By Talia Dennis

Shaded hairs on rats in Pixar’s “Ratatouille” and the development of Mater from the company’s “Cars” are samples of work done by Bob Moyer, a 2000 graduate of this university.

Moyer, who has worked at Pixar for the last 16 years, discussed the computer graphic design behind the animation movies, like “Coco,” during a public talk at the Bioscience Research Building hosted by the Individual Studies Program April 17.

He described the research and work his colleagues put into creating the setting for the “Coco” but admitted he did not play a role in creating the imagery for the Academy-Award-winning feature.

He projected brief, soundless clips of the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead to begin the design comparison between the two worlds where the movie takes place.

“Not a single pixel on that screen comes for free,” Moyer said. “Someone has to design and build everything you see on the screen.”

In one scene, main character Miguel first sees the Land of the Dead, a brightly lit metropolis in front of him with spiraling towers. The audience was captivated by the scene, looking at it in awe as Moyer explained every detail had to be created from scratch.

The curves and spirals of the towers give the viewers a “sense of rhythm” and the feeling that they are “in motion,” he said.

Moyer also discussed the history embedded in the towers because they are built upward as more people die.

“The bases are Aztec structures,” he said, noting the area is lit by fire.

As the tower gets taller, it also develops a more contemporary appearance. The towers are topped with cranes because it is “always under construction,” he said.

Moyer also noted that tiny lights outlined each building.

To develop a single tower required significant work and several revisions, he said.

However, Pixar animators and designers did not just come up with the city without doing thorough research. Moyer said a team traveled to Mexico where they took photographs of the architecture and observed towns and celebrations of the Day of the Dead, which the film centers around.

The work of prior artists was also used in the research phase of the project, he said.

In addition to the structure of the two worlds, designers created a visual contrast between them, he said. Moyer explained the Land of the Dead takes place at night, is lit by artificial sources, is made up of primarily cool colors and is visually vertical. It contrasts with the Land of the Living’s daytime setting, usage of natural light, warm colors and horizontal flatness due to a lack of vegetation, he said.

But two worlds are connected through fog and copal smoke, Moyer said.

In a still shot of the city in the Land of the Dead, Moyer counted at least 10 skeletons and skulls hidden in the design. He said artists carved out sections to insert the imagery.

“It was really cool to learn more about what goes in inside Pixar,” said freshman bioengineering major Arjun Cherupalla.

He said he saw the movie in theaters and was impressed by the visuals for the Land of the Dead.

Matthew Cham, a freshman computer science major, agreed and said he enjoyed learning about the “entire process on creating the background.”

“I didn’t realize how much went into ‘Coco,’” Cham said.

Cherupalla said he was also surprised by how much research went into the design.

Moyer spoke for about 35 minutes before the Q&A portion and ended his presentation with ways students could get involved in the field of animation.

He said many people at Pixar have backgrounds in painting, architecture, physics, English, among others. He named internships students could take advantage of through Pixar and other organizations within the industry.

Moyer became interested in animation when he went to see “Toy Story,” which was the company’s first feature-length, computer-animated film in 1995. Now, he is working on “Toy Story 4” as the supervising technical director.

He said he was proud to have worked on “Up,” which he claimed was Pixar’s best film. Moyer said the 2009 movie has a special place in his heart because it was the first movie he took the lead on.

Moyer also spoke of the challenges he faced while working on “Inside Out,” which won an Academy Award. He initially was a character supervisor but was asked to step in and work in the sets department about a year before the film was finished.

It was an area he said he never worked in and was suddenly in charge of 30 to 40 people.

“The characters were really but, but the set were crazy,” he said. “Characters are all about focus … sets, you’re making an entire world.”

Moyer said the project was most successful because everyone listened to each other.

During the Q&A section, Moyer compared the challenges of live-action film to animation.

“The problem with live-action film … live action has clear what’s hard and what’s not,” he said. “In animation, everything is hard. But nothing is impossible.”

Feature Photo caption: Bob Moyer discusses design inspirations for the sets in ‘Coco’ during a talk hosted by the Individual Studies Program April 17. (Talia Dennis/ Bloc Reporter) 

Talia Dennis is a sophomore journalism major and history major and can be reached at 


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