When the Oscar nominations were announced, one of the nominations for best animated feature was for Chico & Rita, a film made by Latinos Javier Mariscal, an artist and designer, and director Fernando Trueba, who had previously won for Belle Epoque. Together, with director Tono Errando, they teamed up to make a full-length animated film set in Havana in the late 1940s. The movie follows the tumultuous love story of Chico, a talented pianist and songwriter, and Rita, a singer with a beautiful voice and big dreams. The film was released in the United States on February 10th.
Fox News Latino spoke with Trueba and Mariscal to learn a little about the making of Chico & Rita, as well as the challenges they faced.
Q: When did you first come up with the idea to make an animated story about jazz set in Cuba? And did you ever consider using live people to tell the story, or did you always envision an animated feature?
A: We always wanted to make a movie together, and we’ve always loved Cuban music. We talked about how wonderful it could be to dive into the 1940s and 50s, which was a great creative period, not only in music but also in design and art. From the first moment we came up with the idea, we knew we wanted to create an animated film.
Q: How was making an animated feature film different from other movies you’ve directed? How was it similar?
A: Whether it’s live or animated, a film always involves a good story. But in animation, the process is very long and complicated, with many artists involved, and it’s a little backwards compared with a live-action film. With animation, you have to edit the film before the animators start creating the scenes. It’s fascinating to see how every frame starts from a white page, and in some cases it takes six months to finish a scene.
Q: Did you sometimes feel like you were directing the fictional characters instead of the animators?
A: We decided to shoot the entire film first using Cuban actors as a reference for the animators. Cubans have a very special body language and the way they speak and act is very unique, so naturally we wanted to have all this in the film. I directed the Cuban actors in the shoot like I’ve done with my previous live-action films so the animators had all this precise information to work with. But yes, after spending so much time together, we did have a very close relationship with the fictional characters. Mariscal constantly dreamed of Rita, and he actually had conversations with her about the dress she was going to wear in a particular scene. They built a very close relationship.
Q: You’ve said that you told some of the animators to throw out everything they had ever learned, and that some of them were unable to do this. Why?
A: Chico & Rita is a story about real people. We didn’t wanted to make a cartoon. We spent a lot of time researching the quality of movement that we wanted to achieve, the right balance between realism and animation. We didn’t use squash and stretch [a common animation technique to convey realistic motion] and other devices animators use, and that made things hard for many of them. Some of them thought it was a nice challenge and some were not able to get it.
Q: How did you decide how sexually graphic to make the film? At some point did you want to err on the side of being less graphic, or did you push to make it more so throughout the production?
A: Our approach was always the same: What works better for the story? While we were working on the script I would spend time drawing to try to find the right style for the story we were writing. Because we spent a long time writing numerous versions of the script, I had plenty of time to explore as much as I needed. I’m very happy about the graphic style of Chico & Rita.
Q: I understand you had trouble finding an American distributor for Chico & Rita due to its graphic nature in parts. Do you find it ironic that GKIDS -- which distributes cross-over films for kids -- agreed to distribute it?
A: We are very happy with GKIDS. They understood the kind of film we made and how to get it into the theaters. There aren’t any distribution companies specializing in animated grown-up films, but we hope that in a short period of time people will be able to watch any type of animated film.
Q: What was the most difficult part of making Chico & Rita? What was the easiest part?
A: Making a film is never easy. Probably the most difficult thing was finding the money to make it, while the easiest part was to dream about making it.
Q: What are you working on now? And do you envision returning to setting a story in Cuba in a future project, animated or not?
A: Currently Fernando is finishing his next live-action film. We have two or three projects for animated films but they’re in the early-development stage.
Q: Anything else that you'd like the readers of Fox News Latino to know about the both of you and/or what it was like to make Chico & Rita?
A: It’s been very exciting to make Chico & Rita, a great journey with fantastic friends, and an amazing experience that we want to share with everyone.
Lisa Rogak is a freelance writer based in California.