Challenges of a Pixar’s COCO Sketch Artist: Interview with Ana Ramirez

Walking into the open room at the hotel, several bloggers gather around. We pulled up fluffy chairs and some sat on the couch, giving this meeting more the feel of a morning visit than an interview. With about five other bloggers, I spent roughly 30 minutes talking with and listening to one of Disney-Pixar’s sketch artists, who worked on their upcoming film COCO. During our discussion, which was full of laughter and connections, we learned some of the challenges of a Pixar’s COCO Sketch Artist – an interview with Ana Ramirez.

Challenges of a Pixar's COCO Sketch Artist: Interview with Ana Ramirez #PixarCoco

The first impression I got of Ana was just a big welcoming ‘Hi, I’m Ana, so glad to meet you!’ After grabbing some coffee, as she had a busy week speaking at some local colleges here in Dallas, we all gathered around like old friends and began discussing many of the aspects that go in to being a sketch artist, particularly in her part for the movie COCO. Everyone in the room had seen a special screening, and agreed that it was absolutely STUNNING! Even my kids were in awe of all the colors, designs, and overall visual look and feel of this movie – they’re begging to see it again when it’s in theaters November 22nd.

If you’ve seen the trailer for the movie, you know that it occurs during the day of the dead, in a small town in Mexico. Ana is actually from Guanajuato, México, and she said it was really special to her to be able to work on a film of her culture. She explained to us that she was one of the few actually from México working on the film, so as things were being written and planned, she would mention when something wasn’t quite right like ‘no, that’s not what happens in Mexico’. She told us that at first she was shy, not sure if she should speak up, but was encouraged by everyone working there to please let them know, which lead her to feeling like they really wanted to get it right as far as the Day of the Dead and the culture of México and her people. She helped with a lot of research for it, so not just the art side!

As she said “I think the main challenge for me to, maybe, maybe just the pressure that I felt being one of the only Mexicans, to do a good job, to make Mexico, my country, my people, proud.”

After seeing the film, I’m sure they were very proud of COCO and the hard work that went into this movie to represent their country and this particular holiday to the rest of the world who may not understand or know much about what Day of the Dead is.

While there were several different aspects we discussed, my favorite and the most interesting to me was when she explained how big of a challenge it was to do this film as far as designing not only the humans, but the skeletons. She explained that normally with films, they can take generic models/parts of previous films to save some time and change it to fit the current one they’re working on. With COCO, however, practically everything was from scratch. They wanted it to be REAL and AUTHENTIC, so being based in a town in Mexico, they had to consider sun spots, wrinkles and skin tones. There weren’t really types such as this they could pull from other films, so had to work right from the beginning on them.

The skeletons presented a whole new type of challenge, since the body types are VERY different than a human body. They wanted to make them approachable – being a movie geared towards family and kids – and not scary. One thing that helped was the colors and designs on their skulls – Sugar Skulls, someone said – that not only gave them personality and helped them look more like themselves before death, but also made them seem more bright and fun.

Challenges of a Pixar's COCO Sketch Artist: Interview with Ana Ramirez #PixarCoco

Ana has quite a background with costume design and such, as well, so worked with that quite a bit during COCO. Outfitting a skeleton isn’t something most people do often, though, so figuring out how to make things fit the skeletons in the right way, how to color or style them to fit their own personalities and make skeletons all look different than each other, were all challenges faced by the team.

Even after seeing the film, Ana mentioned something that I hadn’t actively noticed, but definitely made a difference – the more ‘remembered’ a skeleton/person was, the more shiny they were – the more bright and vibrant, well-kept hair, etc. The more ‘forgotten’ though, the more worn they look. Less polished, more grubby clothes, perhaps a bit more falling apart or not walking as smoothly. It’s all this attention to little details by the whole team, like Ana, that made a remarkable difference to the whole film, making it a total must-see and one I hope to re-watch many times with my family!

While Ana helped a ton on the entire film, when you do see the film – watch the beginning closely. The intro, with all the cool tissue paper designs that start the story – Ana basically did that entire part herself, showing just how incredibly talented she is!

I learned so much from my interview with Ana Ramirez – from her journey leading her to working with Pixar, to the 6 years working on this film – even though the average time for a film is more around 4 years. THAT is how much they wanted this film to be perfect, and they sure didn’t disappoint!

Learn more about COCO when I write my full review soon!

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