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FERDINAND

About The Production
The plan to bring Ferdinand's tale to the big screen began more than six years ago when Saldanha was still working on RIO 2. "I was very excited when I found out that Fox and Blue Sky were thinking of developing a movie based on the book," recalls Saldanha. "I had read the book and fallen in love with the story and its wonderful message of acceptance and diversity. I thought that this was the right moment to take this lovely little book and develop it into a family movie for today's audiences."

For long-time Blue Sky Studios producer Lori Forte, the film offered a chance to reunite with Saldanha, who had worked with her on the first three ICE AGE movies. "Carlos had wanted to work on a movie which had a bull as its main character," recalls Forte. "I loved working with him on the ICE AGE movies. I knew that he was passionate about this project, and his strong feelings for the story and its message also inspired me and everyone else around him."

Another major figure in realizing the movie was producer John Davis, whose many family-friendly projects include the DR. DOLITTLE and GARFIELD movies and MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS. Davis had been after the rights to "The Story of Ferdinand" for more than ten years, and when they finally became available, he jumped at the chance to acquire them and take the project to 20th Century Fox.

"Ferdinand was one of the classic books my wife and I had read our children at bedtime when they were younger," Davis recalls. "We saw firsthand how the gentle message of this book and other similar classics informed their sense of self and morality and taught them about kindness towards others. In the past, I had made many movies based on similar properties that both my children and I felt very passionate about. The family that owned the rights to the book wanted the spirit of the book preserved, and I knew the team at Fox and Blue Sky would do justice to this wonderful story."

Producer Bruce Anderson, who also worked with Saldanha on the two RIO movies, says FERDINAND provided him a chance to revisit one of the favorite books of his childhood. "My mom was an elementary school librarian, and this was one of our favorite go-to books," he notes. "It has always struck a chord with me because it champions non-conformity. It shows you that the world is made of all kinds of different people, and it is that diversity that makes us better. When you are a kid and you're not as competitive as your classmates, the message of this book can really help you find your way."

From Page to the Big Screen
One of the major challenges in turning the brief book into a full-length feature was expanding its storyline and introducing new characters to accompany the central character on his journey. "The story has a very strong beginning and ending, so we took those very powerful components and created this middle part that helped us really get attached to Ferdinand," notes Anderson. "We were able to spend more time with him and experience his world as he grows up in a more contemporary, relatable way. We also had the freedom to introduce all these other colorful and memorable characters that weren't in the book. However, they all also had to fit this world and echo the message and sensibilities of the piece."

Saldanha and Forte both point out that the deeply layered messages of the property allowed them to expand the storyline in a logical fashion. "The more research we did, the more it became obvious to us that people can interpret the story in so many different ways," notes Saldanha. "Our story has a deeper meaning in the difficult world we all live in today."

As Forte explains, when you open up a small story, a lot of attention has to be paid to make sure the expanded journey of the hero and all the newly introduced sidekicks and other characters are just as satisfying and loveable as the main one. "Everyone worked hard to make sure the movie as a whole would be as universal and timeless as the original story that inspired the project," she notes. "I was very familiar with the book. It has such a simple and powerful message that is attractive for kids and adults. Of course, that message is just as resonant today as it was when the book was first published in the '30s."

"Carlos is an amazing storyteller and a very sensitive human being," adds Davis. "There is so much heart in this movie. Kids can relate to the whole notion of having to leave home and going to a less protective and more competitive adult world. Ferdinand has a set of values and he adheres to them, although the world doesn't understand him. Just like the classic animated movies, FERDINAND taps into the collective unconscious and expresses our fears, anxieties and our dreams. It makes you feel very deeply."

The Trip to Spain
As both the book and the movie are set in colorful and historic places in Spain, Saldanha and a few of his colleagues visited the country to seek visual inspiration and authentic backdrops for their project. "We were inspired by the beauty of the landscapes and unique architecture of Spain," says the director. "The color palette of the movie has a lot of earth tones to it, and is very different from the tropical colors that we used in the RIO movies. We took in the magnificent architecture of some of the cities and traveled south to the lovely region of Andalusia."

The mountain-top city of Ronda in Spain's Malaga province inspired the location for the farm where Ferdinand finds happiness with the young girl Nina and her father. "We wanted the art to reflect the beauty of this world," explains Saldanha. "We wanted the locations to express the possibilities of an animated movie, but also be truthful to the art, history and culture of Spain."

The team retraced Ferdinand's journey to Madrid, Seville and farmlands in the South of the country. "The old and the new co-exist beautifully here," notes Saldanha. "There are old windmills and modern highways and these ancient white cities that offer a beautiful contrast to the modern elements of Spain. We visited the haciendas where they raise the cattle and took in every little detail, the vegetation, the colors, the small villages and the people. We also saw the windmills of La Mancha and the famous Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid. All these locations help us create an authentic world for our characters."

