EMU goes loco for 'COCO'

Chris Bernardi motions to a still image from Pixar's 'COCO'

“Animation offers a medium of storytelling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.” 

While such a quote from Walt Disney may on the surface appear to be a bit of self-promotion for his company’s creations, it is also something far more trite and frank.

As evidenced by Disney-Pixar’s Chris Bernardi presentation at EMU’s Pray Harrold, Nov. 15, Disney was merely telling the truth.

Bernardi has embarked on a multi-state college tour in support of Pixar’s latest effort “COCO,” which made its debut for American audiences Nov. 22, on which he served in the role of Set Supervisor. After working on the film over a span of four years, Bernardi detailed the diligence and dedication exercised by the Pixar team in their preparations to make the film as authentic as possible. With regard to research trips made to Mexico and the setting of the film, Bernardi cited the trip’s role in facilitating an accurate portrayal of Mexican culture and tradition.

“There’s a sense of history to the buildings that was just absolutely beautiful...that sort of richness and history, the richness of the environment. We were flooded with requests to work on this, particularly from a set standpoint,” he said.

“COCO” tells the story of Miguel, a Mexican youth growing up in the fictional town of Santa Cecilia, pursuing his dream of becoming the greatest musician Mexico has ever seen. His ambitions are met with derision and disapproval by his grandmother, whose opinions of Miguel’s dreams are jaded by her family’s generations-long ban on musical expression. 

The film’s events occur during the Mexican celebration of Dia De Los Muertos, a celebration of the continued connection between the living and the dead where you honor one’s deceased ancestors and forefathers. Mr. Bernardi was effusive in his praise of the hospitality of the Mexican people during his colleagues’ time researching during the holiday.

“Lee (Unkrich) and Darla (Anderson) were invited in by the families during the holiday itself. They made them dinner and lived with those families during the celebration...to actually hear it from people and actually experience it with them was really a very moving experience.”

Bernardi was hired by Pixar in 2000, with his first projects being 2003’s “Finding Nemo” and 2006’s “Cars,” in which he was a CGI artist and Set Shading Supervisor, respectively. During his speech, he noted Pixar engaged in meticulous preparation before designing the settings of each movie, reminiscing about his trips to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and a road trip down Route 66 in order to gather an accurate perception of the worlds he’d be recreating. 

The painstaking attention to detail did not stop with the conception of the world that Miguel inhabits in “COCO.” Bernardi also detailed how a member of the Pixar staff made a call to their abuela, Spanish for “grandmother,” so the design team could study the movements of her face in an attempt to better articulate the character “Abuelita,” Miguel’s grandmother, in the film. 

Throughout the presentation, Mr. Bernardi shared conceptual art and preliminary animation sequences for several of the film’s characters, in addition to multiple sneak peeks of finished scenes included in the movie, with each being met with rousing applause upon their conclusion. Also included as a bonus for attendees of the event were drawstring backpacks emblazoned with the film’s logo. 

In Walt Disney’s summation of the role of animation in popular culture, he spoke of the beauty found in the way it is consumed by millions all over the world. Mr. Bernardi was similar in his optimism when asked about what message he hoped “COCO” would deliver to its viewership.

“That we’re all looking for how we connect ourselves to our past and how it relates to who we are.”

“COCO” has a run-time of 109 minutes, is rated PG and is in theaters now.

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