With the celebrated release of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON earlier this month, the future is looking bright for the Walt Disney Animation Studios. To honor the great stories from Disney Animation, I had the chance to chat with John Aquino, the Modeling Environment Lead for RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON and the director of the SHORT CIRCUIT film “Lightning in a Bottle” on Disney+. Keep reading for our full, exclusive interview!
Q: What was your first experience working with the Walt Disney Company, and what was it like to write and direct a Disney project for the first time with “Lightning in a Bottle”?
A: My first project to work on at the Walt Disney Company was Fantasia 2000. The experience working on that film was a monumental start to my career. To write and direct “Lightning In A Bottle” as a Disney project is definitely a high achievement for me. I am the first Filipino to ever direct a short at Disney Animation.
Q: I love Disney’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and it is great that new projects like “Lightning in a Bottle” and RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON allow for a variety of voices to be heard. Having been involved with Disney Animation for over two decades, how has your job and day-to-day life changed alongside the rapidly changing film industry?
A: As an artist, you always use the most up-to-date tools for your craft. After animating effects for the first half of my career, learning the computer has been quite the leap. I still draw from time to time, but now that I work with the computer, building characters and environments for our films, the bigger challenges come from improved software used as industry standards keep going up. As a CG artist, you must update your skill as well.
Q: As the technology of filmmaking rapidly advances, Disney continues to be at the forefront of innovation, and technology often allows short films to convey deep emotions without the use of verbal dialogue. For “Lightning in a Bottle”, how did you strive to tell a captivating story without having the two main characters talk to each other?
A: I really had to dig down deep to find the right emotions to convey for the short. Finding a way to emote innocence and understanding through the characters had to come from relating to one another through their eyes and actions. The physical manifestation of the sparkles off the lightning creature’s head to emulate the boy’s hair raise, was a clear sign of a friendly connection between the two.
Q: “Lightning in a Bottle” truly conveys a sense of joy and wonderment, and much of that is attributed to the connection between the boy and the lightning creature. Looking back almost one year after the release of the Short Circuit films on Disney+, what is one lesson that the audience can take away from watching “Lightning in a Bottle”?
A: I hope viewers learn that a great idea released for the benefit of the world is often done by doing the right thing.
Q: That is so true! Were there any Disney films that inspired you to become involved in the filmmaking process?
A: Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast were great inspirations for me.
Q: It is great to rewatch the groundbreaking Disney classics, and Disney is always looking ahead with new content. Do you have any future projects in the works?
A: I’ve just finished my role as Environment Modeling Lead on Raya and the Last Dragon and am currently working on Encanto coming out this November. Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of writing the past year. “Lighting In A Bottle” has re-ignited a spark in me to create and write more stories.
Having just watched RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON this week, I cannot wait to see what you have coming next, and I am beyond excited for ENCANTO this Thanksgiving! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us!
And, to the reader, you can stream RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON and “Lightning in a Bottle” now on Disney Plus.