Flying through the sky in the Land of the Dead is the fearsome, Pepita, the spirit guide of Mama Imelda.
With eagle wings and talons, a lizard-like tail, horns from a ram, and the face of a jaguar, Pepita is quite a creature to behold. Inspired by traditional Mexican folk art called, alebrijes, the Coco team set to create a number of spirit animals within the Land of the Dead.
The origin of the alebrije dates back to 1936 when Pedro Linares, a 30-year old pinata maker fell ill and had a wild dream that was made up of brightly colored fantasy-like animals, donkeys with wings, snakes with chicken feet, etc.
Once he awoke the artist created the first alebrije, which was created out of paper mache, it wasn’t until years later that the art form was reinterpreted into wood carvings. To date, the alebrijes are carved with a special type of wood from the Mexican state of Oaxaca called copal, a soft formable wood that allows for easy carving and manipulation.
Character Artist, Alonso Martinez shared his extensive alebrije collection with the Coco team and as they prepared their research for these magical creatures, it was decided that the team would pay homage to the traditional folk art and include the graphical nature of the alebrijes onto each animal.
With the look of the spirit guides underway, the team was faced with a unique challenge while creating Pepita – how would they make her feel agile, yet have a sense of weight and power to her presence (as she weighs a few tons). The team worked closely with animators to run a series of animation tests until Pepita was perfected into a living breathing alebrije.
One thing you’ll notice in the various clips and trailers of Coco is that the Land of the Dead is set at night. The twinkling lights of the skeletal city illuminate the scenes creating a beautiful and inviting world.
The filmmakers decided that the spirit guides in the Land of the Dead should also have a certain fluorescent glow to them. Working closely with the Shading and Lighting Departments, the team highlighted key features of Pepita (as well as the other spirit guides in the Land of the Dead) and enhanced her presence by adding that slight glow to her colorful shape.
During the Coco press event, character artist Alonso Martinez gifted us our own 3D Model of Pepita to paint while we chatted about his work on the film.
We had approximately 45-minutes to complete the painting process, however, due to my obsession with blending and shading, I was only able to finish the larger portions of color and not the intricate details. Once I complete her paint and details, I will share photos on our social media pages.
Be sure to share your thoughts on the incredible alebrije-inspired spirit guides of Coco with other Pixar fans in the Pixar Post Forum or in the comments below.
Coco hits theaters on October 27 in Mexico and November 22 in the United States.