Coco interview

I’d never conducted an interview at a UNESCO World Heritage site before a couple of weeks ago. But after speaking with Adrian Molina, the co-director of Pixar’s Coco, at the ancient ruins of Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico, I can cross that very specific thing off my bucket list.

In honor of the movie’s home video release (and before this weekend’s Academy Awards, where it’s nominated for Best Animated Feature), I spoke with Molina about the power of the film’s music, how physically visiting a place like Monte Alban actually translates into a movie’s screenplay, and much more.

I also spoke with animation manager Jesus Martinez about the inner workings of Pixar, how he came on board this project, and what an animation manager’s job consists of. Check out our Coco interviews below.

Adrian Molina interview

Disney invited me to Oaxaca, Mexico to retrace the steps of the filmmakers during their research trips as they prepared for Coco. I had the opportunity to chat with writer/co-director Adrian Molina while we were standing in the ruins of the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban, which served as inspiration for the film’s Land of the Dead. You can watch the video interview in the embed above.

Jesus Martinez Coco

Jesus Martinez interview

Elsewhere on our trip, we visited the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles, a pair of award-winning artists whose work can be found all over the world – including in the Smithsonian Museum. They carve and paint alibrijes, creatures from Mexican folklore that play a large role in Coco.

At the workshop, I had the chance to briefly chat with animation manager Jesus Martinez, who told me about the process of coming on board a movie like this from within the Pixar ranks.


How long have you been working at Pixar?

Nine years now.

I assume when you heard about this project, you chased it pretty hard. Is that how it works structurally at the studio?

Yeah, sort of. I work in production, so our time on films can be super short – like, a couple months – to four years, depending on what department you work on. So I heard about it, and I had to work on the Mexican Pixar film. My family is Mexican. But it took a while to get there. I actually only worked on the film for two years because I was working on Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur after that. But I knew it would lead me to Coco and everyone who places you – because it’s about availability and timing – they all knew I was going to go on it eventually.

So what did you actually do on the movie?

So I started off as a layout manager. That’s camera and staging. And then I transitioned into the animation manager position. So basically what I do is I work within the teams and I make sure the artists have everything they need to do their work, and I’m constantly communicating updates and keeping them informed. At the same time, I’m also a liaison between departments and the producers if priorities change. If all of a sudden, we need a shot for a commercial, I need to know this and communicate this. Just making sure the team is happy as well, having a good time.

Boosting morale?

Yeah, exactly. There’s a little bit of therapy involved.

What is your favorite alebrije? Do you have one?

Well, I just found out that my spirit guide is an owl, so I suppose it should be an owl. But I like bears. Bears that I’m seeing here.

What about one from the movie?

Oh, from the movie? The frobbit. The one that jumps in front of Dante. It’s such a weird thing, and the sound effects it makes. (laughs)

So you touched the entire movie then, right? It wasn’t like you were working on just a specific part of it?


So, did any of your job involve translating storyboards into the actual shots? You mentioned layout and staging earlier. Those positions are in storyboards and animatics first.

That was all the cinematographer, Matt Aspbury, and his direction with Lee [Unkrich] as well, who’s also very keen on camera. My role in that is knowing what sequences are available, which ones are approved, and then just making sure we have artists available to take those on and set a schedule for that.

What does being in a place like this (Jacobo and Maria Angeles’ workshop) do for the animators and you, specifically?

For animators, it’s like getting a feel for the place. I just came from a six week trip from South America. People move differently. People will speak differently. When you’re in the areas, you kind of start to pick up on those little details that make Pixar Animation a little more specific and special. For me to come on this research trip, I was jealous because I didn’t get to come on the first one (laughs), and it’s just so cool to see all the inspirations for the actual film in person.

To me, it’s miraculous that these movies get made. Watching the movie is one thing, but seeing behind-the-scenes stuff about how things are manipulated inside the computer is an entirely different thing. Do you still have the experience of being able to watch the movie as a movie, or are you too deep into it where it’s not even possible anymore?

You know, it goes in and out. We see the finished product, and I’m super proud and I’m hearing the audience reactions, and I can get into the movie, but then that one troubling shot comes up and you’re like, ‘Ohh!’ All that history and baggage behind it comes back. So it is hard to be really streamlined and just watch the film.


Coco is available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD now.

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