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Creating The Story of Coco In The Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead

Thank you to Disney and Pixar Studios for hosting me during the #PixarCocoEvent.

©2017 Disney•Pixar

I think we’ve pretty well established that I really like the nerdy, behind the scenes stuff when it comes to movies. Attending the Coco press day at Pixar made my geeky heart so happy. During the event, we learned about the cultural traditions that were a part of the film from Adrian Molina (Writer and Co-Director) and Dean Kelly (Story Artist). We also learned about the creation of the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead from Harley Jessup (Production Designer), Danielle Feinberg (DP-Lighting) and Chris Bernardi (Sets Supervisor).

Dean Kelly and Adrian Molina  (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar)

From the earliest moments of creating what would become Pixar’s Coco, the filmmakers knew they wanted it to be rooted in the real world. That meant extensive travel and research in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos.

Although Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of deceased friends and family, it’s not a somber occasion. Rather, it’s a time to be joyful and to celebrate. The filmmakers knew that the story of what it means to be part of a family would be universal, even to those unfamiliar with the holiday.

They didn’t want Coco to just take place on the Day of the Dead. They wanted the holiday to be integral to the story. Traditional aspects of Dia de los Muertos were used throughout the film. The ofrenda, a collection of offerings to the deceased such as favorite foods and drinks, is used to show the importance of active remembrance. In the film, the deceased cannot travel from the Land of the Dead to the Land of the Living if their picture is not on an ofrenda.

COCO – Concept art by Robert Kondo. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The smell and color of marigold petals are thought to guide spirits on their way. The marigold path is visually shown as a bridge between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead in Coco.

Danielle Feinberg, Harley Jessup and Chris Bernardi (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar)

In addition to the Day of the Dead traditions that are woven into the story of Coco, the filmmakers took great inspiration from the architecture and colors of the cities they visited. Director Lee Unkrich wanted a “fantastical verticality” for the Land of the Dead to contrast with the flatness of Santa Cecilia (the Land of the Living/Miguel’s hometown).

COCO – Concept art by Ernesto Nemesio. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The concept of the Land of the Dead was that it was built up vertically as time progressed. The lower levels of the towers were ancient structures, and as you move up things change along with history until you get to the tops that are under construction.

COCO – Concept art by Armand Baltazar and John Nevarez. ©2017 Disney•Pixar

I’ve never thought much about the lighting on an animated film, but the process of lighting on Coco was fascinating. The sheer amount of lights in the Land of the Dead and the candles in the film required the use of new technology. One scene in the Land of the Dead had over 7 million lights!

See how it all comes together when Coco hits theaters on November 22, 2017! Make sure you follow along with all of the #PixarCocoEvent coverage for more behind the scenes scoop!

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. Directed by Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”), co-directed by Adrian Molina (story artist “Monsters University”) and produced by Darla K. Anderson (“Toy Story 3”), Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2017.

As The Bunny Hops®