Raya and the Last Dragon’s head of animation explains that they tried to draw inspiration from Awkwifina’s expressiveness when designing Sisu.
The animators of Raya and the Last Dragon recently discussed how Awkwafina’s influenced Sisu’s design. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ fantasy/adventure film Raya and the Last Dragon was released on March 5, 2021 and was a major success among critics and viewers alike. Since its release, Raya has received over 2,500 verified ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and is currently sitting at a 94% on the Tomatometer with a 97% audience score. In addition to its rave reviews, Raya and the Last Dragon has been nominated for Best Animated Feature for the 2022 Academy Awards.
The hit Disney film stars Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of Raya, a warrior princess who seeks to find the last of the dragons and save the realm of Kumandra from the dreaded Druun. This titular mythical creature is a water dragon named Sisu, voiced by rapper and comedian, Awkwafina. Together, the two heroes travel around the world collecting pieces of the fabled Dragon Gem, allowing Sisu to gain more powers and help the two get closer and closer to their goal.
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In an interview with THR, Raya and the Last Dragon’s head of animation, Amy Speed spoke on how Awkwafina inspired Sisu’s design. Speed commented that they tried to draw inspiration from Awkwifina’s notable expressiveness when designing Sisu and explained how it added to the character’s charm. Read her full quote below:
“Awkwafina’s very expressive… she’ll talk with smaller mouth shapes and then she’ll go into a broad smile very quickly. And we were trying to get that into Sisu both as dragon and human, which just elevates that charm of her personality.”
Due to Sisu’s magical ability to shapeshift from her true dragon form into a human, the animators were able to apply Awkwafina’s expressiveness in two different ways. Viewers can easily see Awkwafina’s personality come through in both her forms in Raya and the Last Dragon. For instance, the animators chose to make Sisu act “awkward at first” when she would turn into a human. They felt this made sense, because it was both her first time being human and an easy way to make Awkwafina’s personality really shine in the character.
Awkwafina was not the only source animators pulled inspiration from when creating Sisu. The animators of the film traveled to Southeast Asia to study the culture of the area and make sure that culture was represented in the film. Sisu’s human clothes took influence from the style of clothes the animators saw on their research trip. The shape of the dragon is based on the Naga, a mythological serpentine creature that combines the features of both snakes and humans and plays a major role in Southeast Asian mythology. Because these creatures are connected to water, the animators decided to make Sisu blue to reflect that connection.
Awkwafina has become such a popular character actress over the last few years with her roles in films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that allowing her personality to be on full display in Raya and the Last Dragon was a great move on the part of the Walt Disney Animation Studio. Hearing that an animation studio puts this much work into its designs is incredible. Not only does it allow actors to have more representation in animated projects but it also allows culture to be represented accurately as well. To see Awkwafina’s influence on Sisu’s design, Raya and the Last Dragon is available to stream on Disney+ with a subscription.
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About The Author
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Tyler Cioffi graduated summa cum laude from SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and a flair for writing and film. In addition to this, he has experience helping run a YouTube channel with a few thousand followers as well as having organized and hosted a charity event for said channel that successfully raised over $12,000 for children’s hospitals. Born, raised, and currently residing on Long Island in New York, Tyler loves to combine his passions for film and writing to review films in his free time!
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