Hollywood’s Best Film Directors


Carlos Saldanha

In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.

AIRED: February 01, 2021 | 0:26:00

Man: Action!


Man: And, action!

-Got it! -Cut!

[ Clapperboard snaps ]


Narrator: This great Hollywood director

born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,

was very bad at soccer and very good at drawing.

He attended New York's School of Visual Arts

in Manhattan, and got hired by Chris Wedge

to join Blue Sky Studios,

where he co-directed his first movie,

"Ice Age" --

which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Following his huge success,

he directed "Robots"

with an impressive cast of voiceovers,

including Robin Williams.

Happy to show the beauty of his native country,

he wrote and directed the story

of a domesticated macaw named Blu.

"Rio" and "Rio 2"

turned out to be huge worldwide hits.

But he might always be best remembered

for the "Ice Age" franchise,

including the mega-successful "ice Age: The Meltdown,"

And "ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Hi, there.

My name is Carlos Saldanha,

and welcome to "Hollywood's Best Film Directors."


I'm here at Blue Sky Studios,

where I work as a director,

and here is where we make all of our movies.



I grew up in Rio.

I grew up in a middle class family.

Nothing really that special.

My dad, at the time, was in the military,

so I traveled a lot when I was younger.

The thing about my whole --

kind of like childhood

was that my dad was a great soccer player.

He was, like, one of the best.

he was the best in high school.

He was, like, the best in the military school.

He was part of the team and all that.

So he was known,

and the funny thing about -- every time I met, you know,

his friends from school, they would keep saying, like,

"Oh, man, you should play soccer.

Here's a ball.

Like, "Come on, let's go play."

And I'm like, "I'm not very good at it."

You know, I was terrible at it, actually.

That was one of the things that I could never play.

But I loved to draw.

and so, my birthdays, I'd always been given

kind of, like, a soccer ball,

and I was kind of like, "This is not quite" --

And in Brazil. If you don't play soccer,

you're kind of, like, in limbo a little bit.

Like, you don't know what to do.

Well, that's kind of how I grew up.

You know, I had lots of friends,

but I couldn't share their passion for soccer as much,

you know, so I had to just live in my own little drawing bubble.

And, finally, when I had a chance

to decide what I was gonna do for college,

I wanted to go, actually, to art school,

and at the time, my parents was a little like, "Um, art?

You know, that's not quite a profession.

Why don't you do something more like a job, you know?"

At the time was, like, the peak of computer science.

Everybody wants to learn computers, you know?

So I kind of thought that that would be a good way

just to get started, and that's what I did.

I went to computer science school.

I was around 16,

and I kind of enjoyed it.

I liked computers, but there was always something missing.

So, I graduated college,

and I really wanted to make the decision

to try to pursue something that could combine both things --

like, both the computer and my artistic skills.

And there were some things happening --

like, mostly for TV at the time.

It's a huge TV station -- they are TV Globo --

and I tried to apply to do something there,

but it was kind of hard to get in.

I didn't have any knowledge --

anything that I could prove that I could do it --

until I followed the advice of one of the guys there.

They're saying, you know,

"Why don't you try to learn something,

and then you try to come back and see if you have a shot?"

Talking with some friends, they said, "Look, there's a school

called School of Visual Arts in New York.

Maybe that would be a good chance

to learn something -- computer graphics.

And then, you can come back and get a job."

I had a plan.

I wanted to stay, at first, for just a few months

just to see if I really adapt myself or learn something.

But the crazy part of that was that I was engaged,

And I was 21, and I asked --

my wife, now -- but back then, my fiancée,

"You want to get married?

And our parents went crazy.

Brazil, you don't leave home

pretty much until you get married.

So we made that big decision.

We said, you know, "Let's do it.

Let's give it a shot." We got married.

Didn't spend any money.

She bought a dress.

I bought a cheap suit.

You know, we just kind of, like, took some pictures,

got married, and hopped on a plane

and came to the US,

and that's when it all starts to change.

Then, when I arrived in New York,

the School of Visual Arts was my place to be.

You know, it was early days of computer graphics.

They had a great, very prestigious program

just starting with a computer graphics program,

so I was very excited.

It was like a kid in a candy store.

Kind of like, "Okay, this is all I wanted.

I have computers. I know a lot about computers."

So that was not a barrier for me all.

All I needed to improve are my artistic skills

and see if I can combine the two things.

