In the realm of Mexican cinema, Ricardo Arnaiz has long been revered as a visionary filmmaker, renowned for his prowess in animated movies. With an illustrious career spanning 16 years and over a dozen successful projects under his belt, Arnaiz has solidified his position as one of the pioneers and most celebrated figures in the Mexican animation industry. However, the time has come for him to embark on a new and thrilling chapter in his directorial journey. Arnaiz is set to make his grand entrance into the live-action realm with his upcoming film, “HEROES.” This historical masterpiece delves into the captivating story of the Battle of Chapultepec, transporting audiences to a time of valor, sacrifice, and resilience.
In this exclusive interview with The FilmmakerLife, Arnaiz opens up about his transition from animation to live-action, the challenges and triumphs encountered during the making of “HEROES,” and the profound impact he hopes his film will have on viewers. Join us as we uncover the cinematic marvels and the creative genius behind Ricardo Arnaiz’s captivating new venture, “HEROES.”
- As a renowned award-winning filmmaker in Mexico, you have primarily worked in animated movies. What motivated you to venture into live-action filmmaking with your upcoming film, “HEROES,” based on the Battle of Chapultepec?
I have always liked challenges. When I decided to create my first animated movie, I had no idea how to even begin. However, I chose to take it step by step and see it through until we had something special – something we could premiere in movie theaters all over Mexico. We accomplished this and achieved success. I believe it was because we had faith in ourselves and were willing to give our all to accomplish something that seemed impossible. Now, I am facing a new challenge: creating something for the first time – my inaugural live-action film. I invested all my will and heart into it, and we are on the cusp of witnessing the outcome of the dedication of a fantastic team behind this endeavor. Always striving to tell stories that elevate Mexico and convey values and virtues to the audience, I am now attempting to raise awareness about the remarkable tale of the young cadets at Chapultepec.
- “HEROES” delves into the historically significant Battle of Chapultepec. What aspects of this story attracted you, and how did you ensure its authenticity while bringing it to the big screen?
The story I aimed to tell was never solely about an epic battle on the field. Instead, it focused on the perspective of a group of students who chose to remain at their school. However, they soon found themselves trapped in an impossible situation from which there was no escape. They were compelled to confront this situation together. The solidarity among these friends, bonded in a unique manner, became the driving force that enabled them to overcome their fears and strive to survive that critical moment. I can’t even fathom the fear they must have experienced as their companions fell victim to an invading army within the confines of their school.
I desired to delve deeper into the lives of these students. Hence, we visited the Chapultepec Museum and engaged with their historians and experts who were knowledgeable about the US invasion of Mexico. Through their archives, we gained access to documents that substantiated the authenticity of these figures and verified that the battle unfolded in a manner closely resembling what has been passed down over the years.
- The film trailer show scenes of hand-to-hand fighting between the cadets and the invading soldiers. What visual and technical elements do you use to capture the intensity and realism of these battle scenes?
These combat sequences are specifically reserved for the moments that truly needed to showcase the cadets’ readiness to do whatever it takes to protect their friends. However, we made an early decision to center the portrayal around the fear and frustration they were experiencing, utilizing the actors’ performances and reactions, along with the heightened intensity of the music and other elements crucial to effective storytelling.
- As a filmmaker, you have been a pioneer in the Mexican animation industry. How do you believe this background influences your directorial style and vision for “HEROES”?
“Heroes” is, for me, akin to a fresh beginning. Once again, I am pioneering an effort to establish a distinct storytelling style for a live-action film. I aimed to incorporate all the facets of values, Mexican heritage, culture, our way of life and thinking, much like I did with “La Leyenda de la Nahuala,” my initial animated film. However, it was an interesting sensation – the desire to craft a narrative and visualize everything in my mind before stepping in front of the cameras, similar to what I did 18 years ago. I embarked on this journey with limited knowledge of the process, yet with an unwavering determination to do whatever it takes to convey a remarkable story.
- “HEROES” marks your directorial debut in live-action filmmaking. What challenges did you encounter during the production process, and how did you navigate them?
