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The Story of Coco: Finding Miguel’s Passion

“Pixar movies are always meant to be.”

Director Lee Unkrich and Co-Director Adrian Molina during a Coco art review on February 18, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

A truer statement can’t be made about the animation studio and its films. During my August visit, learning about the upcoming Coco through various presentations proved to be immensely rewarding as well as informative. Co-director Adrian Molina and lead story artist Dean Kelly led the presentation for The Story of Coco.

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

Research is always a necessary component to Pixar films, and in some cases, research trips too. As with 2012’s Brave, with Scotland as the destination, the film crew traveled to Mexico in order to make the film and its depiction of Dia de Los Muertos as authentic as possible. They studied the customs of the holiday and found that the traditions were built into the film on a fundamental level.

Members of the Latino community visit Pixar Animation Studios on May 12, 2016, for a roundtable session with Coco filmmakers. (Photo: Virginia Mae Rollison / Pixar)

The initial seed of the film was planted in 2011. The basic premise was that of a boy trapped in the Land of the Dead. Like the most bold of ideas, this was one story that could only be told through the vibrant medium of animation. The one major challenge that arose was communicating Miguel’s passion for music. As Molina pointed out, Pixar artists could relate to Miguel. That passion for something he loves is what they feel innately. Molina added a personal touch to the film, drawing on his own experiences as a young boy fascinated by animation.

Molina used to watch old Disney shows that explained the process of animation. He recorded them painstakingly and watched them repeatedly, teaching himself before the age of the internet. This personal touch informed Miguel’s own journey. He has a VHS tape of Ernesto de La Cruz interviews and clips that he watches often and in secret, away from his family. Once this touch was added, the response from the brain trust meetings were more favorable and enthusiastic. The story team overcame the hurdle of making Miguel’s desire palpable to the audience.

COCO – Concept art by Zaruhi Galstyan. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Music is the air Miguel breathes. He’s not meant to join the family business. In fact, Coco mirrors another Pixar film, La Luna. The struggle for him to pursue his passion against family tradition is sure to play out just as beautifully.

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