I wanted just to try to see if my theory would work --

you know, combining computers with artistic skills.

I will come up with something there.

And then, I started with

the Continuing Education program,

and the teacher that I met there -- Bruce Wands --

So, when he saw my work and what I was doing there,

and he says, like, "You know, you should do more,

you shouldn't just stay in Continued Education.

You should just apply for the master's program.

And sure enough, as soon as made my decision,

I borrow money from every friend I remember at the time.

and the school worked with with the process

of the paper for me.

And then, I was accepted the master's program,

and that's where I met Chris Wedge.

And they just had founded Blue Sky Studios.

At the time, was a very small company.

So, sure enough, when I graduated,

he invited me to work at Blue Sky,

and I was around here in Westchester

in a small little corner place --

like that tiny little office.

I think we were like -- about 20 people back then.

It was very, very small.

We did a lot of TV commercials.

I was one of the first animators to come in.

And back then, animator is kind of like --

you do everything, right?

like you draw the storyboards,

you animate your model.

Like, it was a very small crew,

and that's where it all begins.


So, at Blue Sky, at first, like most of the jobs we had

were definitely like TV commercials --

not very big ones.

But we had a big dream -- we had a big dream

of making it into the feature world.

"Toy Story" came out. It was a big success.

Studios were wanting to partner with other studios

just to make bigger pictures.

Pixar had a partnership with Disney,

you know, PDI had a partnership with DreamWorks.

and Fox approached us to have a partnership

to come up with animation.

This was 1998, and it was very good for us

because we are reaching a point that we grew a lot --

Like, I started in '94 and then, by '98,

we were already four times the size we were when I started.

And then, we were doing more things,

and I was already directing my own TV commercials --

my own spots.

And the company was kind of solid,

but the market was changing -- was shifting.

And then, they came back with a script,

and it was "Ice Age."

And we read the script, we liked the idea,

and then we said, "We want to do it.

This is our chance. This is our opportunity."

So we pretty much converted

the entire company into a studio.

All the projects that we're doing for commercials

got put off to the side,

and we kind of start to train and get ready

for the big feature,

and that's when things shifted a little bit.

You know, Chris Wedge, of course,

was the director of the project.

I was invited to be the co-director,

and at the time, we didn't know

exactly what the functions would be.

It was a first for everybody,

and we had to learn as we made the movies.

And I think that I was very involved

with the animation team.

I had trained a lot of the animators.

I had worked a lot with the animators.

Most of my, you know, expertise was through --

The process was through the animation team.

So I kind of worked more with the animation side of it,

Chris worked a lot with the rest of the production,

and we kind of share those responsibilities.

You know, we work on the stories together.

We worked with, you know --

He would work with the writers,

I would work with the animators,

and then we'll try to divide and conquer

as much as we could, you know?

But it was a great learning experience for both of us.

This was a first for everybody,

so we kind of, like --

and we didn't know what to expect.

It was the thing.

We liked the project,

but we didn't know if people would want to see it.

We're a very small studio --

still small compared to the other ones.

[ Trills ]

Man: Action!


Man: And, action!

-Got it! -Cut!

[ Clapperboard snaps ]


So, the first project that we did was "Ice Age," right?

So we got that project directly from Fox.

But back then, we were already coming up with ideas

for new things, you know?

And then, we had, at the time,

what we call Pitch Fest, which, like --

everybody in the company could pitch a one-liner

or a paragraph -- an idea --

and one of the ideas was a movie with robots.

So, "Ice Age" was done.

It came out. It was a huge success.

But with the success of the movie, instantly,

we knew that we had something.

And then, so, that was the chance that we said,

"Look, we don't have another project go on to,

but we have this idea."

And that's how "Robots" came to life.

[ High voice ] I know what that is.

Saldanha: For that, we tried to repeat

the formula of, you know, the team was the same, you know?

So we kind of like, just literally

just moved one team from "Ice Age" into "Robots"

and tried to work the project out.

We had to start to think more,

because we learned a lesson after "Ice Age"

which was not a very good one, which was like,

we are not prepared to jump into the next movie.

So we said, you know, we have to prep.

You know, after one project, there will be another.

So that's what happened in the middle of "Robots,"

which was crazy, because with the success of "Ice Age,"

the beginning of the idea of sequels started to pop up.

And then they said,

"We want to continue telling the Ice Age stories,

and we want to do it, but we need to do it soon.

