Animated character Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, left, appears with Sisu the dragon in a scene from “Raya and the Last Dragon.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Disney+ via AP

Animated character Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, left, appears with Sisu the dragon in a scene from “Raya and the Last Dragon.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Disney+ via AP

Vancouver animator talks adding cultural authenticity to ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’

Benson Shum says there are 7 or 8 Canadians working at Walt Disney Animation Studios

When animating Disney’s new film “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Vancouver-raised Benson Shum says he honed in on the subtle details to ensure cultural accuracy.

Available in theatres and on Disney Plus with Premier Access on Friday, the epic adventure follows a Southeast Asian-inspired warrior and her pals as they battle an evil force in the fantasy world of Kumandra.

It’s the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to have a Southeast Asia-inspired setting, and Shum says the filmmakers made research trips and used three expert consultants from the region to make it authentic.

They also brought in professional Southeast Asian martial artists, and spent time with a group Disney called the Raya Southeast Asia Story Trust, which included anthropologists, architects, dancers, linguists and musicians.

“They did a ceremony sort of thing and we sat around and watched what they did, how they sat, how they positioned themselves when they were sitting,” the Los Angeles-based Shum said of the Story Trust.

The ceremony helped the team add specific details to a scene in which different tribes are sitting together on the floor as Raya’s father speaks to them.

“I tried to bring in gestures that I thought I would see Asian or Southeast Asian people do, and one thing I learned was that pointing is actually considered rude,” said Shum, who is of Chinese heritage.

“So instead of pointing with a finger, like ‘look over there,’ we might do a gesture where we’re using our whole hand.”

A scene in which Raya takes off her hat and places it on a cape before entering a temple was also informed by the experts.

“We were told from the cultural consultants that you would never place hats on the floor, you would always put it on something else,” said Shum, who joined Walt Disney Animation Studios as an animator in 2012.

Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya alongside Awkwafina as Sisu, the legendary last dragon in Kumandra, which is broken up into five ancient lands.

Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada directed, while Paul Briggs and John Ripa co-directed. Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim wrote the screenplay.

The story is one of trust and unity as Raya tries to repair fractures in the tribes of the once-harmonious society of humans and dragons.

“It’s just cool to be animating an Asian warrior princess, daughter of a chief,” Shum said. “And bringing something from myself into the film was really fun.”

Shum said the part of himself that related to the material was the sense of community and coming together.

“We gathered at my grandma’s house every single Sunday growing up,” said Shum, who has also worked as an animator on films including “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen” and its sequel, “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia” and “Moana.”

“Even if there was no event happening, it was just the fact that we were all eating together. And that was something that was really special to me. I didn’t necessarily appreciate it when I was younger, but looking back, every week all my cousins, my aunts and uncles were all (together).

“It was a big family, and to be able to see that in a film where they’re coming together and they’re eating together and it’s a very Asian thing to do…that was really nice.”

Shum said there are about seven or eight Canadians working at Walt Disney Animation Studios and the list “keeps growing.”

He and his colleagues are used to sitting next to each other while working, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to create “Raya and the Last Dragon” remotely from home.

“It’s the first film that we’ve done fully from home, and it was nice to see it all come together,” he said.

Movies & TV

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

.
Kootenay Boundary COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Four new cases in Castlegar last week

t
Q&A with the Castlegar council candidates

Four candidates are running for one council seat

Email editor@fedwaymirror.com
LETTER: Covid blame should fall on leaders, not youth

Reader Rod Retzlaff blames leaders for COVID variant spread

A mushroom grower plans to plan new mushrooms in fallen trees in the Kaslo Community Forest. File photo
Kaslo mushroom farmer given green light for unique project

Robin Mercy will plant mushrooms in the Kaslo Community Forest

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

Most Read