SATISFYING PAIN OF ANIMATION
Artist discusses emotional journey of following her passion and working on a Pixar film
Ana Ramirez is the art lead on Coco, an animated feature from Pixar that opens on Nov. 22. She’s also one of the keynote speakers at Spark Animation 2017, where she’ll present an exclusive look at the making of the film.
The annual event put on by the Spark CG Society aims to generate appreciation of the business and includes a job fair. Ramirez recalls realizing while making her student graduation film at Cal Arts — titled So Long, Yupi — just what kind of a career she was entering.
“You cry a ton, usually because you are so sleep deprived and frustrated that you might not be doing your best because of that, and then you get back aches, headaches, tendinitis and so on,” Ramirez said. “But once you see something finished, you are so satisfied, so pleased to have succeeded in making something wonderful.
“A bigger film is just more people going through the same thing, so there is a lot of solidarity and support and understanding when you fall asleep at the dinner table.”
The 3D computer-animated musical/fantasy film Coco is based on Dia de Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday (Oct. 31 to Nov. 2). The screenplay, by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldritch, is based on an original idea by director Lee Unkrich. The film was released in Mexico this weekend, one week in advance of the Dia de Muertos festivities.
The story revolves around Miguel, a 12-year-old boy who opens a veritable world of challenges after putting in motion events that tie together a centuryold mystery, a beyond-the-grave family reunion and the joy of celebration and music that is always part of the traditional Mexican holiday.
The cast includes Anthony Gonzales as Miguel, Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector, a Land of the Dead trickster who has to help Miguel on his journey, and Benjamin Bratt as the famous Mexican musician and Miguel’s idol, Ernesto de la Cruz.
“The Land of the Dead is where your family goes, it’s where we all go, and it’s lively, festive and supposed to be a fun place,” Ramirez said. “Who wouldn’t want to be in the Land of the Dead and celebrate and party? I’m so incredibly proud of the film.”
Ramirez, who hails from Guanajuato, Mexico, grew up with the traditions and is pleased to see an all-Latin American cast involved in a major motion picture. She joined the visual design team as an intern in 2013.
“I think that this is one of the most adult films Pixar has done, but that isn’t to say that it will be scary at all to kids,” she said. “Instead, I think about it more like Nightmare Before Christmas, which was completely unlike anything else when it came out. I watched it at a friend’s house at a sleepover when I was young and while the rest of the group were doing other things, I was just so captured, so curious, asking ‘what is this?’”
That curiosity and drive to create stories and films that are new and different will be a key focus at all of the various Spark events. Animation has long been a mixed domain of chipper children’s fare and dark and foreboding adult anime. But the growth of unique voices and approaches is blurring genres and leading to works such as Skin for Skin, a fantasy/horror allegory about greed and spiritual reckoning in the early days of the fur trade. Spark has broken down its screening series to reflect 19plus content and non-adult.
Ramirez is excited to be attending the event as the buzz around Vancouver’s animation and VFX scene is known in the industry.
Spark Animation 2017 features a business symposium, conference, screenings, awards and charity events. The annual showcase of B.C.’s booming animation and VFX industries traditionally draws an impressive list of participants.
Oscar-nominated director Nora ■
Twomey (Secret of the Kells) will be on hand for the western Canadian premiere of her new film, The Breadwinner, which was produced by Angelina Jolie and features voice acting from Vancouver’s Laara Sadiq.
Glen Keane, a 30-year veteran ■ of Disney animation with credits such as Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, will be given the Spark Lifetime Achievement Award as well as present his collaboration with former NBA star Kobe Bryant and Oscar-winning composer John Williams, titled Dear Basketball.
There is also a special Spotlight ■ on France segment focusing on the exceptional animation coming from that country.
A full schedule is available at the Spark CG Society website.