Light and Shadow
Thanks to the latest advancements in CG technology, the artists and technical teams at Blue Sky were able to deliver animation that is meticulous in its attention to detail - from each blade of grass in the field, to the texture of the vibrant costumes, to the play of light and shadow in the landscape of Andalusia.

"Every year, we develop new versions of the proprietary rendering software at Blue Sky [called CGI Studio]," explains Saldanha. "We made the best use of the technology to make a big artistic impression. FERDINAND is not a movie with huge special effects. Our goal was to best use the technology to create the right look that helps serve the art direction and the lighting. Everything has been ray-traced [the rendering technique for generating an image by tracing the path of light through pixels on an image plane] meticulously, and it looks beautiful. The team succeeded in solving complex challenges in the depiction of the crowd scenes as well. They were able to pull it off in a very subtle way, so that the technology isn't overtly obvious on the screen."

Producer Bruce Anderson agrees: "The technology allowed us to really create the same way light hits the fields in Spain. Our lighting and production and engineering teams really took full advantage of everything that was available in their tool box to bring us the look and feel of that country. I think the movie's visuals are going to lure people to travel to Spain!"

Glorious Colors & Dynamic Designs
Production Designer Thomas Cardone, whose Blue Sky credits include RIO 2, HORTON HEARS A WHO! and ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN, was immediately drawn to FERDINAND: "I found the project instantly appealing because it's a big story with just a few characters, so you can create this intimate feeling. It's a story with a lot of heart."

Cardone notes that character designer Sang Jun Lee came up with the philosophy for Ferdinand's physical look, which was born out of the friendly bull's personality. "You have this good-natured, big-hearted character that is very large, but is also very curvy," he explains. "Ferdinand is a big, black bull, and there are no marks or costumes, so his silhouette and overall shape was very important. He is also on screen in most of the film's shots, so we made a lot of effort to really nail down his form and the way he moves and is positioned throughout the movie."

The specific landscapes of the Southern region of Spain and its flora and fauna played a major role in inspiring the film's design principle. "The rolling hills, the olive trees, all those sweeping curves were in harmony with the smooth curves of Ferdinand," explains Cardone. "Anything that opposes him is more angular and vertical - like the man-made structures. The same is true for his adversary, the Matador. The humans are skinny and taller than they would be in real life, so that dictated the height of the buildings, the doors, the cars ... everything around them. These two ideas, harmony and conflict, really influenced the whole shape and style of the movie."

Ferdinand's inner emotions are also reflected in the choice of background locations. As Cardone explains, the farm in Ronda where the heroic bull longs to return to is depicted as a green and happy place, with lots of flowers and vegetation. "But the bull ranch where he is imprisoned is arid looking, which you also get in Spain during the more severe seasons," he notes.

The region's white stucco buildings with their terra cotta roofs also provide neutral backgrounds against which the artists played around with memorable splashes of color. "We placed bold colors, like a bright blue wheelbarrow, a turquoise bucket or a green farm implement against the neutral canvas," recalls Cardone. "We would also balance the compositions with differently colored animals. The color red was especially reserved for specific key moments, like Ferdinand's favorite poppies in the farm or the carnations in the arena or the matador's cape."

The Production Designer points out that all the artistic elements work together to deliver the heartfelt message of the movie. "I think this movie has such a big heart, so I was very pleased with the way the style, the design, the lighting and all the technical elements join forces to serve a common goal."

Filling the Farm with Familiar and Diverse Voices
Casting the right actors and actresses to voice the wide variety of memorable characters of the movie was one of the most important steps in realizing the director's and producers' vision. Thanks to the efforts of veteran casting director Christian Kaplan, who has been responsible for finding the voices for many of the Fox/Blue Sky Studios features for the past 14 years, FERDINAND features an eclectic voice cast that includes John Cena (Ferdinand), Kate McKinnon (Lupe), David Tennant (Angus), Gina Rodriguez (Una), Peyton Manning (Guapo), Bobby Cannavale (Valiente), Anthony Anderson (Bones), Jerrod Carmichael (Paco), Flula Borg (Hans), Daveed Diggs (Dos), Raúl Esparza (Moreno), Sally Phillips (Greta), Boris Kodjoe (Klaus) and Gabriel Iglesias (Cuatro).

"When we cast our films, we often don't know who is providing the voices we are hearing," says producer Lori Forte. "Our talent executive sends us a lot of voices, so we look at the designs of the characters and the maquettes [prototype sculptures] and figure out which voice fits the character best. I think we really hit a home run with this movie. Each voice sounds very specific and distinct and has its own special attitude. We cast a wide net to find the perfect voices for the roles, and I think each one of them are able to reflect the colorful personalities of the different characters extremely well."