It did feel like a new challenge altogether, but it was what made it great. If things came to you easily, I think you wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity as much, and then you would not give more than your 100%. The main challenge for me was the locations. We had to rush the acting to try not to lose the dawn or the sunset needed for a specific shot. In animation, you could have depicted any time of the day and stay in that moment for as long as you wanted. Changing the same setting to night was as simple as adjusting a couple of layers. But in live-action, you must employ your creativity.
- “HEROES” explores the camaraderie and resilience of the cadets during the Battle of Chapultepec. How did you work with the actors to portray the emotional journey and bonds forged amidst the conflict, and what were some of the challenges and highlights of this process?
We worked very closely with the actors, discussing with them the challenges these cadets faced and the motivations behind their decision to stay at their school. We delved into the historical backgrounds of most of the cadets we had information about, and we invented some additional characters based on further research. With the assistance of an acting coach, we developed motivations and backgrounds for each character, including family dynamics, relationships, insecurities, fears, dreams, and strengths. We allowed the actors to authentically inhabit their roles, enabling them to build connections and friendships that significantly contributed to the realism of their characters.
- In your previous animated works, you collaborated with notable actors and celebrities. Can we expect any notable casting choices in “HEROES”, and how did these individuals contribute to the overall vision of the project?
We have assembled an impressive cast with three crucial groups that were essential for the target audience and for telling the best possible story: firstly, we have a group of highly talented and established actors such as Plutarco Haza, Silverio Palacios, Ariel Lopez Padilla, Mario Ivan Martinez, Gerardo Taracena, Angel Cerlo, and Mino D´Blanc, with numerous films to their credit. Then, we had young actors who also had experience with films, series, and streaming platforms, and who were also widely recognized on social media: Andres Vazquez, Tavo Betancourt, Jaime Maqueo, Matias Gruener, Nicolas Haza, Derek Arnauda, among many others. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we aimed to include meaningful female representation that was integral to the story – strong female characters who provide support to the Cadets, being part of their families, dreams, strength, and determination to overcome their fears: Elaine Haro, Natalia Coronado, Paola Ramones, Melissa Ortega, Diana Larume, Andy Rangel, and Maryfer Santillan. Each of them breathed life into their characters; we developed background stories for each and they poured their hearts into their roles, making them believable and relatable. You find yourself falling in love with each of them, because they feel authentic.
8. As the premiere of “HEROES” approaches, what are your expectations for the film’s reception, both within Mexico and internationally, considering its historical context and cinematic approach?
My expectation for “HEROES” is that it becomes a film that will alter hearts and perceptions about taking pride in our origins and understanding how we can truly be heroes. It’s a film that demonstrates how each one of us can create an impact, by believing in ourselves and putting forth every effort to fight for what we hold dear, especially our friends and family.
- In addition to “HEROES,” you will also premiere a documentary about the first Mexican astronaut who carried the Mexican flag into space in 1985. How did this project come about, and what can viewers expect from this exploration of Mexico’s current presence in the space program?
It is also a new challenge for me, but I was supported by Elena Franco, a highly talented and award-winning Short Documentary Director who assisted me right from the start. Rodolfo Neri Vela is the Mexican Astronaut who was my hero when he journeyed to space in 1985. I used to write letters to him expressing my profound admiration for his achievement, which seemed almost impossible at the time. He responded, sending me photographs of his space voyage, and we became pen pals. Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet him in person, and we developed a friendship—now as an adult and filmmaker. He shared with me his personal account of the Mexican Space Program and the challenges he had to conquer due to the lack of continuity and support. He also recounted how he inspired millions of Mexicans to make their dreams attainable. I made the decision to acknowledge and honor this Mexican hero, allowing his story to be narrated in his own words.
- With your extensive experience in filmmaking, how do you see your role as a storyteller evolving, and what new directions are you interested in exploring in future projects beyond “HEROES” and the documentary?
I truly enjoyed the Live-Action experience, and now, along with “HEROES” producer Julissa Pacheco and Executive Producer Luis Vargas, we are already in the process of crafting 4 more films featuring actors in front of the camera, while also working on the development of 2 animated films. There’s a possibility of another documentary as well, as well as TV series for streaming platforms, and an array of other dreams waiting to be transformed into reality.
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