This experience was hosted by Disney & Pixar. However, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own!
One of my favorite things about the Pixar Coco Event a few months back was discovering all the “Behind the Scenes” work that went into creating COCO. There were so many different aspects of the film that had to be considered and one important area was how they were going to bring the skeletons to life. This was the first time that Pixar had ever animated skeletons and they wanted to make sure that they portrayed them in a realistic manner. The skeletons play a very vital role in the film and surprisingly were the hardest characters to create. However, in true Pixar fashion, the animators got to work researching and formulating a plan that would the skeletons come to life. Today, I want to share with you the amazing way they were able to do so.
In order to create the animated skeletons, animators studied real skeletons. They looked at how the bones and muscles work together to create movement. They analyzed everything from the way bones moved to the spaces that were created when bones moved in motion. They applied these principles to their quick sketches so that they were able to explore how animation could further develop each skeleton. They used sculptures to finalize the small details like teeth, lips, eye brows, and zygomatic arch (cheek bone.) The combination of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and computer models allowed them to formulate each skeleton.
During the animation process, film makers knew that they wanted each skeleton to stand out as his/her own character. In order to to that, they needed to add unique characteristics to each of the skeletons. They did so by mirroring the skeleton’s style to the style they would have had when they were alive. This was created by applying hair, make-up, clothes, and small details like eye lashes to each skeleton. These small details allowed them to have the skeletons show emotion. Another way that they showed individuality was by varying the skeleton for each character. They did this by using different tones and textures on the bones. They wrote a program that allowed them to add color to the bones instead of using the traditional method of digital painting.
Motion of the Skeltons
The way each skeleton moved was important not only for their character development but also for how they would be portrayed in the movie. They decided early on that they did not want the skeletons to be scary, so it was important to make them appear to be “alive.” They used 3D rigging (model) before the animation started so that they could determine how they would move. This allowed them to adjust their gait or in the instance of Hector, give him a slight hip dip when he walked. The way he walks is a nod to Ratso, an Indian cowboy in the movie Midnight Cowboy played by Duston Hoffman.
Clothing the Skeletons
Putting clothing onto the skeletons brought another layer of difficulty for animators. The lack of a body to hold the clothes up meant that they had to come up with ways to make the clothes appear as if they were hanging on a body and not a bony skeleton. To do that they used a simulator to run a simulations on how the clothes would react with the skelton’s frame. It took a few years and upgrade simulation software to create the smooth movement and look that you see in the film. One of the unique ways that they were able to make the clothes hang correctly on the skeletons was by using virtual pillows to round out a skeleton’s figure, much like using real pillows on a person to make the appearance of an ample figure.
The years that it took to create the amazing cast of skeletons shows the determination and innovation of Pixar. No detail was left out and the end result is a colorful cast of unique skeletons that make you believe they are real. Get ready to meet these characters and more on November 22, 2017 when COCO opens in theaters everywhere.