Adds Saldanha: "For this movie, we were delighted to have John Cena as our main character. We wanted the voice to reflect someone who was strong and gentle at the same time. He looks tough on the outside, but has a big heart inside – a true gentle giant. He really grounded the character with his own persona, you can't help fall in love with the unique way he brings Ferdinand to life."

The Gentle Giant
"They won me over as soon as they showed me a few clips in the theater," recalls Cena. "Carlos was up at the podium, trying to pitch me on this project, and I told him, 'Dude, just stop...I'm in. When do we do this!?' From there on, it's been such a joy to work with him. We worked so well together, and the quality of animation that Blue Sky produces is simply amazing."

The WWE superstar, who has also made a big impression as a great comic actor in films such as DADDY'S HOME and TRAINWRECK is a huge fan of the film's remarkable animation. "It's so vibrant, colorful, and just explosive with energy," he says. "But at the same time, it's both wild and realistic. You can really understand the animals' unique personalities: Ferdinand is definitely a bull, but you can see his endearing qualities in the way he is designed. You can see Valiente's [The alpha at Casa del Toro] arrogance in the animation, and Lupe [Ferdinand's goat friend], well, she is just indescribable. The human characters are remarkable too, from the realistic nature of the people at a flower festival to the frailty of the old lady in the china shop."

"Ferdinand is a very big, strong, kind-hearted and happy bull who finds himself in an arena of people where he needs to fight for his life," continues Cena. "The audience finally sees his approach to life and appreciates that and rewards him for it. That's my life, so that's me! I am Ferdinand!"

Many of the film's messages struck a chord with the actor: "You get to see Ferdinand search for his perfect life, and struggle at times. So, for a guy who preaches 'never give up' all the time, it's truly a story about knowing what you want out of life and believing that there's something more out there when you get stuck. But it doesn't come without hard work. The whole message of being true to who you are really resonated a lot with me."

Saldanha says he believes that they also found the perfect voice for Lupe, Ferdinand's hilarious goat coach and friend: "To have the amazing comedic talents of Kate McKinnon featured in the movie was a huge win for us," says Saldanha. "She created this completely new character and brought it to life with a winning combination of wit, and her unique delivery. You can really relate to this character, as she adds lots of levity to the story, and offers a brilliant pairing with John."

Getting The Goat
McKinnon (FINDING DORY, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) is typically hilarious when asked to describe the character she voices: "Okay... Lupe. Well, Lupe is like Ferdinand's coach. And she pretty much is happy with the basics. She eats garbage, she sleeps in a bucket, and she's just fine with this. She's just happy if no one is kicking her in the face. So, if that's not happening, she's just having a good day."

The actor and comedian was already familiar with Ferdinand, having read the book as a child. "It was one of my favorite books,' she recalls. "I remember it had a red cover and some flowers on the front. And Ferdinand loved his flowers and I really felt for him because he was not like any of the other bulls. I think most people can relate to that in some aspect of their lives. They feel like they don't fit in with the rest of the culture."

As a fan, McKinnon was thrilled to learn that the book was being turned into a movie: "When I heard they were making a movie of the book, I went like - [yells] AHHHHH! Cause I was so excited that they were finally doing something with this wonderful story. And then when they told me the idea of the character I would play, which was like a garbage-eating goat, I said, 'Yes. I will!' Because, to be frank, it's not too far from who I am in real life. I pretty much scarf whatever there is in a room that's edible..."

A Scottish Favorite
Actor David Tennant (DOCTOR WHO, BROADCHURCH) who voices Angus the Scottish Highland bull, says he was very impressed by Saldanha's dynamic energy and vision for the project when they first met. "You have to put your trust in his vision, because you don't see the rest of the film when you're recording your part in the studio. You don't know what else is going on and, then bit by bit, you start to get these tiny little snippets. But the whole thing is only really in Carlos' head in full Technicolor, until the very last moment when the film is released into the world. That's why you have to believe that this is a journey worth going on, because, the people who are involved are so talented. So, I'll just steal some of their reflected glory quite happily!"

Tennant says he had great fun playing the Scottish bull. "Angus is one of those bulls that believes that his destiny in life is to fight," he explains. "When Ferdinand becomes part of the gang at Casa del Toro, it's all very confusing for them because they don't really understand a pacifist bull. Slowly, Ferdinand makes them see the world in a different way, so the movie shows how they are changed by the biggest and kindest bull of them all. I think Ferdinand and his positive message are the kind of role models we all need, especially when the world is in turmoil."

