5 Things We Learned About Pixar’s Coco

You’ve barely had a chance to catch your breath after Cars 3, but another Pixar movie is right around the corner. Coming to theatres in November, Coco tells the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a boy who dreams of becoming a musician, in spite of his family’s longstanding ban on music. After being transported to the Land of the Dead, he joins forces with Hector (Gael García Bernal) on “an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.” While the team at Pixar is still hard at work on the film, co-director Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson paid a visit to Toronto last week to screen a few clips and answer some questions about Pixar’s latest creation.

1. Four long years

Asked about the slow process of creating a Pixar film, Molina highlighted the importance of storyboards and other forms of pre-visualization, as they offer a clear sense of how the film is playing long before any real animation has been completed. “What that really frees us up to do at Pixar is to pretty quickly see what the story looks like when it’s edited and it’s got music and voices and react to it and say this is working really well, this needs some more sharpening,” he said. “We take it down, we break it apart, we build it back together, and we put it up in those storyboards again. At Pixar, it takes upwards of four years to create and finish a film and most of that time is this process of drawing up the story, getting feedback, getting a reaction, keeping the parts that are strong, finding ways to make them stronger, and replacing the parts that aren’t until we’re very happy—or until we run out of time.”

2. Unique opportunities

Based on the clips that were screened last week, many in attendance concluded that Coco is a uniquely challenging undertaking, but Anderson says that’s par for the course at Pixar. “Whenever we’re in the middle of making a movie, we always think it’s the most challenging,” she explained. “I will say that Coco offered some unique and fun opportunities for the animators. Everyone’s very, very excited… from the set dressers to the camera guys to the lighting and the animators. They were so excited to be able to explore the world of skeletons and the endless possibilities for fun and expression.”

3. Musical inspiration

The clips screened on Friday also made it clear that music plays an important role in Coco. According to Molina, he knew early in the writing process that he wanted the story and the music to take inspiration from one another. “I think that’s the right way to do it,” he said. “For this film in particular, a lot of it just came from research of the diversity of Mexican music. There’s all sorts of different styles and ensembles and songs, so we listened to a lot of it and we actually have a lot of kind of classic folkloric tunes that we recorded down in Mexico to be able to fill the world, but we also used it as inspiration for the songs that are performed because so much of the film and the storytelling is about being a musician, performing as a musician, and knowing how to use that voice.”

4. A new set of challenges

In addition to its distinctive soundtrack, Coco has a unique look that stems from the fact that it’s primarily set at night in the Land of the Dead. “The sun is not a part of that, and it’s so much a part of how we understand light that it becomes this new set of challenges,” Molina explained. “It also gives us such a specific look. There are situations like the Ofrenda where it’s all candlelit and there are scenes in the cemetery for Altar de muertos where the entire town comes out to the cemetery. They clean off and decorate all of the graves and they put up candles, so the entire cemetery is candlelit. It’s such a specific, beautiful image, but it’s something new and it’s something that we’ve never done in lighting.”

5. A collaborative sport

A 25-year Pixar veteran, Anderson believes the company is able to continue raising the bar with films like Coco because there are so many veteran employees, who are hungry for new challenges. “So many people at Pixar have been working together for so long. We love what we do—there are so many people that have stayed—and we all love the collaborative sport that animated filmmaking is. We have these amazing pros representing their best ideas and coming to us with everything. The whole film with all its detail and moving parts, it was a welcome challenge for everybody. Everybody was very excited to put their best foot forward.”

Coco arrives in theatres on November 22. Check out the trailer below.