I am so excited to see the new Disney•Pixar movie COCO. I had the opportunity to participate in a round table interview with Emron Grover, one of the animators who worked on COCO. During the interview, I could tell how much he loves working as an animator. He has a real passion and love for the work that he does. Here are some of the highlights from our interview:
Who came up with the concept of entering the Land of the Dead?
“Our director Lee Unkrich, he loves Dia de Muertos. He loves the holiday, the art, and the culture. He came up with a story that centered around that.”
Did you know a lot about the holiday and the culture before you started working on the project?
“I knew some, I actually vacation to Mexico about every year, but not much. I knew the visuals, the skeletons, like the sugar skulls, and the ideas about paying homage to your ancestors but that is about it. I learned a lot.”
Did you get to take a trip down to Mexico before working on the project?
“I didn’t personally but the story writers and character animators went down several times.”
What did you specifically work on for COCO?
“I was the tailoring lead. I am in charge of the team who builds all the clothing in the movie. We clothed all the humans and all the skeletons. There is a whole world of skeletons.”
Was it hard to cloth skeletons?
“Yes. There is a lot of intricate details of how to do it. The hardest thing is in 3D cloth, it’s all math, physics, and geometry. If you have a shirt, in the 3D world it is made up of triangles. Each triangle has a point. The math to detect the body underneath it, that it falls onto, is really hard and time intensive. The smaller the thing that you are trying to collide against the harder the problem is. Because bones are thinner that arms, we knew we would have a hard time with the clothing going right through the bones. We spent 3 years developing a better collision detection system, a system that would be able to collide with very small objects.”
When you were studying to do this career, did you have a background in math or more on the art side?
“I am both. I think that is why I do what I do and why I like it so much. I grew up as an artist and in my early teens, the internet started, home internet became possible, and I was driving that technology in my home. I began dabbling in computer programming on my own. About in high school is when some of the visual effects films were really starting to kick up and had some really cool stuff. I wanted to do that but I really didn’t know how so I became a computer programmer. I took some classes in high school and went to BYU. I went as a computer science major, doing programming. I did that for about a year and then decided to go back to art. I was going to go on the graphic design route. I went on a mission, while I was gone, they started the animation program. So it was perfect timing, I came back, found out about it 2 days before school started, and knew that was my destiny. That is what I want to do. I started doing animation classes and I was going more the artistic route, in character animation for 2 years, and then decided to be more technical again. Cloth is a perfect mix of artistry and technical because we are building the designs. We are pattern makers. We are building all the patterns you would sew together, just virtually.”
When you designed the clothes, what research did you do to make sure you were authentic to the culture?
“When they went down to Mexico, they did a lot of photographing and videotaping and publicized that information in the company. We have hundreds and thousands of those photographs to look at. We would actually order authentic clothing from Mexico to use for research. We would dress each other up and take pictures. We called it our model packet.”
Do you have a favorite character’s clothing design?
“Probably Hector because I spent so much time on him. Other than that, Miguel’s red hoodie. That hoodie is probably the most complicated thing we have ever done, cloth wise. It has so many different poses. Zipped and unzipped. Wet and it’s not. It has 61 different variations.”
Which character did you connect with most and why?
“It is really hard for me to answer that question because I have flip flopped a couple of times. I have always connected most with Hector, he is the main skeleton, but I think that is mostly because he is the one I worked on the most. I was just in that world but when I sit back and see the whole movie, I think my favorite character is Mama Imelda. She is in the Land of the Dead. She is the matriarch of the entire Rivera family. Her character arch and what she gone through in the past and what she goes through in this journey is great.”
What would be your magic advice for grade school kids who want to do what you do?
“My journey to where I am came from following my heart. I went from the artistic way to technical back to artistic and then back technical. It’s following your dreams and following your heart about what you want to be and what you want to do. But being open to having that be completely different from what you think the plan is.”
I loved interviewing Emron Grover. He made me even more excited to see COCO. Look for my review on the blog this Wednesday!
Disney•Pixar’s COCO opens in theaters this Wednesday, November 22nd.
Visit the official COCO website
Like COCO on Facebook
Follow COCO on Twitter
Follow COCO on Instagram