Article by Sophia Teaño / Photos by Jeanne Dizon and Disney Pixar / Graphics by Verna Sevilla
Pixar has been making efforts to diversify their characters. For their next 3D picture, the story revolves around a family settled in Mexico. The audience will be introduced to Miguel, a boy who is extremely passionate about music. Here’s the catch, though: his family condemns music, and anything remotely related to it.
Miguel pursues his aspiration in music anyway.
When he uncovers his relationship with his inspiration, Ernesto de la Cruz, he gets excited over this connection. One night, a talent show gives him the opportunity to showcase his skills, and circumstances lead him to borrow de la Cruz’s guitar from his mausoleum. This fortuitously gets him transported to Día de los Muertos, the Land of the Dead.
What plays a vital role in the portrayal of the Land of the Dead, is the Mexican culture itself. “We did a lot of research before the film started to get inspired by Mexico.” Gini Santos, a Filipina who served as the Supervising Director of the film, proudly shares that much effort was given to research. From the culture to the visuals seen in the film, every detail was paid attention to.
What’s interesting about the film is that it illustrates the world of the dead, and how in Mexican belief, it is nowhere near dull. They had concerns about the movie featuring skeletons, but the team was hopeful that “[children] would relate to seeing Miguel, being another kid, interact with skeletons”. Instead of being scared, they hope children will be able to appreciate the story upon seeing themselves in Miguel.
Día de los Muertos bridges are filled with Aztec marigold petals to guide the spirits to the ofrenda.
She said that the skeletons were actually a challenge as characters since they all essentially look the same and the team hadn’t really animated skeletons before. Nonetheless, with the setting, the creatives got to explore and depict a world that people hadn’t witnessed before: the world of the dead.
“The beauty about something that no one’s ever seen is that you can kind of make it up, but you also have to be responsible for things about it so that it’s believable.” Gini shares that the concept of the other world was that culture from the living was also reflected in the side of the dead. Because people were always dying, the eras that the other world contained got modern the same way that the world of the living did.
What’s most special about the film, however, is that it speaks to the Filipino culture of family. Being a Filipino herself, Gini can’t help seeing parallelisms between Mexico and the Philippines. “You know, Mexican culture… they kind of share our dynamics [Filipino culture] a little bit. I was excited because I felt like everything—all our research and the dynamic of our acting and just how the Mexican family relates to each other – feels Filipino. So it was exciting to have that.”
Gini Santos being awarded for being a notable Filipino
“It’s been amazing”, Gini answers, when asked about how she feels about Pixar’s diversification of its characters. “They really put a lot of details in really the tone of the skin, the color, and even the look to feel like it’s from Mexico… we were careful to be really respectful of how [the portrayal of Mexico] felt, so it was just amazing to see a lot of that detail be put there.”
Gini Santos was born in the Philippines and raised in Guam from the age of 3. She is a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas Fine Arts. She eventually took her Masters of Fine Arts in Computer Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has worked on the films A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and Finding Nemo. She is currently a Supervising Animator at Pixar, the first ever woman in the animation studio’s history to hold the position.