Disney brought its newest Pixar film “Coco” to CSUN on Nov. 15 with teasers, behind the scenes tips and a Q + A session with Byron Bashforth, the film’s character shading lead.
The event was organized by the Animation Student League of Northridge and art professor Robert St. Pierre in an effort to provide students, specifically animation majors, with indispensable insider industry knowledge.
Eager students formed a line in front of the University Student Union Theatre in hopes of securing one of the limited seats to the event. Attendees were given a “Coco” drawstring bag, a movie poster and a guitar pick representing the film’s musical theme.
After a brief introduction from St. Pierre, Bashforth began his presentation. The audience was receptive and energetic as Bashforth highlighted some of his earlier work, including his first character work on the Yeti (aka the Abominable Snowman) from “Monsters, Inc”.
“I wanted to see how much time goes into it and to meet someone who actually worked on the movie,” said student Victor Presila. “You don’t get to experience that often.”
Bashforth started off a young computer science graduate at Pixar and worked on his first film “Toy Story 2” in 1999 as a render technical director. He went on to become a shading director for renowned Pixar classics like “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” “Inside Out,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.”
Almost twenty years later and with over a dozen movies under his belt, Bashforth said “Coco” is quickly becoming his favorite. The elaborate detail work put into each skeleton character is unlike anything Disney has done before, and the immersive rich scenery of the Land of the Dead brings Hayao Miyazaki to the viewer’s mind.
“The scale of it is really fantastic, just how big the movie is. I really love the colors, in the Land of the Dead especially,” Bashforth said in a private interview. “It’s so pretty and vibrant and the fact that all of those bright saturated colors work together for such a long time in the film is really fun.”
He previewed the first five minutes of the film as well as some additional clips, giving students an exclusive sneak peek without giving away any major plot points.
He then gave a brief history on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), the holiday that inspired “Coco” and showcased images from the team’s multiple research trips to Mexico that directly influenced the design of the film.
“We definitely looked at all of the [research trip] images for reference. Skin tone, in particular, we wanted to make sure we got the right variety that we needed to make the town of Santa Cecilia feel authentic,” Bashforth said. “Almost all of the garments had some sort of embroidery on them and that’s patterned after things we saw in the research.”
The importance of accurately incorporating the Latino and Mexican culture was prevalent in the featured clips. The opening sequence chronicling the background of the Rivera family is shown through animated picado banners, Abuelita is reminiscent of a very real tamale pushing slipper wielding grandmother, and the celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo makes a cameo in the Land of the Dead.
After walking the audience through the various stages of character development, students were invited to ask Bashforth questions about “Coco” and his career. Although some veered slightly off topic, Bashforth remained eager to provide as much information as possible.
“I try to learn how much detail and time goes into each aspect of the film,” said animation student Jeremy Gilbert. “I just had to see this.”