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THE BOOK OF LIFE

Design
You've never experienced a movie like THE BOOK OF LIFE. Its look is inspired by Mexican folk art and Latin American folklore, both of which Gutierrez is an ardent fan. "I love Mexican folk art because so much of it is handmade and it's art by the people, for the people, about the people. It's really accessible and a reflection of who we are."

Gutierrez and his wife Sandra oversaw the character designs, dividing them up by gender. "Sandra designed all the female characters, and I designed all the male characters," says the director. They joined forces to design La Muerte, queen of the Land of the Remembered. "We had a lot of fun - and fights - designing her, and our marriage survived," he says with a laugh.

Production designer Simon Vladimir Varela notes that the film "creates a visual feast of textures and design." Working closely with Gutierrez, Varela created three worlds - The Land of the Living (San Angel), The Land of the Remembered, and The Land of the Forgotten. "They are three distinct worlds but they all work together," says the designer.

The filmmakers imbue San Angel with what art director Paul J. Sullivan calls a "Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western sort of sun-beaten-down look."

Then we journey to The Land of the Remembered, which provides a stark contrast to San Angel. "It's a magical, ethereal, vibrant, whimsical world, where the shapes are round, the colors are very saturated, bright and cheerful, because it's a very happy place," Sullivan adds.

One of the biggest design challenges was rendering the characters - who are made of wood - so that they felt real, emotionally charged, and tactile. "When you get close-ups of the characters, you'll see the carvings on the wood and the general wear and tear," says Augusto Schillaci, the film's visual effects supervisor. Even Manolo's guitar will bear evidence of his constant playing.

"Square" was the operative word and motif in designing many of the characters and their world. The square heads and torsos are complemented by the solid and stable environments, all of them working together to establish the film's underlying visual language.

Nevertheless, the filmmakers avoided making the characters and objects "super-photorealistic," adds Schillaci. "We stylize the wood texture to give it its own style, and then apply it to the character. Everything was created from scratch and is handmade. There are also some wonderful imperfections that lend authenticity."

Wood rules for many of our human characters, but The Candle Maker is made of wax, which makes perfect sense for someone who, well, makes candles. "The Candle Maker is a kind of comic relief figure, so we decided to make him a lot more stretchy and cartoon-like than the others," says Eric Drobile. "He squashes and stretches and, because he's a god, he zips all around the screen, doing all sorts of crazy, wonderful things."

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