We are missing our window."

That's when I was --

then, at the time, Chris Meledandri,

which was the president of Fox Animation,

came to me and said, "Do you want to do 'Ice Age 2?'

But you have to do it by yourself, you know,

because we have to finish 'Robots.'

You know, I know you're co-directing 'Robots,"

but we can peel you off of 'Robots' a little bit,

Work on 'Ice Age 2' and we keep going with 'Robots.'"

And I say, like -- I never leave an opportunity go by.

I say, "You know, it's difficult, but we can do it.

I think that we can jump into that challenge."

He is genius, though.

He's done some good stuff.

It still doesn't give him license

to just keep abusing me at the mic.

SALDANHA: Well, with the success of the movies,

"Ice Age 2" came out --

it was my first solo directorial kind of project,

and it was a huge success.

It was, like, massive.

And then, at the time, I had an idea.

I'd been cooking this idea up in my head about,

like, you know, a movie about my hometown.

Because I felt like, "Wow, I come from a place

where the culture is so vibrant,

with the colors, with the nature, with music and all that,

and it's perfect for animation. I think that it would be great."

But it's a kind of unknown -- like, it's a foreign place.

I didn't know how people would react.

I'm a bird lover, so I wanted to do something with birds.

So I had that idea in my head, you know,

and I pitched to Chris Meledandri

when I was doing "Ice Age 2,"

and he said, "Look, I really like the idea. It's great.

You know, let's finish 'Ice Age 2,'

and then we'll think about that idea,

about doing a project with Brazil, with Rio."

And I said, "Okay, this is encouraging.

That's great, and let's do that."

So, and back then,

the idea was a penguin that arrived in Rio --

like, he just washed up in the shores of Ipanema Beach,

and then there was a penguin, fish out of water,

coming into Rio in the middle of Carnival

and met all these crazy birds.

And that was great, and then we were all excited.

I finished "Ice Age 2." Big success.

Came back and said, you know, "What about 'Rio?'"

And he says, "Look, I'd love to do that.

There's a little problem.

A penguin in the story's complicated,

because there's tons of other projects

coming out with penguins.

There's 'March of the Penguins.'

There's, like, 'Surf's Up,' 'Penguins of Madagascar.'

There's all of these movies with penguins,

and I don't know if we can embark on another penguin story,

so I don't think we're ready to do that one."

I said, "Okay, let me go back to the drawing board.

I'll think something up."

I don't give up the idea, because

I think we have something there, and we come back to it.

And then I said, "Meanwhile, what about 'Ice Age 3?'"

And then it was like "Okay, let's go into 'Ice Age 3.'"

So it was, again, a crazy, kind of like overlapping thing,

like one project after the next.

And then I jumped into "Ice Age 3,"

and we started to work on it.

And it was very exciting --

it was great new characters, new challenges.

You know, every movie got harder,

because you have to just do more.

You know, technology also improved,

but you wanted to do more, so it just became this

kind of like catching-up game of trying just to...

You know, the pressure of "Ice Age 2," as well --

like, it was such a huge success.

It was a massive success, box-office-wise,

and I was like, "Oh, my gosh.

Would I be able to kind of like, top that?"

So I was working on "Ice Age 3,"

and then actually halfway through "Ice Age 3,"

a similar thing happened when I was working on "Robots."

Like, the studio came back to me and said,

"Look, we want to do 'Rio.'

You know, what do you think about that?"

I said, "Well, that's great. I'm working on 'Ice Age 3.'"

But I would not let that opportunity go by.

You know, I want to do that one too.

And it's like, I say, "Okay, let's get started."

We changed the story, though.

Penguin was gone, and we focus on the bird story,

and that's when the story of Blue came to life.


Yeah, working with animated movies is usually --

I think people keep asking, like,

"What's the similarities and difference between

animated movies and live-action movies?"

And I think creatively speaking, I think it's very similar --

the process, it's kind of like, something that happens.

You know, you still work on a story.

You still work on a treatment.

The difference starts, though, how do you prep for that?

In live action, you build the sets.

In live action, you kind of like,

you know, you find, like, your camera guy.

You're starting to find the actors.

We do something similar, but everything is done in stages.

Like, our pre-production is we design the sets,

and all that, we have to build that in the computer.

You know, the characters are not actors that you have out there.

You have to build the characters.

