Hola, muchachos! Disney-Pixar’s newest film, Coco, is now playing in theaters. If you’ve had a chance to see it already, there’s no doubt you’ve already been emotionally influenced by the movie’s complex themes and watched in awe at its gorgeous visual splendor. The world created for this film is quite unlike anything Pixar has achieved as of yet; Coco clearly wears its ambition and creativity on its sleeves and is a gorgeous testament to innovation at Pixar. In creating the world behind this film, specifically the jaw-dropping landscapes of The Land of the Dead, the Pixar team faced many challenges behind the creation of what this land would look like, and what new technology the team would need to implement in order to properly display the director’s vision in creating this majestic land.
Before the team could begin drawing up plans for what this world may look like on Miguel’s journey, they would first draw inspiration from Mexican culture upon their research trips. Like most films from the Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios teams, the film team has been gathering research on Mexican culture since 2011 in order to properly display that culture in the film. Nearly everything seen in the film and The Land of the Dead is based off everything that the Pixar team gathered upon their trips, including one of gorgeous standout visual aspects: the marigold bridge. In Mexican culture, marigold flowers are used to help guide the dead back to the land of the living on Dia De Los Muertos, and the team wanted to be sure to implement this aspect into the method of traveling to and from the Land of the Dead.
Since the entire film takes place overnight, the team was faced with the challenge of lighting each and every frame in the fantastical world of the Land of the Dead through streetlamps, lights, and other techniques to keep the frame looking vibrant and colorful. A major breakthrough for the Pixar team was finding a technique to illuminate entire sequences through different points, all using the same light source. Supervising technical director David Ryu explained this technique in the latest issue of the Disney Twenty-Three magazine, “The renderer sees it as one light, but we see a million lights”. It may seem minimal, but these minor techniques save the animation team an endless amount of hours, where previously one would have needed to individually place the lights throughout each frame.
Pixar is no stranger to creating films with complex themes and characters, but Coco is set apart from its previous predecessors because of its settings and story, making it unlike anything that has been accomplished by the company. The team behind Coco wanted to ensure that its primary skeleton characters weren’t presented in a frightening fashion. Often skeletons are used in films as an effort to integrate scary elements into the film, even including some Disney films, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, but the Coco team was aiming for something else entirely.
The message of Coco is about the importance of family, and while Miguel is certainly frightened when he arrives in the Land of the Dead, the team sought to create characters that represent family, and life beyond death, playing into the movie’s theme of the importance of remembering the ones we love, both in the flesh and the afterlife. The main challenge was reinventing the look and feel of these characters so that the audience can learn to care for them, and not be afraid of them among Miguel’s journey.
Finally, one of the greatest feats that this movie pulled off beautifully are the gorgeous landscapes throughout the film. To truly appreciate the stunning beauty of the artistry that is behind Coco, this film needs to be viewed in IMAX 3D. There is an endless amount of lighting, and artistic creativity behind each and every frame that is impossible to capture in a single viewing. Coco blends Pixar’s artistic talents and is another example of the innovation and drive for ambition that built the studio’s prominence in the first place. At a time when the studio’s consistency and quality have become questioned by many, Coco shows that the creative drive and talent that defines the company continues to live on, creating and tackling ambitious new feats with each and every production. For that reason alone, Coco will be a masterpiece long-remembered for many years to come.
Coco is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Mitchell Stein is the founder and operator of the Disney-fan based website The Mickey Mindset which is a leader in delivering Disney news, articles and opinions across the company. He can be contacted by following him on Twitter @MitchellStein1.