The actor enjoyed being involved in the animated project and witnessing the ideas that initially only existed in Saldanha's head becoming a reality. "Carlos is in every session, and he's modulating and making things all come together perfectly," he says. "He has such energy, enthusiasm and insight. It was also an honor to be part of the talented Blue Sky family. You can say I'm the weird Scottish uncle: They have made such beautiful movies and FERDINAND will be a worthy addition to that roster. I can't wait to see how the whole project comes to pulsating life on the big screen."

The Little Ally
Voicing Bones, one of Ferdinand's bull friends is actor Anthony Anderson, best known for his roles in BLACK-ISH and THE DEAPRTED. "Bones is probably the scrawniest bull you'll ever see" offers Anderson. "He's always being thrown around and getting caught and squeezed in some place. Bones is the first character that is inspired and changed by Ferdinand. He realizes that they need to get out of their ranch. So, they forge a friendship first, and then, everybody else comes on board and realizes that they have to escape."

Like many of his cast-mates, Anderson is proud of the powerful message of the movie. "I can't wait to see this movie with my family," he says. "This movie has everything a family film should have: There's heart, there's comedy and suspense and action. There is a scene between Ferdinand and Bones, and the conversation that these animated characters have with one another is so real and touching. That's what is going to resonate with the audience-the real moments between a father and a son, or two friends."

A Handsome Quarterback
Peyton Manning, who is considered one of the greatest football quarterbacks of all time, is also part of the star-studded cast of the movie. Manning, who plays the handsome and nervous bull named Guapo, says he jumped at the chance of being part of the movie. "I was very flattered to be asked because I had never worked on an animated project before," he says. "We have six-year-old twins, and we love seeing animated movies in theaters and at home, so I am very excited to see FERDINAND with them."

"Guapo means handsome, so it might be a stretch that I play the role of this handsome character, but I did my best!" jokes Manning. "Guapo is a good-looking bull, but he kind of gets nervous in some of the more stressful moments. Just because a bull looks like a great fighter doesn't mean that that's what they want to be. That's the case for Ferdinand, but it's also somewhat true for Guapo."

Manning adds, "The movie is about not doing what everyone expects you to do, and choosing your own path. I've certainly played football for a long time and now I've had a chance to do different things. All of a sudden, you begin to ask yourself, 'Hey, what am I doing here?' In addition, I think the movie really celebrates the importance of friendship, as we see how Ferdinand wants to be friends with everyone. It reminds me of all the different types of personalities I have met in my life, and how my life has been enriched by all of them, the players, the coaches, the support staff, everyone."

The Feisty Hedgehog
Actress Gina Rodriguez (JANE THE VIRGIN, THE STAR) is among the film's many other voice characters who bring their special talents and unique personality to their parts. The dynamic actress plays Una, a feisty hedgehog, who oversees her two brothers Dos and Cuatro (They never speak of Tres...) and helps Ferdinand escape from the bull ranch.

"I think Una reminds me of myself when I was younger," says Rodriguez. "She's just feisty and doesn't really think about what she's saying or doing, and jumps into things first. So, I definitely channeled my inner and younger Gina!"

The actress also praises the director for his beautiful vision. "Carlos is incredible at animation, but he has such a kind heart and you can really see it in Ferdinand," says Rodriguez. "You can really see his ability to recreate humanity in a way that is kind, loving and gentle. Working with him was really, really fun because he's acting it out with you: Animation can be lonely at times when it's just you and a screen, so it's nice that Carlos was so involved and engaging."

She also believes that the movie's simple message is something that is relatable for everyone. "I believe we're all in a constant journey to being the best and truest version of ourselves. We're always walking through life fighting stereotypes or generalizations or the ideas of others onto ourselves. So, you have to fight to remember your dreams and for who you truly are. It's an important lesson to impart to children and for adults to remember as well."

Home Is Where The Heart Is
It wasn't only the cast who were impressed by the film's message – singer/songwriter Nick Jonas was equally moved: "I was already familiar with the story and when they showed me the materials for the movie, I was thrilled," he recalls. "I've always wanted to write an original song for a film."

That song would be "Home", which plays in the film and reprises during the end credits and encompasses the film's theme of acceptance: "I wrote this song with good friends of mine Justin Tranter and Nick Monson," says Jonas. "And we wrote about feeling accepted and feeling loved and wherever that place is for you. For me it's home, it's my family, people I have closest to me; and the experiences we've shared."

Spreading the profound and universal's message of FERDINAND has been a joyous and rewarding experience for Saldhana and the talented cast and crew of the movie at Blue Sky Studios and Fox Animation Studios. Audiences will be able to enjoy the beautiful colors, the memorable characters and engaging adventures of FERDINAND and his friends in US theaters on December 15, 2017.

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