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Immersed in Movies: Re-Entering ‘The Land of the Remembered’ From “The Book of Life”

Immersed in Movies: Re-Entering 'The Land of the Remembered' From "The Book of Life"

Jorge Gutierrez spent considerable effort in designing and animating Manolo’s arrival in the “Land of the Remembered” with Reel FX. It’s one of the highlights of The Book of Life, which is in Oscar and Annie contention. We explore the making of this crucial moment with the first-time director, and you can view four exclusive clips below.
Bill Desowitz: The promise of the movie is built around Day of the Dead and the payoff is the beautiful “Land of the Remembered.” Let’s break down the making of this world in more detail.
Jorge Gutierrez: Even in the script, it was just assumed that this has to be huge and different and epic and expensive. And I remember just writing paragraph after paragraph describing this moment where he enters this realm that’s based on memories of everything that came before him: the whole history of Latin America and Mexico, Spanish, and colonial mixed with Aztec, Inca, and Mayan. But it couldn’t be scary, he had arrived to this place where there were no more worries or no more pain. He basically came to Mexican heaven.And so we started drawing, we started designing and all the buildings are smiling at him. The idea was that he was walking into a velvet painting, full of life and full of color. Everything in the development was pre-planned. We wanted no sharp corners, everything to be round, everything to be welcoming, the symbols everywhere are hearts and skulls and then hidden throughout are some guitar shapes, telling Manolo you’re in a place where you can be yourself.
BD: And what happened when you went to animate at Reel FX?
JG: The CG guys had a heart attack when we showed it to them and then slowly breaking it down.  And so you’ll see in the first clip, “Reveal of Set Geometry,” how Paul Sullivan, our art director, and I broke down what all these shapes were, which were Lego-style building blocks. And we built the whole land out of those. And then in the next clip, “Lighting Breakdown,” that’s where we built all this stuff and it felt dimensional even though the camera wasn’t going to do any crazy stuff.

BD: What software did you use?
JG: Maya for modeling and then for lighting we ended up using Houdini. The other big thing was making sure when he arrived there, everything welcomed him. It’s not only the look of this world but this very beautiful song playing from Café Tacuba, which is this famous Mexican band, sort of the Mexican Beatles. And it is a band that has taken folkloric Mexican music and mixed it with modern things, so what you hear is this almost pre-historic chant mixed with guitars [“El Aparato”].The other thing is you have balloons rising up and it’s almost like they’re smiling at him. And also the flower pedals, which are offerings when people have passed away.
BD: How many assets are we talking about total?
JG: At least a thousand elements in there. 
BD: What was the hardest and most time consuming aspect?
JG: First of all, getting it to work as a 2D still was really hard because as a small studio, on a $50 million budget, we couldn’t afford to figure out with CG or figure it out later, which is super expensive. Everything had to be figured out in the artwork. And so once we nailed it down, and we did a lot of takes of it, then we jumped into CG. And att that point it was man hours: How long will it take to model all the stuff? How long will it take to surface all the stuff? How long will it take to light all the stuff? The lighting was hard because there were so many layers. 


But everyone was worried that it was all going to be overwhelming and that the audience wouldn’t know where to focus and someone literally said there’s going to be too many colors. So as a first-time director, I had to convince the crew here, I had to convince Fox, I had to convince everyone that this stuff was gonna work. 
BD: But it obviously helped having Guillermo del Toro as your producer.
JG: Yes, of course. He understood what I was trying to do, but I understood that I had to solve my own problems. And so I think this was one of those shots that after everyone saw it, they said, ‘OK, more is more — we get it!’ So it was a huge, huge moment. And they ended up putting it in the trailer, they ended up putting it everywhere, and I think it’s the most memorable moment in the movie

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