Local animator works on new Disney film


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Henry Sanchez, who grew up in south Miami-Dade and attended Coral Reef High School and Miami International University of Art & Design, worked as a character animator on the new Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film, Raya and the Last Dragon.

The movie debuted simultaneously on Disney+ Premier Access and in theaters on Mar. 5. Sanchez did “quite a bit” of the animation work for the main character Raya, a courageous young woman warrior with an important mission.

The film is set in the long ago fantasy world of Kumandra, when humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to Raya to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. But along her journey she learns that it will take more than dragon magic to save the world.

Sanchez said he was pleased to take part in the spectacular new film featuring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran as Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu.

“The film focuses on trust and how that can unite us,” Sanchez said. “I like the message the film is communicating to the world, especially these days.”

His interest in the animated film medium goes back a long way.

“I wanted to become an animator since I was 10 years old. I focused on music at Coral Reef High School, but I learned about animation at Miami International University of Art & Design.”

It was while he was in his second semester in college that Disney Studios released a “snippet” of what was to be an animated film based on the Rapunzel fairy tale.

“I thought, I want to work on those films.”

Later, when he was at Blue Sky Animation Studios in New York getting his start in animation, he eventually had his first experience working with Disney on the film Tangled, which was what the earlier Rapunzel project had become.

Sanchez said that there were from 90 to 100 animators on the team at one point, working on different parts or “layers” of the film. But the normal procedures became almost impossible because of COVID-19 restrictions. Determined to overcome that, the studio found a solution.

“Because of the pandemic we ended up working from home,” Sanchez said. “They figured out a way for us to log in. We’re the first film to do that entirely from home.”

Sanchez said that because the main character is a warrior he had to learn something about fighting skills to make Raya’s moves convincing. He studied martial arts elements from many different countries so he could properly animate those action sequences.

“When working on a project, something that I always try to find is something I can connect with — something that resonates with me and with others,” Sanchez said.

As of this interview, he hadn’t seen the completed film, fully assembled and with the exciting musical score.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

Serving as a character animator at Disney Animation Studios and Dreamworks Animation, Sanchez has worked on past films including The Boss Baby, Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon and Frozen 2.

To see the trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VIZ89FEjYI.

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