For a few hours on Tuesday, a lecture hall in the basement of Tawes Hall was transformed into the Land of the Dead.
It wasn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, though. There were skeletons and magic and hairless dogs (spooky), of course, but all as a sneak peek at the new Disney/Pixar film Coco.
The behind-the-scenes look at the film was thanks to a presentation from Jason Katz, a story supervisor at Pixar who worked extensively on the film from start to finish. He told students about the research trip Pixar took to Mexico during Día de los Muertos, the holiday that gives the film its plot and setting.
He also shared previews of many scenes from the film, early artwork, storyboards and rough animations, giving the audience a rare look at the development and progression of an animated film.
“I think it was six years very well spent on his part,” said Nathan Bruck, one of several members of the UMD Animation Club in attendance. “I really loved being able to see all that.”
For aspiring animators like Bruck, a freshman physics major, the presentation was both practically useful — the programs and techniques that Katz spoke about are the same that they study — and inspiring.
Sreyas Anil, a sophomore enrolled in letters and sciences and a member of the UMD Animation Club, said the event gave him hope about his future as an animator.
“You can relate to it a lot,” he said. “I could even relate to the characters in the film … about the dream he wants to pursue.”
Katz’s journey to Pixar seemed familiar to many — he wasn’t the smartest or most talented student, but a passion for animation, a drive to succeed and a little bit of dumb luck led him to Pixar, where he worked on movies such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille.
His work on such widely loved films also made the event exciting for students not interested in animation as a career.
“Since Toy Story — the first Toy Story — I’ve always been [a fan],” said Joy Kennedy, a senior studio art major. “I even got an autograph and a picture with him.”
Katz ended the event with a lengthy Q&A session, in which audience members asked him questions about everything from his influences to the work culture at Pixar (which includes lunchtimes and soccer games for some, and long hours for all).
But most of all, he made it clear that animation is both his career and his passion.
“I’m shocked live action movies are any good,” he joked.