Arts & Entertainment, Features

BU alum talks working on ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’

Every “first” is exciting — especially when it involves working on a new, Disney animated movie.

raya and the last dragon film
“Raya and the Last Dragon” film. Boston University alum Brian Gaugler worked on the film as a production assistant. COURTESY OF DISNEY

For one BU alum, 2019 was the year he not only graduated from college, but also began working on his first feature film with Walt Disney Animations: “Raya and the Last Dragon.”

Brian Gaugler, a Questrom School of Business alumnus, works as a production assistant for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Disney is releasing its latest animated movie, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” March 5 in select theaters and with premier access on Disney+. The film is the first Disney animated movie with a Southeast Asian lead character.

“It was a really awesome first experience for a film, in part because it had a lot of firsts,” Gaugler said, “especially being that the film was pretty much one of the first ones to be made almost entirely at home.”

The film follows Raya, a young, lone warrior on her quest through the epic fantasy world of Kumandra — inspired by the geography and culture of Southeast Asia — to find the last dragon to save her family and the realm.

The star-studded cast boasts household names including the lead actress Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina and Sandra Oh.

Gaugler worked in the character animation department, he said, which works out the “emotional beats of the characters.”

Gaugler said he started working at the studio in November 2019. While working on “Raya and the Last Dragon,” he said the transition from working on a film in person to remote was among his favorite parts of the project.

“We all sort of got the experience of thinking on our feet as fast as possible trying to keep the film moving.” he said, “It was an all-hands-on-deck experience that we all went through together and it strengthened the bonds in my team.”

Brian said his favorite part of the film was in seeing the character Sisu — the last dragon after almost the entire species sacrificed itself to save humankind 500 years ago.

“There was a lot of really fun dialogue back and forth in creating her character,” he said, “and seeing how animators took that character and sort of ran with it and gave her life.”

In terms of advice for students, Gaugler said staying active in creating and connecting with other people in the field is important for students who want to be successful in the industry.

“Whether it’s going to make that short film with a friend, or getting your friends together to watch movies or maybe read some scripts, it’s sort of keeping your mind flexing those creative muscles,” he said. “And also meeting people in the industry.”

He added that especially while students are in college, taking advantage of learning as much as possible is another important step to prepare themselves for their career.

“Students have a really great opportunity to learn from people,” he said. “That’s sort of your job when you’re a student, so that once you’re ready to try to go into the industry, you have that nice toolbox that you’ve built yourself.”

Debbie Danielpour, a BU assistant professor in film and television with experience in film screenwriting, said her best piece of advice for students is to look at their approach to accepting jobs and be “scrappy.”

“Whatever opportunities that will put you in front of the process or in front of people that will help you see the process and eventually get another opportunity,” Danielpour said, “ you got to do it.”

Chris Anderson, a lecturer in film and television, said networking, though difficult because of the pandemic, is also very important for success.

“This is a very personality driven business, and people want to work with people they get along with and who they work with well and who brings something to the party for them,” Anderson said. “That stuff is all best measured personally, interpersonally.”

As far as what’s next for him, Gaugler said he is currently working on another recently announced film, “Encanto.”

At the end of the day, Gaugler said any student aspiring to enter the industry must have a drive to succeed, which is evident at Walt Disney Animations.

“It’s our love for stories and specifically for … bringing these drawings and animated characters to life through the animation process,” Gaugler said, “that’s what drives everybody at the studio.”

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