By NATHAN LERNER
The animated sequel, “Rio 2” — now in theaters — continues to revolve around the experiences of a family of rare blue spix macaws. Blu (Jesse Eissenberg) and his wife, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) are raising a brood of three offspring in Brazil’s largest city. They believe that they are the last surviving members of their species and battling extinction. Reports emerge that a flock of wild blue spix macaws have been discovered in a remote part of the Amazon Rain Forest. Blue and his clan fly to the arboreal destination. The film features an all-star cast, which also includes Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Bruno Mars, Jermaine Clement, Kristin Chenoweth, Rita Morena, Leslie Mann, Geroge Lopez and Janelle Monáe.
I recently spoke with the film’s director, Carlos Saldanha, in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Brazilian native proved to be delightfully warm,
engaging, and introspective throughout the entire session.
Growing up, Saldanha had an avid interest in illustration. However, he had resigned himself to pursuing a mundane career in computers. “I graduated high school before I was even 16. My parents did not think that art school would be the right thing. I also loved computers. So I went to school for that.”
Saldanha discussed his subsequent epiphany, “I needed to integrate art into the process.” Then, he learned about the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. At 22, with his newlywed wife in tow, Saldanha impulsively moved to New York and enrolled there. He recalled his instantaneous reaction, “Wow, this is heaven! I decided this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” While matriculating, he was recruited by Chris Wedge, the founder of Blue Sky Studios. He observed, “Life starts to take a path. You have to be open and use the opportunities for your benefit.”
Back then, Pixar and Dreamworks dominated the field of animated films.
That radically changed in 2002, when Saldanha and Wedge co-directed the original “Ice Age.” It set a March record by having an opening weekend gross of $46.3 million. Saldanha helmed the sequel, “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” which exceeded the box office of the precursor. He then made another blockbuster, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” I asked Saldanha about his reaction to the commercial success of his early films and how it effected his career trajectory, “In reference to the original Ice Age, he said, “I thought that we had something fun and cool. But you don’t know how people will react until the movie comes out.“ He added, “It was a happy surprise. To see the film’s impact on people was inspiring. It motivated me to do more.”
Referring to “Rio 2,” Saldanha explained that he wanted to depict Blu and his family experiencing a journey. “It was about them going to the Amazon and finding their family and finding themselves.” Without becoming unduly polemical, the film includes some strongly felt messages. As Saldanha pointed out, these include, “Saving the environment and learning how to live together. That’s how the stories came together.”
Recently, Saldanha directed a segment of the soon to be released live action film, “Rio, I Love You.”
It prompted me to ask how the experience was different from helming an animated film. According to Saldanha, “The creative part is very similar, but the process is different.” He said, “With live-action, everybody’s done at the same time. I had to worry about the set and all that stuff. ” Saldanha observed, “With animation, I have more time and the process has more stages. He explained. “To record the voices, I just work with the actors. When I animate, I just work with the animators. When I create the set, I just work with the modelers and the designers. So it’s like a production line.” Saldanha insisted, “At the end of the day, animated films are easier to do than live action. “
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at email@example.com.