Disney’s latest feature animation Raya and the Last Dragon is released this week, and one of the things the film is most notable for is its frequent action sequences – with the titular character often forced to engage in combat with her various foes.
As with the rest of the film, these scenes are inspired by Southeast Asian culture, specifically by a number of martial arts which are practiced in the region, and a lot of work went into making sure they accurately reflected different techniques.
Co-writer Qui Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese American descent, said he was particularly determined to highlight various martial arts – something his previous work put him in a very good position to do.
“My background is also in martial arts as a former stage fight choreographer,” he told RadioTimes.com. “And I wanted to highlight the martial arts that came from the region. I studied Muay Thai and Arnis and also some traditional Vietnamese wrestling moves, so you see all those things in combination.”
He elaborated, “When Namaari and Raya threw down, I could point and say, ‘That’s something that is not just specific to the cultures I grew up in and was influenced by, but it’s stuff that I’m still studying and I’m trying to share with my kids.’ So when Namaari’s dropping elbows, that’s Muay Thai, when she does a double leg takedown that’s traditional Vietnamese wrestling – and that was something very special which I share with my own dad as well as my own kids.”
According to Carlos López Estrada, one of the film’s directors, Nguyen’s input was invaluable, while he also shared details of some events hosted by the creative team to make sure the moves were represented as accurately as possible.
“Having Qui on the team was incredible,” he said. “I’m never going to forget the first day he showed up with his bag of swords and weapons and we were all like, ‘How did you get past security?! Are you sure it’s OK to have these?!’
“And Qui also brought on a frequent collaborator of his, Maggie Macdonald, to help us choreograph the fights. We had amazing events at the studio where we pushed all the furniture out the way, they set down some training pads and they just performed some of these fights for the animators and the story artists, so they could get a sense of how the body would take some of these falls and some of these hits, to make it grounded in reality.
“Then the animators used the footage that we filmed in those sessions to cut together some animatics, so like here’s this first scene of Raya and this masked figure, and they sort of create a thread for the scene, we work on that together and then they start actually animating and moving the characters along.
“Qui was there along the whole way, we would send it to the consultants, they would send the notes back, we would be looking at it. It was a truly, truly collaborative effort and when you see it lit, when you see it fully rendered it kept getting better and better and more exciting.”
Raya and the Last Dragon is available on Disney Plus Premium from Friday 5th March 2021. In the meantime you can find something to watch with our best movies on Disney Plus or best series on Disney Plus guide.