Just days prior to Coco’s U.S. release date, Set Supervisor Chris Bernardi embarked on a three city tour to promote the upcoming film. His last stop was Minneapolis, where we had the opportunity to participate in a round table interview with him. The movie already shattered records in Mexico, and everyone was eager to hear what it was like to work for a behemoth like Pixar.
There’s a reason that the company’s movies are so well renowned. “Research is so important to us at Pixar and doing our homework,” Bernardi explains. “When I worked on Nemo, they certified me in scuba because I was going to do the coral reefs so they really wanted me to be there. When I worked on Cars, we drove down Route 66. It’s what draws me to sets. There’s always this sense of place.”
In Coco, that place oscillates between Mexico and the realm of the dead. The latter is beautiful, filled with bright lights and colorful creatures, inspired by a form of Mexican folk art known as alebrije. It’s also filled with cool colors, while the land of the living is warm and sunny. The Mexico setting is filled with Easter eggs and other small details that make the world feel more lived in.
Bernardi credits the authenticity to recurring trips to Mexico. “We wanted to really honor the Mexican culture and tradition and felt it was really important to us to get it right. So we made a lot of trips down there, worked with a lot of people. There were these amazing families that just sort of took us in.”
After all of these visits, he was happy to be there for the Mexican premiere. Despite his admitted nerves, Bernardi and the rest his team were swept away by how happily the Mexican audience received them. They shed happy tears, inspired both by their reception and Dia de los Muertos.
“Beyond the design and all the technology and everything, it’s much more about the spirit of the holiday. It’s one of those things that a lot of us didn’t know a whole lot about, but the more we studied it, it really affected us in a really emotional way,” Bernardi says. “We have an ofrenda [the Dia de los Muertos altar] at work now. There’s one at the end of the movie.”
He adds, “As much as we try to sometimes rebel against it or not admit it, we’re very much shaped by where we’ve come from and those who came before us.”
Pixar clearly has a magic formula, one where understanding and research are key components. However, there are times where this leaves Bernardi and his team in unexpected situations.
“During Toy Story 3, we got this gigantic ball pit,” he laughs and shakes his head at the memory. “We filmed us trying to run through it like [chest] deep for the toys trying to get through the trash at the end and how they couldn’t escape … it was one of the more ridiculous things we’d ever done.”
Apparently a side requirement of being a set supervisor is the willingness to be a guinea pig. If it will keep resulting in masterpieces like Coco, we casually recommend that they take one for the team.
Be sure to also read our review of Coco before seeing it in theaters this Wednesday, November 22.