You have to find the characters. You have to test them out.

You have to prepare them for an animation.

I mean, like, we to put the bones in the characters.

Every little thing counts.

Like, I don't get an actor that already has their hair on.

I have to build the hair. Everything needs to be built.

And that's quite exciting,

but at the same time, very challenging, because,

for example, in the case of "Rio," I had to build the city.

You know, I couldn't go there and shoot the city

and use that as a plate, you know?

I had to build the city that I want to shoot into.

So it's, you know, every little details,

from the sidewalk to the feathers on the characters,

we have to construct.

We have 500 creative people surrounding us,

and then every day, somebody would say,

"Hey, I had an idea. I had an idea."

And you have your own ideas, but I would be wasting

if I don't open up my channels to listen to what's good.

And that comes from everywhere.

It comes from the studios. It comes from the people.

My partners that work with me on the projects.

And I think my job is to be this channel that, you know --

that captures all the ideas and try to select

what are the good ones that will fit into my vision.

It's very important not to lose that,

like, stream of ideas, but at the same time,

be open to accept changes,

because there are cases where you're not quite thinking,

and then an idea comes in, you know?

I remember doing "Ice Age," the first one.

We are struggling a little bit with the ending,

and in one of the moments that, you know --

ending, we had this whole

baby being returned to the to the mother

to the family at the time, with the father, and all that.

And one of the the employees says, like,

"Why don't you let the guy give the necklace to Manny,

as a token of appreciation for like..."

And there was something that --

the scene was working fine, but that little detail was like,

"Oh, this is a good idea."

And then it came from somebody

that was working on lighting at the time.

We do test the movies.

It was something also that we learned on the fly,

as we kind of like, worked on the projects, which is --

for me, it's very, like, daunting.

Like it's very tense, you know?

Because you're putting your movie out there,

it's not quite finished.

You're hoping that they will get it, you know?

But it's also very helpful.

You know, itcould be helpful.

In general, just getting a reaction,

a gut reaction from a live audience,

is something that is quite interesting.

And it could be reassuring, like for some of the things

that you thought you'd got tired of --

because, you know, we live with this project every day.

You watch the same gags over and over again.

You watch the scenes over and over again,

but not until somebody watches it fresh and laugh or cry

that you get the true emotion that the scene is --

it's getting people.

And then when we do the test screening, you get that,

and then it's so funny.

It's just kind of like, "Whoa."

It just gives you a little bit of a confidence check.

And sometimes it crushes your expectations.

You're like, "Oh, my God. Nobody laughed at that scene?

That's the funniest scene!"

So, it's that kind of stuff.

So, what do you say, Manny?

Are you gonna raise this child possum or mammoth?

SALDANHA: It's pretty similar, the way that we direct the actors.

The difference is that we focus more

in the delivery of the line.

Like, really we focus more on the essence of the line.

So sometimes, you have to push a little bit more,

because animation sometimes is a little bit of an exaggeration.

You know, because you have

characters that could be cartoony.

Oh, come on. Am I talking to myself here?

SALDANHA: When we do live action, when I did live action,

like, you have to focus on the whole thing.

Like, you have to focus the eye line.

You have to focus on their facial expressions,

the body language.

It all comes together.

Hey! I can't hear you!

SALDANHA: Usually with the actors, we give room for improvisation,

because the script --

since we animate only after we have the voice,

we have enough time to work with the actors,

get the performance, and try to get the best out of the takes.

So we record the lines there, on the script,

but off of that line, the actor's sometimes like,

"Look, I don't really talk like this.

I could talk likethat. "

But as long as they keep the essence of what

we're trying to get out of the acting, we are open for that.

And a lot of the great stuff

comes out of the the improvisation.

Especially for a character like Sid, for example --

John Leguizamo is such a creative, comedic guy.

[ Laughing ]

[ High-pitched laughing ]

SALDANHA: The character is so him, in a way.

He created that character. He created that voice.

He created all the mannerisms of the character.

That with him, was like, we let him roll with it, you know?

And even somebody like Robin Williams, like,

the script didn't mean too much to him.

Like, he would just use that as a first glance of a template,

and then he went on for like -- a line was, like, one second,

but he gave us, like, an hour of takes on that.

The older kids go, "Wow,"

and the adults go "Did you --"

That's the beauty of working with actors.

It's just like, the same way that people contribute

to tell the story, they contribute tremendously

to bring the character to life,

and you cannot let that opportunity pass.

