By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | March 4, 2021
Dobson High School graduate Dorian Bustamante has a resume that speaks volumes.
Joining Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2019, Bustamante is embedded in the legendary family, having worked on Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” as well as Disney’s upcoming “Jungle Cruise.”
His first job? “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.”
“I submitted (my resume), interviewed and was hired,” he says. “So, my first gig, luckily, was in the ‘Star Wars’ art department.”
Bustamante now is getting ready to celebrate the March 5 release of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” for which he served as the layout artist. It will be available on Disney+ with premier access in most markets at the same time it’s released in select theaters.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” takes place in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people.
Like most Disney fans, Bustamante is looking forward to seeing the completed film.
“I can’t wait to see it,” he says. “When I saw it, it was a work in progress. The composer, James Newton Howard, is my favorite composer. I love that guy.”
“Raya and the Last Dragon” features a voice cast of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk, Lucille Soong, Patti Harrison and Ross Butler.
“This film was important to me because a lot of my friends are Southeast Asian,” Bustamante says during a Zoom call during which his avatar was Rocket Raccoon.
“One of my closest friends is Thai. This is actually a very different film. I don’t think I’ve seen a Southeast Asian Disney movie before. There’s ‘Mulan,’ but with the action and the style — with 3D and computer animation — that’s what I thought was cool. It was a cool action film for sure.”
Born and raised in Arizona, Bustamante was inspired to pursue an art and film career when he saw Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” in 1993. He dabbled in 2D animation before turning to CGI. Ten years later, he worked with the director who inspired him.
In 2001, when he was 20, he moved to San Francisco to work in the “Star Wars” art department for George Lucas. He says the hours were long, but he learned everything from concept art to final compositing.
After the “Star Wars” prequels, he was recruited to work with Spielberg on “War of the Worlds” in Los Angeles. Since then, he’s collaborated with James Cameron on “Avatar” and JJ Abrams with “Star Trek.”
For “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Bustamante was the layout artist who helped visualize the cinematic look of the animated film by placing digital cameras within a scene.
“I had just come off of helping supervise the last two ‘Avengers’ films — ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame,’” he says.
“There was a lot of choreographed fight scenes and battles. When it came to ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ they were doing it, too. Awesome. I was like, ‘Dude. I’m right in there.’”
It seems as if COVID-19 would have thrown a wrench in the production of “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Bustamante says it did not.
“Like everyone else in California, we were told, ‘Oh, you guys need to pack up and go,’” he says. “OK, great. We had monitors waiting for us at the end of the day. I put in the car and set up a home office. I was good to go by lunchtime the next morning.”
Creatively, however, it was challenging. To ensure accuracy, a Southeast Asian consultant team was on staff.
“They would correct us if they put the wrong foot first and instances like that,” he says. “So, being in layout and doing all the camerawork, I was just trying to make sure we didn’t have errors.
“They would tell us, too, what would be appropriate for this and that. Then we would make adjustments.”
After “Star Wars,” “Avengers,” “Avatar” and “Star Trek,” Bustamante remains modest.
“I just keep busy,” he says. “I really don’t notice things until I look backward — especially right now. I’ve realized a lot of the stuff I’ve worked on have actually been Disney films. Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, I came full circle from where I started to where I’m at right now.”
“Raya and the Lost Dragon”
Opens Friday, March 5, on Disney+ and theaters