Thursday, May 4, 2023
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM (Pacific Time)
10383 Bunche Hall

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Join us for a lively discussion with the pioneers behind the film!

Oscar-nominated Raya and the Last Dragon is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first feature film inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia. This historic effort included research trips and the creation of the "Southeast Asia Story Trust." The production brought together renowned artists, storytellers, distinguished academics, and cultural practitioners with decades of experience in the U.S. and across wide swaths of Southeast Asia. Key members of the cultural and creative team will discuss the challenges and lessons learned from creating the film.


Steve Arounsack is a professor and filmmaker whose ethnographic field experience in Southeast Asia spans almost 30 years. He partnered with Disney Global Public Policy, the U.S. Embassy, and the American Film Showcase to spearhead the U.S. Embassy’s largest public policy program in Laos' history.  He’s also produced documentaries that have aired nationally on PBS and screened at major Asian American film festivals. In addition to contributing to several Hollywood films, Dr. Arounsack is a distinguished scholar. He earned the prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award for Outstanding Faculty Scholarship, the top research and scholarship award conferred by the California State University, the nation's largest public four-year university system. Among other distinctions, Dr. Arounsack earned an esteemed Sony Electronics award for innovative teaching and was part of the inaugural class of Gates Millennium Scholars. Currently, Dr. Arounsack is a professor of cultural anthropology at California State University, Stanislaus, where he serves as the director of the Keck Visual Anthropology Lab.

Emiko Saraswati Susilo feels blessed to be part of a family and community of artists. She is an Indonesian/Japanese American actor, dancer/choreographer, singer and is the Associate Director of Çudamani in Ubud, Bali where she has been especially interested in providing girls and young women with opportunities to play gamelan and create new work. 

During the production of Raya, Emiko helped plan the team's visit to Bali. She also worked with the producers, directors, animators, and story masters - teaching gamelan, kecak and movement sessions alongside Cudamani, Bapak Dewa Berata, Ayu Larassanti and Dodé Sanjaya. She was deep in conversation about core cultural values, such as community and collaboration (gotong royong), as well as specifics about how body language and movement convey meaning in Indonesian life. 

She has recently moved to Los Angeles and joined SAG-AFTRA and hopes to continue the journey of telling meaningful and powerful stories of many peoples. 

Fawn Veerasunthorn is a director on Disney's upcoming animated feature film, Wish. Veerasunthorn was previously Head of Story for the Academy Award®-nominated Raya and the Last Dragon from Walt Disney Animation Studios. She has contributed her talents as story artist to the Oscar®-winning feature films Frozen and Zootopia as well as Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen 2.  

Born and raised in Chonburi, Thailand, Veerasunthorn was encouraged to pursue a career in animation at age 18, when she heard that an artist from Thailand was working at Disney’s animation studio in Florida. Veerasunthorn received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Columbus College of Art & Design in Time-Based Media Studies.

Prior to joining Disney Animation, Veerasunthorn served as a story artist in television and film at studios including Illumination Entertainment, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros. Before getting into storyboarding, Veerasunthorn was an animation director at Six Point Harness Studios. Veerasunthorn resides in Burbank, Calif. with her husband, daughter.

Scott Sakamoto is a Creative Executive at Netflix guiding the content creation for animated features and event series. Prior to this, Scott was at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where his passion and experience have centered around the Story Department. His recent projects included Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. Previously, Scott was on the story/script production team at DreamWorks Animation, where he worked on projects such as How to Train Your DragonMr. Peabody & Sherman, and Monsters vs. Aliens. Scott began his career in entertainment as a Development Intern at Spyglass Entertainment and then as an assistant in the Feature Literary Department at The Gersh Agency. Scott graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Communication Studies.


Juliana Wijaya teaches Indonesian language and culture at UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures (ALC). She is currently the Indonesian studies coordinator at UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Dr. Wijaya has done research, presented and published in the fields of second and heritage language pedagogy and acquisition, discourse analysis, and corpus linguistics. She received her BA in English from Petra Christian University, Indonesia, her MA in linguistics from the University of Oregon, and PhD in applied linguistics from UCLA. She is the past president of the Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages (COTSEAL), and the former President of the Consortium for the Teaching of Indonesian (COTI). She is the linguist in Raya Southeast Asia Story Trust. 

Dylan Djoenadi is Co-President of the Association of Indonesian Americans, Writer and Director of last year's Indonesian Culture Night and is the current Artistic Coordinator for this year's culture night. He was a regular on the Webby Award winning YouTube show, Kids React, and Teens React produced by Fine Brothers Entertainment. He is a writer, director, and actor in Lapu the Coyote that Cares Theatre Company, the oldest Asian-American college theatre company co-founded by Randall Park. Dylan is excited to host the panel and engage more of the community with the creative team of a story that brought the Indonesian and Southeast Asian identity to light.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UCLA Association for Indonesian Americans