Over here, you colossal fossil!

MAN: Action! [ Board snaps ]


And action. We got it.


You'll shake up the baby and scramble it's brain!

SALDANHA: The most challenging part, though,

is just because of the schedules of the actors,

it's hard to get everybody on the same time,

same schedule, to all read together.

But what we do, we do table read among ourselves,

so we can just get the flow of the script,

and then once we have the actor, we focus on their character.

Because even for them, it's kind of challenging,

because they don't see anything --

like, they are just performing.

They have no sounding board,

they have nothing to bounce off their emotions.

Like, it's me. I'm there.

I'm playing the opposite characters

or many other characters, and they have to take a leap.

They have to kind of like,

really try to think through the movie.

And I try as much as I can to expose them to

images, references,

so they can get a sense of what they're doing.

But it's a very fun project,

because it's constantly a table read.

Like, we always we go through the pages,

but we'll record everything that they say,

and at the end of the day, we collect all the sound files,

we put against the storyboards and the characters,

and next time I recorded them, they have a chance

to see their voice attached to the character.

So little by little, they also learn more about that character,

so the sessions become more focused.

And once they find that character,

they keep going with that.



There are things like -- again, going back to "Ice Age,"

that was the first time that we did test screening,

and then we knew right off the bat that Scrat was a hero.

Like, he was the most beloved character --

you know, there was the most fun character there.

And originally, in the original story,

we had Scrat as the bookend,

he was the beginning of the movie and the end of the movie.

He was just, like, two little characters

that came in the beginning and the end.

After the test screening,

like, there was this massive outcry for more,

and we had to kind of like, really come up with a way

to insert Scrat through the story,

because people were missing him in the middle.

And that was something that caught us by surprise,

but we're not that surprised,

because we love the character, too.

But we are at the same time excited,

but at the same time kind of like, terrified with that,

because we were not planning on doing so.

And another big one was that we had, at one point,

an idea that maybe Diego really died.

You know, that Diego was kind of like, that was in the movie,

you know, was one of the things that would happen.

We thought it was very emotional, and all that,

but we learned that, no, you can't kill Diego.

So he was alive at the end.

Kind of grew up in Brazil,

and I would get the Hollywood movies

and, you know, some of the European movies,

so I was always a little bit of a movie buff.

You know, I loved, like, going to the movies.

I loved watching cartoons. I loved that.

So early on, I was definitely inspired by

the early Disney cartoons.

You know, of course, the classics,

like "Pinocchio," "Bambi," "Dumbo."

Those always were, like, huge for me.

And not only because of the story,

but the emotionality, the craft, you know?

I could never do that, because it was hand-drawn,

and I don't know if I had the skills to do it,

but I always was intrigued by that.

And then as I grew a little older, you know,

I started to -- of course, TV was also a big deal for me.

"Tom and Jerry" was always a huge inspiration.

I still can -- if "Tom and Jerry" is playing on TV,

I have to watch it, because I love the energy.

You know, I love the animation energy of that.

"Looney Tunes," all that things. You know, I grew up with that.

But then when I got older, like,

live action became something that I loved,

and I loved sci-fi.

My favorite movie is still, today, is still "Blade Runner,"

and Ridley is one of my favorite directors.

And I love the "Ice Age" movies,

but I have to say that "Rio" is the closest to my heart,

because first of all, it was an original idea,

and something that touched very close to my backstory,

something that I connect a lot with.

So that's, like, probably on the top of my list.

I think that for the people that watch my movies...

It's hard, because when we make a movie,

we can ever go in front of the crowd and say, like,

"Look, it took me this long to make it.

You know, I wish I had more time to make it."

You know, you kind of like -- what you put out there,

it's what you could make,

and it's a little bit of yourself in that project.

So when you get that appreciation from the fans,

when you get the appreciation from the people

that watch our movies, it's really rewarding.

But, you know, at the end of the day,

it's like, being able to have that connection

with the audience without being there -- it's very powerful.

So I just thank the people that like my movies,

and the ones that don't like, thank you again,

because, it makes me wanting to improve, so...

I think it's always a great connection,

when I go out there to promote the movies,

when I see people in the streets

and they say that they love the movies,

they've seen my movies,

it's kind of a feeling of, like, mission accomplished.

But more pressure, because they kind of want more,

so I have to keep working.





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