Rio director Carlos Saldanha tells Jeremy Kay about putting the city’s carnival spirit on screen.

Carlos Saldanha was directing Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs when Fox called to say it was ready to proceed with his fifth feature. “I had to split crews between Ice Age 3 and prepping Rio,” the Brazilian animator says as he recalls the tumultuous start to a story he had been thinking about since 2002. “It was my dream project so I couldn’t let it go. I was going from ice to the tropics.”

Production with Fox’s East Coast animation subsidiary Blue Sky Studios took three years, before the film opened earlier this year. “I wanted to create a story around the city,” Saldanha says from his native Rio. “You have culture, music, colours and nature, so the inception of the movie started with that desire to share these things in my head.”

Audiences clearly liked Saldanha’s vision and the result is a carnival of love and friendship, adventure, song, dancing birds and glorious vistas which has grossed $485m worldwide — $341m of that from the international marketplace.

“I have lived abroad [in the US] for many years, so I wanted to convey the idea of what it’s like to come to the city for the first time,” Saldanha says. “That’s how Blu [the macaw lead character voiced by Jesse Eisenberg] came about. Originally it was going to be a penguin, but I ditched that because there were a lot of penguins in movies at that time.”