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Disney Pixar’s Coco – Danielle Feinberg Interview

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Colorado’s own Danielle Feinberg is the Photography Director for Disney Pixar’s Coco film- here’s 10 fun facts from our exclusive Denver interview!

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Whenever a badass woman who is breaking barriers is around, I get excited. I love to celebrate girl power in all it’s forms- and when I found out fellow Coloradoan Danielle Feinberg was in town to promote Disney Pixar’s new movie Coco, I definitely did not pass up the opportunity to interview her about being a woman in technology at Pixar.

Be sure to check out our full Coco Movie review.

She spoke about mentorship and coding programs for girls- and of course geeked out about her role as Photography Director for the film. We’ve since been having so much fun by preparing for the film’s opening with our Coco coloring sheets and making our fun Coco Krispy Treats.

Coco is an important film for all Latino immigrants because it is really the first movie that truly and authentically celebrates Latino culture- from references to Frida Kahlo, Pedro Infante, día de los muertos, xolo dogs and more, we love to watch it.

Plus, as Costa Rican-Americans and avid bilingual parents, we love any movie or show that does a great job of making Spanish language content for television.

Anyway- back to the interview.

Pixar's Danielle Feinberg

About Danielle Feinberg

Danielle Feinberg was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, and mentioned how supportive her parents were of the arts. She was enrolled in classes and camps all throughout her childhood, and her sister is a fine artist. This set the foundation for her love of art, and her time as a computer science major at Harvard cultivated her passion for science. She worked with director Lee Unkrich to create a magical academy Award Winning film as a badass director of photography.

Danielle has made an incredible career out of combining science and art to create make-believe characters come to life in movies such as Wall-E and A Bug’s Life. She talks more about her career experience in her Ted Talk:

Join me over at my favorite place- Instagram.

10 Coco Movie Facts

  • When creating a scene within the animation, the coders will create the entire set (for example, the whole town of Santa Cecilia) and then move the characters around inside of it. The virtual movie set lives within Pixar servers forever.  In theory, the producers can go back to the set and create more scenes right inside of them. (My mind was warped by this and it’s so cool!)
  • Producers of Coco brought to life in this animated film a traditional Mexican wood art form called alebrijes (read more about them from Cool Chill Mom!) Instead of creating them from scratch, Danielle told me that “The alebrijes were good in that we found animals from past movies and messed with them a bit to create a range of alebrijes.” I had no idea code from one movie could be repurposed for another. Smart. Apparently they did this in Toy Story as well.
Disney Pixar's Coco Land of the Dead
©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
  • The Land of the Dead has over 8 million lights in it -and this is another example of code being recycled as photography for lighting. Danielle explained it to me in better terms- “(We) were taking code that was developed on The Good Dinosaur for a scene with fireflies that uses fancy math and code to make the computer essentially think it’s one light instead of hundreds for the fireflies. We took that, expanding and augmenting it, so we could light the Land of the Dead with over 8.5 million lights in it.”
  • The bridge of marigolds to the land of the dead is a very complicated scene- and it took over a month to render.  “It’s one of those things when you know it’s going to be crazy hard, but quite possibly the coolest thing ever,” she says, adding that the petals were actually light sources. “We have a new kind of light called a particle 14 light that can have many, many points in it. Our special effects team gave us a way that we can automatically know which petals a person is stepping on as they cross the bridge and control the glow the petals emit, creating little spots of light as someone walks through.”
  • The entire production team went on several in depth research trips to Mexico over three years in order to bring an animated world inspired by Mexico and its people to life. That’s why the setting is so incredible realistic.
  • I was curious about how the team kept so many authentic aspects of Mexican culture alive, and Danielle explained that “We had a team of Mexican cultural consultants for the movie that were amazing. It was such a fantastic resource because whenever we got stuck or questioned something, we could talk to them and work out a solution so we could move ahead with full confidence!” Everything from mariachis playing the guitar ro the nostalgia of bringing a loved one home, they nailed it!
Disney Pixar's Coco Chancleta
©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
  • The team spent a lot of time making sure that Mama Coco’s movements were reflective of someone of her age. Ms. Feinberg told us that at one point in the creation of Coco, someone brought their grandma in so they could replicate her movements. She’s not sure if the grandma knew exactly why they were observing her…
  • During that same process, Mama Coco’s chin waddle got mis-coded and so it would move the wrong way on her face when she moved. It provided comic relief for the team which was much needed. As Danielle said “Making a movie is really hard!”
  • In order not to overwhelm viewers with tons of color and light, the team purposely made the town of Santa Cecilia a bit lacking in color so that the characters would really pop out against an otherwise dusty background.
  • Danielle said that when she signed on for the four year project that became the Coco film, she didn’t really know what she was in for- Pixar keeps details tightly under wraps. She knew it was Day of the Dead and she wanted in! Pretty cool!
Hector and Miguel Disney Pixar's Coco
© 2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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Girls Who Code

I asked Danielle about how to cultivate a love of science, technology and art in young girls- since she is definitely paving the way for my daughters with her work at Pixar. She touched several times on how her mentors played an influential role in helping her to work her way up within the ranks of Pixar- but also how many more opportunities there are today for young people to create their own path within technology.

For my girls to learn basic coding, Ms. Feinberg recommends using Made with Code and Scratch Jr.- Coding For Young Kids

Looking for more Disney content from Pura Vida Moms?

Disney Pixar Coco Fun Facts

About the Author

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Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, language and travel. I’m a Latina mom, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here.

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