Lee Unkrich on His ‘Coco’ Collaborators and Similarities to Live-Action Jobs

Lee Unkrich, director of Pixar’s “Coco,” says, “There are a lot of misconceptions about what goes into making an animated film.” Unkrich talks about several of his below-the-line collaborators and how their work has key similarities — and differences — to the job of their live-action counterparts.

Harley Jessup (Production designer)

“The film looks gorgeous, and a huge part of that is Harley. In animation, we don’t have the luxury of finding locations that have a patina and history; it has to be created from scratch. Harley went on many trips to Mexico, took hundreds of thousands of photos and was able to create all that texture, all the layers of history. It was his responsibility to guide various teams, overseeing everything that went into the on-screen images, to bring that specific culture to a world inspired by real places we’d seen in Mexico. He put in as much work as any production designer on a live-action film.”

Christopher Boyes (Re-recording mixer, sound designer, supervising sound editor)

“He created interesting sounds, with a lot of character. It was important to have his team go to Mexico and record sound there. I didn’t want things manufactured; I wanted the actual textures, rhythms and ambience of different places we visited. Chris sent his son and a team during [Day of the Dead], and they recorded lots of parades, markets, Xolo dogs — anything in the film — rather than just recording stuff in a studio. Chris and his team of sound editors created a sonic landscape and did a gorgeous, authentic job. When I watch the film, it sounds like things I heard on my trips to Mexico. Chris had never [been] on a Pixar film. His work was in line with the pioneering work [sound designer] Gary Rydstrom did on a lot of Pixar’s early films and shorts, [creating] unexpected sounds to bring character to inanimate objects. Chris was definitely inspired by Gary’s work.”

Steve Bloom & Unkrich (Editors)

“I’m not easy to edit for because I edit myself and I’m very particular. But Steve is a great editor. This film went through a lot of twists and turns over the years as we found the story. I always relied on Steve to have a strong opinion. I don’t want yes men; I want people to tell me when it’s not working. Most people don’t know what live-action editors do, and they certainly don’t understand animation editors. At the end of the day, we’re all doing the same thing: We’re making a movie and putting out a film that works on-screen. We sometimes go through different steps and in a different order. But just as in live action, we’re concerned with performance, story structure, modulation and pacing throughout the film. The jobs are more similar than different. The biggest advantage to animation editors is that they’re involved early on in the story process.”

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