Since making his debut in 2002 with Ice Age, Carlos Saldanha has certainly established himself as one of the most successful directors in modern animation – as the filmmaker has worked on hits like 2005’s Robots and 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown. It was during the preproduction phase of 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs that Saldanha first came up with the idea for Rio, which he envisioned as a love letter to his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (As producer John C. Donkin explains in the film’s production notes, “Carlos’ passion for the project, and to take us into this world he envisioned, was contagious. Everything you’ll see on screen began with that passion.”)
After casting Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway in the film’s two main roles, Saldanha set out to find just the right actors to voice the movie’s various supporting characters. When Blu (Eisenberg) arrives in the title locale, he initially encounters a pair of larger-than-life birds named Nico and Pedro. Saldanha quickly tapped Jamie Foxx and Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am to tackle the two characters, and, says producer Bruce Anderson, “You could feel the wonderful comedic and musical energy when Jamie and will were recording together.” (Foxx agrees and notes that “it was great to connect with Will and watch him go to work as a musician and as an actor.”)
One of Saldanha’s top priorities was ensuring that he accurately captured the behavior of the various animals in the movie. The filmmakers subsequently embarked on a special trip to the Bronx Zoo, where they spent some time observing the movements of a number of different birds. The complexity of the birds’ body language eventually led to the creation of a piece of software called Ruffle Deformer, which allowed the filmmakers to manipulate each of the hundreds of feathers on every single of the movie’s feathered characters.
The abundance of human characters in the film also posed a problem for the animators at Blue Sky Studios, as the company hadn’t worked on a movie containing human figures since the first Ice Age. Saldanha and his team were forced to come up with a new method for animating and rendering human skin, which they accomplished with the help of a cinematographer best known for his work in the live action field. Renato Falcão assisted Saldanha in blending Rio’s cartoonish visual style with sporadic bursts of realism, as the cinematographer played a key role in establishing the movie’s fluid and realistic camera movements.
Rio marks only the second Blue Sky release to be presented in 3-D, following 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The filmmakers went to great lengths to get the most out of the added dimension, as 3-D is often at its best when employed in flying sequences. (See How to Train Your Dragon and Avatar for proof.) Says stereoscopic supervisor Jayme Wilkinson, “Audiences will be able to experience more of the action and emotion. We’ve really pushed the depth of field and immersive qualities.”