The Pixar Connection at the Cleveland Institute of Art

"Coco" [courtesy: Pixar Animation Studios]
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When Christian Hoffman was a computer science student at Carnegie Mellon University, he saw a film that changed his life forever,  Pixar Studios' 1995 classic, Toy Story.

"Toy Story came out as I was taking a computer graphics class. I pretty much knew right there that that's what I wanted to do," Hoffman said.

He'd seen many Pixar short films up to that point, but had no idea what Pixar was at the time.

"It wasn't until Toy Story came out that I put all the pieces together and realized this thing, that I'd been loving since I was a kid, what it was.  When I saw [Toy Story] I saw that it was a really good blend of technology and art.  It was something that really appealed to me," Hoffman said.

Earlier this month Hoffman, today a characters supervisor for Pixar, continued a tradition of Pixar and Disney artists visiting the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he shared his passion with CIA animation students.

When professional animators like Hoffman visit, it ends up being a highlight of the school year, according to CIA animation instructor Lincoln Adams.


Pixar's Christian Hoffman surrounded by Cleveland Institute of Art students

"That's the one thing the students are always thrilled about.  It's almost like rock stars coming in to visit the school in a certain way," Adams said.

Hoffman showed off some of the secrets behind his work on Pixar's newest film Coco, which is set during the Mexican holiday, Día de Muertos. 

Students learned how Hoffman and his team created the Land of the Dead's skeleton characters which had never been done before in a Pixar film.  For instance, creating the skull was a challenge because simply modeling a human skull with its jaw didn't work.

"If you have a seperate jaw bone there's always going to be a line that connects the corner of the mouth to the upper part of the jaw, and that gives you a joker effect where it looks like your character is always smiling.  We knew our skeletons needed to perform a full range of emotion," Hoffman said.

Another challenge was the key attribute of the main character's dog 'Dante' - his tongue - which basically is a character on its own.

"Fortunately we had a character on [the 2016 film] Finding Dory named 'Hank' the octopus.  When we saw the performance his tentacle had to do in that movie we immediately saw the parallels to what the tongue was going to have to do for Dante," Hoffman said.

While Hoffman was lucky to get a job with Pixar right out of college, he told CIA students to not get discouraged if the same doesn't happen for them.

"Don't be afraid to say, 'Is there anything on here I could do better?'  When we see them come around the second time and they took the note and they improved and did what you asked for that's something we do continually at the studio.   That's something we look for in potential hires," Hoffman said.

Coco opens in Northeast Ohio movie theaters Wednesday.

Listen to the entire interview:

 

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