Pixar Artist Ana Ramirez on Bringing COCO to the Big Screen

Did you know that one average it takes about four years to make a Pixar film from start to finish? During a recent roundtable with sketch artist, Ana Ramirez, I learned that it took six years to bring Coco to the big screen. This is only one of many things that makes Coco a unique film. Even this roundtable was a unique experience.

It is not often that I attend press events where all of the press in attendance is female. However, last Wednesday, a diverse group of female writers sat discussing a Pixar film celebrating Mexican culture and traditions with a female sketch artist from Mexico. It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but sitting in that room, I was very aware that the conversation taking place wouldn’t have happened a decade ago.

I’ve attended several roundtables for Disney/Pixar films, and I’m always shocked at how many new things I learn about the animated film-making process. During this discussion I learned how typically animators will alter and reuse character builds from previous film. For Coco this wasn’t really possible due to a lack of characters with Mexican features. Pretty much everything in Coco had to be built from the ground up.

ana ramirez - coco roundtable 1

It was clear during our discussion with Ana, that authenticity was very important to everyone working on Coco. Hailing from Guanajuato, México, Ana was able to bring an added layer of authenticity to her work on the film. As a sketch artist, Ana mainly works on the visual look of the film. The beginning of the film prominently features her work as the prologue unfolds visually through papel picado banners (meaning ‘cut papers’, papel picados are paper banners featuring cut designs and are traditionally made out of tissue paper). I almost low-key fangirled when Ana talked about working on the papel picado. The papel picado banners were one of my favorite things in the film. This is saying a lot, because there is a lot to love about Coco.

In addition to learning about the film, we also got to learn about Ana and how she became an artist. One of the main themes of Coco is what it means to have a passion and a dream. And, as a dreamer myself I’m always interested in hearing about how other pursued their dreams.

Ana was originally an ice skater, who wanted to be a musician. It was her mother who suggested she try her hand at drawing. I love this so much, because it is rather rare to find parents who encourage their children to pursue the arts. While attending the California Institute of Arts, Ana also studied different arts including dance and theater, which she said have helped her in her career as an animator. She mentioned how her costume design classes have particularly helped when it comes to working on character costumes.

A theater kid to the core, and one who for a good minute or two considered focusing on costume design in college (acting won out in the end), my ears perked up when Ana discussed the costuming in Coco. I was especially fascinated by the challenges they faced in costuming the characters from the Land of the Dead. We don’t often think about how different clothes would fit if we were no flesh and only bone, but turns out they’d fit quite differently. Dressing the skeleton characters presented a unique challenge for the artists working on the film. Fortunately for us, they are pros at what they do and the costumes worn in the Land of the Dead are a true stand out in the film.

I always enjoy roundtables with artists and filmmakers, but I have to say this was one of my favorites. Coco is such a beautiful film and knowing that such wonderful people like Ana Ramirez helped bring it to life makes me appreciate it even more. Coco is out in theaters on November 22nd. I’ll have a review up soon with even more thoughts on the film.


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