Computer Graphics World

November / December 2017

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n o v e m b e r . d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 7 c g w 5 F E A T U R E nce again, the skilled artists working at Pixar Animation Studios have exercised their ex- pertise in computer graphics, animation, and storytelling to raise the art of CGI filmmaking with a colorful, unique, heart-tugging, joyful, and memorable film. The venerable studio's 19th animated feature Coco takes place during one day and night, a time known in Mexico as Dìa de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. If you think a one-day timeframe confining, you underestimate Pixar. Disney•Pixar's Coco centers on Miguel, a 12-year-old boy in the fictional town of Santa Cecilia. Named aer the patroness of music, the village was the hometown of the most famous musician in all of Mexico, Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel, an aspiring young singer and self-taught guitarist, idolizes de la Cruz. But, the boy's family of shoemakers has hated everything related to music for generations – ever since Miguel's great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife, Imelda, and their family to pursue a musical career. Now Miguel se- cretly plays his homemade guitar in an attic hideout. That tension alone between Miguel's aspirations and his love of family might be enough conflict for some filmmakers. But, Pixar takes the story to another level, into a parallel world, the Land of the Dead. In Mexico, on Dìa de Muertos, families remember their deceased loved ones who, legend has it, return from the aerlife to revisit their families. At least the ones who are remembered do. Family members place their ancestors' photos, favorite foods, and other items on an ofrenda (altar). When Miguel accidentally dam- ages his great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda's ofrenda, what might have been a simple coming-of-age story expands into another dimension. Mamá Imelda's ofren- da has Miguel's great-great-grandfather's face ripped out, and Miguel spots a guitar like that used by de la Cruz in a bent por- tion of the photo. If his idol de la Cruz is his great-great-grandfather, it might explain and justify Miguel's passion for music. But, there's that family conflict to deal with. Miguel's grandmother (abuelita) destroys his guitar in a fit of anger. Still de- termined to enter a talent contest, though, Miguel breaks into de la Cruz's mausoleum to steal the lauded musician's guitar. In doing so, he sparks a transformation. Sud- denly Miguel is visible only to those from the aerlife coming to visit their families, and he finds himself in the parallel Land of the Dead. Getting back won't be as easy. But, he must do so before morning. "You always look for the ticking clock, the emergency, the place where the tension is," says Director Lee Unkrich. "We didn't have that at first. But, when we came up with the notion that the whole story takes place in one night and there was a deadline for Miguel, we had it. It made it more difficult to put character arcs though, but that was a challenge we could deal with." LAND OF THE DEAD Paying homage to the arches of mari- golds and paths of petals typically seen in Mexican cemeteries on Dìa de Muertos, the filmmakers linked the two worlds in Coco with a magical marigold petal bridge. We see skeletons from the aerlife walking toward the Land of the Living, while Miguel with his loyal Xolo dog Dante go in the oth- er direction, Dante rolling in the brilliantly illuminated orange petals. "Effects created the bridge, and we built point cloud lights," says Danielle Feinberg, director of photography for lighting. "We could have the light cen- tered around a single petal or have the petal glow; each petal has its own light. We could have an internal glow on the bridge and do bounce light on the char- acters. When the characters are walking, they can activate the particle lights for the petals anywhere they touch." When Miguel and Dante look outward from the glowing orange bridge, they see the Land of the Dead surrounding them, far into the distance. Seven million blue lights sparkle on tall towers that extend through the depths of an immense darkness. "When Miguel arrives in this magical new world, we wanted it to be an explosion of color and texture," says Harley Jessup, production designer. In contrast to daytime and night scenes in the flat layout of Santa Cecilia, shots in the Land of the Dead all take place at night. Vertical towers representing layers of history fill the landscape. Mesoamerican pyramids at the base become Spanish co- lonial architecture as the towers rise, then more modern architecture, layers upon layers of history built as people arrived through the centuries. Giving the environ- ment connectivity and a bustling life are elevated trolleys and gondolas that carry people from one tower to another. The set designers began with crude outlines for the tower shapes that includ- ed cues to represent buildings, tracks to carry the trolleys, and streets that curved around the towers. "We brought those early versions into Presto [Pixar's animation system] in a room where Lee [Unkrich] could move around and navigate through the 3D scenes using an iPad," says Chris Bernar- di, sets supervisor. "He did some sweep- ing helicopter shots we hadn't envisioned before, and they ended up in the film." Once the sets team had a good idea about the environments the director want- ed to use for shots in the film, the team had to figure out how to build the individu- al towers and multiply them. "We built the first tower, and the shape and structure was great, but we were missing the feeling of a neighborhood in O TROLLEYS MOVE RESIDENTS BETWEEN TOWERS IN THE LAND OF THE DEAD.

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