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Disney Pixar COCO: Creating Miguel’s Best Friend Dante

We attended a media event as a guest of Disney

Dante is Miguel’s trusted partner on his journey into the land of the dead. Dante is a Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo) breed. The breed of dogs is named after an Aztec God. They are ancient dogs who are native to Mexico and Central America. They safeguard the home from evil spirits and intruders, and they are also said to have healing powers because the heat from their body was used to cure arthritis. These dogs have also served as guides to the dead as they transition from this world into the next.

When creating Dante, they started by making some sketches to figure out his design and character. The next step, they would make a sculpture. They made the sculptures of Dante and Miguel together so they could look at the proportions of Dante in reference to Miguel. While they are working on this process, they would try and get some inspiration by looking at different animated dogs. They looked at the dog in UP, Bolt and Lady and the Tramp to get inspired by looking at the form and movement of these animated dogs. The difference was that those dogs had hair and Dante doesn’t. Even though he is a ‘hairless dog’ it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have any hair. They wanted his hair to be heaviest on his head and ears with a little light hair on his tail and over his body. It’s a little straggly, but he is a street dog in the film, so it adds to his appeal.

The challenges of designing a hairless dog are the wrinkles, skin texture/details, anatomy that is being exposed, and also simulated fur that can help with movement, and in this case, they didn’t have that.

Wrinkles
If you look at his shoulder, there are larger wrinkles. They ended up modeling the wrinkles into the character which will come off and on based on the movement of the character. There are also smaller wrinkles in the hind corners, and they also added smaller wrinkles on the body that don’t move based on movement.

Skin Texture/Details
Dante has bumps and pigmentation splotches, he’s got scratches, and he has a broken up shine. The artist had to pay attention to this and add a lot of detail to him. They used volume and skin simulation to create the perfect skin texture and details of his wrinkles. Dante wasn’t the only character in the film that had skin simulation; they also had to do the same type of simulation on the Grandma.

One problem that Xolo dogs have is that they have dental issues that cause them to lose teeth easily. They had Xolo dog owners bring their dogs in so that they could play with them and truly get to see their behaviors. One of the owners mentioned that if their dog bites a bone the wrong way, he might lose his tooth.

When it came to Dante’s tongue, they knew it would be a challenge to control it. Fortunately, they had a movie that was made not too long ago that had a character with a challenging piece, and that character was Hank from Finding Dory. Hanks tentacle did a lot of similar things. They were pushing for it to be an extension of Dante’s character.

While animating Dante, they looked at a lot of dog behavior. They didn’t have to charactacure Dante too much because dogs are naturally entertaining, and that is why we are so drawn to them as animals. They wanted him to be a puppy in adult dog sized body.

Early on they did a short called ‘Dante’s lunch’ which was a trailer for an International film release, and it was a great way for them to focus on Dante and develop the character. After making the short, John Lasseter told the team that they can push the character a little more, and make him more cartoon.

Dante is a character that doesn’t have a deep emotional depth. There is not a lot of internal thought process that goes on. They simplified the eyes and brows so that he has a very clear expression. With Dante, ‘the lights are on, but nobody is home’ and he has a hilarious personality.

Your family is going to fall in love with Dante when seeing Disney-Pixar’s COCO on November 22nd. Learn more about COCO online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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