Art & Design Film & TV

INTERVIEW: Filipino Gini Santos spearheads animation for Disney’s ‘Coco’

Apart from writing for Gist, I am also an Arts Management at De Lasalle College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB). I guess you can call me an artsy-fartsy student who stereotypically wears black, has a taste for socks with odd prints and has a good Instagram feed (that last one is debatable. Being born in the late ’90s, my earliest exposure to art was animation — major Disney-Pixar fan here.  I used to watch Hercules at least three times a day. I too dabble with a little bit of Inuyasha, Pokemon, and a few Miyazaki films, but it’s mainly Disney. Without a doubt, the art of animation holds a huge space in my heart; thus I was excited when I knew I’d be sent to the advance-screening of Disney’s latest film, Coco.

Being at the advanced screening made got me all happy about my job. Great animation, great storyline and free lunch… what’s not to like? I also had a roundtable discussion with Gini Santos, head animator of Coco. Here are some things I learned from her:

GINI photo _ COCO movie_Disney Pixar
(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

One of the very first questions thrown at Gini was if anything from the movie resounded with her Filipino heritage, given that Latin culture is quite close to us. She said there were quite a lot of animators in their team with Hispanic heritage and they gave out a lot of notes about how familial they were; very much like us. However, what caught my attention in this response was how much research they put on this film to get things right. “When we were making the film I remember the producer, and even Lee, was like ‘we need to make this right — we need to be respectful of the culture.’ We actually had consultants that were part of in making of the film,” she said.

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Cultural appropriation is something we face a lot in the field of the arts — hearing this made a Disney-Pixar fan like me proud.

Later on in the conversation, she discussed her leadership style and how she handled a team of 80 + plus animators. “We recognized that our team of animators, and we had like an 80-sum of animators on this film…and their highly skilled animators, and we know they are going to bring ideas.”

Gini handles the animation on a supervisory level, overlooking the aesthetic composition of the film and presents things to the head director. The challenge of staying steady under pressure starts to come on with making our film I feel like that’s a role as a lead: you’re mentor, you guide them, and would want to make sure their successful and still enjoy what they do.”

She mentioned how they have a lot of references and constantly share ideas. They base things on guidelines and focus on the characteristics of to give each character it’s unique feature.

Nearing the end of the conversation, one of the press asked how was it like working in an environment of dominated by white malesHer response was the best takeaway I had in this discussion. “One thing that I’ve learned as a female suite: as a woman, I also had my own biases to myself …I felt like I’m in this role, I better make this perfect, but I did not need to, so I needed to navigate that…but my struggle was actually  more on getting my voice be heard because it is such a new thing. And I tended to not actually speak that loud because I was like ‘I’m gonna wait to say the perfect thing,” Gini said.

Gini Santos working on “Coco” on July 25, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

The whole time during the panel, I, too, was waiting to say the perfect thing, but all I had to do was to get over my own biases so that I can assert myself like everybody else. I felt as if I learned the same thing from Gini and so with Miguel (main character of Coco): be assertive.

Know more about Miguel’s assertive and dauntless nature on COCO, in cinemas November 22, 2017.


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