years now. I started as an intern on the first Cars film in the effects department. Before that, I was at Texas A&M University in the visualization science program, which has a great relationship with Pixar. Growing up, I was always enthralled with the visual effects world. I was always into Star Wars. When I was 15, my dad took me to a film festival where Dennis Muren, who was the visual effects supervisor for the original trilogy, was presenting. I just knew after that it was something that I wanted to get into for sure.
DS: You go from college to working for the dominant animation studio in Pixar, whose focus has been photorealism, and then one day, a gentleman comes by and says, let’s take it back a few notches. Let’s go for “elegant simplicity,” what was your first reaction when you heard this.
JR: Honestly, it was a little bit of terror because essentially, Enrico (the film’s director) was taking the playbook that we had developed over all these years and are now going to throw it out the window and go for something completely different. So yeah, it certainly was the biggest challenge that we had. But in the end, it’s one of the things that I am most proud of. One of the things that I am most proud of is the work my team has been able to deliver on Luca. It really feels like a shift in what we were able to provide and how the effects could visually support that elegant simplicity, that storybook stylization that he was going for. It ultimately supports his vision for storytelling.
DS: What popped in my brain during our discussion previously was you had to have had to take a lot of different photos from a lot of different angles to be able to recreate that simplistic look of the water where most of your story takes place, can get into that?
JR: It’s a great question. I mean, really, as the effects supervisor on the film, I joined about two years ago. In that first six to eight months, I was just on the show as the only effects artist on the team; it was really all about sort of listening very intently to what Enrico was asking for, and other elements of the production were already underway on the assets .. you know the stylization .. we see in the characters as those were coming along. I got a sense right away that this is a very different look so a lot of what my job was to make sure that the way that our stylized water was going to look would respond well to the wide angles on the film as well.
DS: What was your biggest challenge in creating that simplistic look? My guess is the town square.
JR: From my perspective, it was the water, but you are right; the town square (Portoroso) was another huge challenge. The setting only does have a few locations. Still, we spent a lot of time looking from different angles at both the island where Alberto’s hideout and in-town, and even in the underwater world where we were focused on maximizing everything that we could in each one of those locations.