Jorge R. Gutiérrez on Maya and the Thee Netflix Mexican Animated Fantasy - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Jorge R. Gutiérrez on Maya and the Thee Netflix Mexican Animated Fantasy

Netflix has unveiled the first teaser for its upcoming animated event Maya and the Three, and I had the pleasure of talking to creator Jorge R. Gutiérrez about his upcoming epic movie told in nine chapters. The film follows a warrior princess who embarks on a journey to gather three great warriors and defeat the gods threatening to obliterate humankind, and stars an impressive list of Latinx talent including Zoe Saldaña, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Cheech Marin, Rita Moreno and more.

During the interview, Gutiérrez teased how he hoped to tell a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic through a Mexican lens, bringing mythology from all around Latin America, making what he calls a "giant delicious burrito that someone just cut like sushi rolls", and casting himself in the movie.

COLLIDER: How do you explain the format of this project? How does a movie in nine chapters work?

JORGE R. GUTIÉRREZ: You know what it was? It was Godless. It was really Godless. When I watched Godless on Netflix, it was a western sprawling, big movie made by Scott Frank, who did the Queen's Gambit. That's when I went, "That's what Maya needs to be. It's not a movie, but it's not a series. It's this giant movie broken up in chunks."

And I know people keep saying that stuff, but Maya really is that. It really is a four and a half hour movie. And it's this giant delicious burrito and someone just cut it like sushi into rolls, but you're going to want to consume the whole thing.

Do you keep in mind the chapter cuts when writing or editing the movie?

GUTIÉRREZ: Well, from the beginning, we planned it out. I mean, I'm obsessed with endings, so I knew how the whole thing ended. And then we backward engineered it to the beginning. And then the idea was, traditional cartoons are 22 minute episodes. These are 30, so already they feel different. And then these cliffhangers are, you can't have, "if someone going to die" cliffhanger because people watch the next episode and immediately they don't die. And then they don't trust the storytellers. So I try to stay away from that stuff and I try to do emotional cliffhangers. So, something really big happens, the episode ends, and then we start over.

And then what's been great, is getting through the cold opens and tell backstories, because I'm obsessed with backstories. So, I got to tell all the backstories for all these crazy characters and you get to see those glimpses. And I saw that in Lord of the Rings, right? Like in Two Towers basically you got a little backstory cold open. And in Return of the King you get a little backstory cold opening in the beginning. So I really, really love this new format. And as much as I like series and as much as I like movies, I think this is my new favorite format.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, the teaser does give the vibe of a big, sprawling fantasy, but with characters and worlds we've never seen before. What did you look for in terms of inspirations?

GUTIÉRREZ: For me, it was having grown up loving fantasy films with dragons and knights and wizards and warriors. And I would get some Clash of the Titans, Greek mythology stuff. Obviously a lot of amazing Chinese stuff and a lot of European medieval fantasy things. And I always kept going, "Man, if the camera would go south, I bet it would get to people that look like us, right?" Because of the time period, you go medieval Europe. Well, that's the glory days of Mesoamerica too. And I wish the camera would go down there and go through the Caribbean and get to Mexico and then keep going through South America. All those kingdoms, all that magic, all those mythologies are right there and we never get to see them. So for me, it was "Wow. If we don't tell these stories, if we don't tell these tales, it's like we don't exist. And if we don't exist in fantasy, then there's no magic in us." So that became a motivation.

RELATED: 'Maya and the Three' Trailer Promises a Mexican 'Lord of the Rings' Animated Epic Event

I love that you go beyond just Mayans and Aztecs, but show a bit of Olmec influence and even the Inca Empire.

GUTIÉRREZ: Well, that was the other thing. So as soon as I started going into this universe, it's my fantasy version of it, right? So I'm not making a documentary and this isn't a historical piece. This is total fantasy. So at that point I was like, "I think I would be really selfish if I didn't invite everybody else to the party." And I have friends from all of Latin America, and I have friends who also their countries are full of stories and full of these amazing tales.

So I said, "Well, yes, the main character will be very much inspired by the Aztecs, but I'm going to invite other cultures into this party." And that was one of the things I loved about Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, where you saw the different kingdoms band together. And so, that's how I approached it. And it's kind of what happened in my life, where as a Mexican, I don't only hang out with Mexicans, right? I hang out with people from everywhere. So that became a big theme of the show.

The character designs look distinct, yet also recognizable for fans of your work, like El Tigre. How has that style changed over the years?

GUTIÉRREZ: We've been very lucky. My wife and I have been character designers from the beginning. So she usually designs all the female characters. I usually design all the main characters and we did that for El Tigre, we did that for Book of Life. And by the way, if you like El Tigre and you like Book of Life, there are some Easter eggs in Maya and the Three that are going to be quite wonderful.

