It is so satisfying to me when you see something and you think, “This is so unlike everything else… how did this even get made?” And the answer turns out to be: “Well, it wasn’t made like everything else.”
In “An Oral History of Lilo & Stitch,” the writer Bilge Ebiri tells the story of how the movie came to be. Basically, it was done for a tiny (for Disney) budget, with a tiny (for Disney) crew, in a “secret hangar” in Florida, far away from the eyes of Disney leadership in Burbank. They’d just worked on Mulan, which was sort of a nightmare, and this time they wanted to do things differently:
We said, “Okay, here’s the deal. We have a lot less money. We have less time. But we want to figure out how we can make this movie so that everybody goes home at night to have dinner with their loved ones. Everybody gets a weekend. We’ll figure out how to make this and be happy doing it.” That became the spirit of making the film.
They did wild stuff like going old school and choosing to use watercolor backgrounds like in the 1930s. The only trouble was, almost nobody was alive who knew how to do it. Luckily they went to see Maurice Noble, who painted backgrounds on Snow White:
Maurice Noble was one of my heroes, and he was in his 80s. He used to work for Disney in the ’40s and ’50s. He could hardly see. One great technique that he told me about: There were these rocks in Peter Pan, in the Mermaid Cove, with beautiful rock texture. I asked, “How’d you get this texture?” He said, “The secret is sea salt — very coarse-grain sea salt.” Now, I had tried to get that texture so many times, and I knew about the salt technique, but I never knew you used sea salt. So all the lava rocks in Lilo & Stitch — it was all sea salt. It came right from Maurice Noble.
They also went on location in Hawaii because they didn’t believe you could really get the light and color right without visiting:
One day we were sitting on the beach at night having dinner by the ocean. The sun was setting and the waves were coming in. The water was turquoise, but the sea foam was pink. “How can the white foam be affected that much by the color of the sky, but not the water?” You’ll see in the surfing scene, we did that. Most people would’ve just done the water with white foam or grayish blue foam. We made it pink because that’s what we saw.
In fact, now I’m wondering if that’s one way you know something is great? When you say: “How does this even exist?”