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Disney Musicians and Artists Give an Inside Look into Raya & The Last Dragon


Contact: Katie Boone
Phone: (818) 433-7600

Los Angeles, CA – On May 19, 2021, Education Through Music-Los Angeles (ETM-LA) continued its At-Home Family Hour Series with the musical and animation artists behind Disney’s Raya & The Last Dragon in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. ETM-LA partner school students, families, and community members enjoyed this special virtual event that featured character drawing tutorials, and gave a behind-the-scenes look into the artistic and musical process for Disney’s latest film.

Fawn Veerasunthorn (Disney Head of Story, Raya & The Last Dragon; Story Artist, Zootopia, Moana) explained how the Story Department kicked off the creation of Raya by adapting the script into storyboards. These visuals of each scene from the movie were then provided to the animators, who used them to bring the characters to life. Vitor Vilela (Supervising Animator, Raya & The Last Dragon; Character Animator, Zootopia, Ralph Breaks the Internet) shared that the animators use strategies such as filming themselves “acting the characters out” for inspiration on each character’s visual performance.

Raya, Disney’s first Southeast Asian Princess, is both new and unique. Veerasunthorn said that Raya is a strong woman who represents “a combination of awesome female characters.” She also shared that for inspiration, many artists listen to the film’s score and other styles of music as they work. Along with the evening’s host Andrew Feliciano (Supervising Animator, Raya & The Last Dragon; Character Animator, Big Hero 6, Moana), the animators reminisced about a day at the Disney studio when they joined together to play instruments featured in the film. Vilela, who studied classical guitar and plays in a band with fellow Disney animators, talked about the key parallels between music and animation: tempo, phrasing, and dynamics. “Animation is a musical way to bring images to life,” he shared. 

Global Musical Artist Pedro Eustache, who played woodwinds on James Newton Howard’s film score to Raya, demonstrated numerous Asian flutes from such countries as China and Mongolia — including a tsuur and ocarina made from an ostrich egg. Eustache showed students his handmade mouthpieces which he combined with his standard flute in order to widen the range of notes. He also demonstrated the interdental technique, for which the flute is played between teeth while singing at the same time.

Participants loved the drawing lessons for characters Tuk Tuk (led by Veerasunthorn) and the Ongis (led by Vilela). Feliciano shared that animating Tuk Tuk to roll and spin like a wheel was a complicated task that took much collaboration. As Vilela drew an Ongi, he described them as a half-monkey, half-fish species with whiskers like a sea bass and ears like fish fins. 

During the Q&A portion, Amy Smeed (Disney Animation; co-Head of Animation, Raya & The Last Dragon) talked about the importance of “leading with kindness and empathy,” and described her leadership style as figuring out how people can do their best work: “Everyone has something unique that they bring to their art.” Veerasunthorn mentioned that in order to achieve the best cultural representation of Southeast Asia, they worked with a team of cultural consultants with a deep knowledge of Asian cultures, history, architecture, and more.  

The students asked thoughtful questions including, “How did you make Sisu glow?” and “What is the most unique instrument you used for the music?” All of the special guests offered words of encouragement to the students, ranging from keeping a sketchbook for drawing, practicing, and having fun while being creative. And no matter what, “Believe in yourself — don’t give up!”


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Education Through Music-Los Angeles is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to provide and promote music in under-resourced schools as part of the core curriculum for every child in order to enhance students’ academic achievement, creativity, and overall development.

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