But yeah, we've evolved as designers and we've evolved as artists. But at the same time, we're still little kids and we still can't believe we get to make these things. And I'm a toy guy. I love stop motion because to me that makes it feel like toys are coming alive. And so when we design things, that's how we approach it. We're making sculptures that come alive. And so, Maya is me going through a fantasy store as a kid looking at all these beautiful hand-painted little sculptures that I could never afford. So I would just look at them and making those come alive. So that was the big inspiration for that.

How was working on the actual animation for the movie?

GUTIÉRREZ: It was brilliant. We worked with a studio called Tangent Animation in Toronto and Winnipeg, in Canada. And they had artists from all over the world. So it really became everybody from the world trying to make this thing together. And then not only am I an animation nerd, but I'm a film nerd. So I love all genres. And I love genre from different parts of the world. So when you watch this thing, I love anime. So this is going to be where you get a ton of anime influence in the storytelling, in the shot choices. Obviously I love Baroque art, so the thing is just dripping with details. And then I love Bollywood, so there's going to be a lot of Bollywood influence. I love Hong Kong films from the 90s, so a lot of our action came from that universe.

So it's a mix of everything I love, all put in this giant cooking dish of influences. And then having artists from all over the world, artists from Japan. Rie Koga, one of our sequence directors, we both love what is now considered vintage anime, right? Like anime from the 90s. So that was a huge influence on all this stuff. And so, working with these artists from all over the world of different generations. For a lot of them, this was their first sort of dip into the pool of Mesoamerica fantasy and mythology. So they were going in not knowing any of this stuff. So it was kind of amazing to see all these people join in and dance the same music. And so, the animation had all these references to stop motion, to obviously classic 2D anime, and we just mixed it all up. Because I keep saying all this stuff we put in at the end of the day, the screen is flat. And so let's play, in animation we can do anything. Why should we limit ourselves?

You mention this being the first time many of the artists dive into Mesoamerican mythology, given that there aren't many projects like this, how do you balance wanting to throw every idea you've wanted to see on screen, and not wanting to overstuff the movie?

GUTIÉRREZ: I treat the stuff I make like, I'm obsessed with food, right? So I treat it like you're going to a restaurant and you're getting these dishes and they're all delicious. And you are tasting a little bit and you're tasting a little bit. And by the end of it you've had too much, but the collective is what filled you in. So that's what I want to do. I don't want you, as an audience member, if you bought five tacos, I'm going to give you 10. So then some people say "less is more," I keep saying, "No. More is more."

That is a perfect analogy. I am amazed by the talent you've amassed for the film.

GUTIÉRREZ: I'm very naive. And so, when I wrote Book a Life and would write the actors names into the script, and I remember Guillermo del Toro was like, "Don't do that." I just didn't know. So I kind of cast when I'm writing and I kind of cast when I'm designing. So, I wrote it for Zoe and I wrote it for Diego and I wrote it, I've always wanted to work with Gael García Bernal. Alfred Molina, I love his interpretation of course Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. I loved him and as Diego Rivera. To me, that's a real monster. So all these actors were just my dream cast.

And honestly, I got really lucky and maybe it was because of the time, but everybody agreed to do it. And I had a blast. It was when COVID hit and we managed. So this cast is incredible. When you read that list, even, I get emotional. I would try not to think about all the directors that I admire and adore that have directed this cast. Whenever I would direct them, I would try not to think, but I could see their movies flashing behind them. So it's very intimidating. But man, I love these guys.

Can you talk about casting yourself in your movies?

GUTIÉRREZ: Now I'm a dad, right. So when I write these things, I always was like, "Man, parents are so dumb. They don't listen to the kids." Like when I was a kid. Now that I'm a dad, I'm like, "Dad is right. Dad has a point." So now I see myself as those characters and of course my wife plays the queen, so I got to write her and myself and all those arguments you hear in the show, those are real life arguments.

And then I had to trick my wife because she didn't want to do it. She's been doing scratch voice acting for all our projects. And I think she's amazing. So for this, she's like, "No, with that cast you need to get somebody else." And so I was like, "No, baby. Mamacita, por favor." Like, "Just do the scratch." And it was so good, that we kept it. She's let it go, but she was furious. She was like, "You tricked me."

So writing for her, writing and then performing, it's super surreal to write a character, design the character and then hear your voice come out of the character. It's like a narcissist's dream. It's kind of crazy.

Especially since you give yourself a cool character look.

GUTIÉRREZ: I gave myself more hair, a smaller belly...



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