Art director

[Only IN Hollywood] ‘Pixnoy’ set art director Paul Abadilla brings Great Beyond, Great Before to life in ‘Soul’

As Artistic Director of Pixar’s SoulPixnoy Paul Abadilla is one of the key talents credited with making the film one of the best of 2020.

(Editor’s Note: “Pixnoy” ​​is a term for Filipinos working at Pixar.)

Directed by Pete Docter, Soul tells the story of Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who dies the day he gets his biggest break. Trying to keep his soul from going into the Great Afterlife, Joe discovers that there is a Great Before, where unborn souls remain until they are sent to earth.

Paul, working with production designer Steve Pilcher, came up with imaginative renderings of the Great Beyond, the Great Before and New York, where Joe is from.

“To be the artistic director of Soul and Pixar means being the connective tissue between the art department and the set department that model or digitize a lot of our designs and create the worlds you see in our movies, ”Paul replied when I asked him on our Zoom call this what to do this work in an animated film means.

“So part of my job is to establish the look and visual language of the film through our sets and help coordinate and communicate that to our technical artists so that they can consistently integrate it into the set. ‘computer. And then our sets, overall, when we see it in the final frame, are at their best. “

Photo by Ruben Napales

Asked about his inspirations, the former San Jose State University student began, “I have to take a step back and just say, the movie. Was it really that central idea of ​​how we spend our time living? With this idea we were able to use it as a guide on how we celebrate time in the human world and in the soul world? “

“We have two worlds we’re dealing with here. So in the human world, we wanted to celebrate the textures, the details, the tactility of things. So it’s a level.

“On another level, it’s also a jazz-centric film. And really, this is a movie about Joe and his experience as a jazz musician. So we wanted to honor that through the design and think about how we visualize the ideas and theories of jazz in our set design? “

“When it comes to the jazz club, part of our inspirations were the jazz album covers and the art that came out of mid-century jazz album covers and how the cubist aesthetic played into it. . So we looked at those ideas and translated them into our sets for the film. “

As for helping to find the Great Hereafter and the Great Before, Paul said, “The hardest thing about it is we’ve never been there. So it’s not like we can take a field trip, take pictures, draw sketches and educate us all, oh, this is what that should look like.

Pixnoy Paul Abadilla and his talented fellow Pixar have created diverse worlds, from New York with jazz musician Joe (Jamie Foxx) to ethereal worlds. Photo by Pixar

“So the hard part was not knowing what it is. And then it occurred to us, let’s start with what we know. And so what we know is the human world. started there and then we turned that around. ”

“How do we contrast that to make sure that the soul world is visually interesting and also grand and visually stunning, by contrast. So we looked at the tactility, the physicality of the human world.”

“And so, for the soul world, we took the opposite route. We went for something very wispy, ethereal, and translucent. It really helped us give ourselves parameters to work with.

The Great Before, as envisioned by ‘Soul’ set art director Paul Abadilla and fellow Pixar artists. Photo by Pixar

Soul, whose voice cast includes Tina Fey and Daveed Diggs, is also a tribute to New York City – in all its visual cacophony.

“Long before I started on the film, the development team did field trips to New York City and toured the neighborhood in Queens where Joe is from,” said Paul.

“Also, they visited spaces like barber shops and many jazz clubs around New York City to really capture the local flavor and understand the rich history of these places and what it means for the African American community. They talked to the people themselves about what makes these places feel and look like what they do.

Pressed to clarify which world was the most difficult to create, Paul replied, “Oh, man. I think from a general point of view the hardest part was understanding the soul world. On some level, it was a search to really find the designs we needed.

“But the challenge is how do we produce it? How do we do it? Are we technically capable of building it, lighting it up and also delivering it on time? “

“A lot of these technical challenges, I wasn’t too much of it, but a lot of the backend stuff like the design, was one, and also just with a team to deal with, okay, if we tackled it in this design. , are we able to produce it within this given time frame? “

“It was a tough thing, but I think the most rewarding thing is that everyone is so awesome at Pixar. I’m so lucky to work with so many really talented and dedicated people.

“Lots of credit to tech for really getting it, how do we do this thing? Because it creates something that we’ve never seen before. It’s already a challenge, but being able to do it on time is amazing. Hats off to them. “

While Paul has several Pixar credits including Monster college, Courageous, Incredibles 2, Cars 3, and Finding Dory, Soul marks his first collaboration with Pete Docter.

“I worked very briefly with Pete on Upside down, Paul pointed out. “I spent a few weeks there. So I would consider this to be my first experience of being involved in a feature film with him, at full capacity. Pete, Kemp Powers, our co-director, and Dana Murray, our producer, were really awesome from the start.

“They really set a healthy tone for the whole team and invited everyone to bring their own life experiences and truths to help create this movie because it’s really about life and how are we making the most of what we have right now, here, living on Earth? “

“And so, having said that, by inviting everyone to approach the film in this way, it resulted in something very meaningful for us and hopefully the rest of the world.”

The Manila native, who left for California with his family when he was young, said several Pixnoys had worked on Soul.

A scene from ‘Soul.’ Photo by Pixar

“Those that come to mind at the moment, notably Nelson Bohol. He played an important role in helping me design many sets of the human world. He’s very experienced and he does an amazing job on Soul. I am very grateful and blessed to have him on my team. I also know that Gini Santos was also one of our animators.

“Trevor Jimenez was one of the key characters in the movie. Nino Ellington (CTO of Rendering) one of our systems specialists. He was really important in our backend and on system support. There is a handle. of us who were a part of that movie.

I also noticed Ricky Nierva, listed as Development Artist / Story Artist on IMDb.

I teased that Nelson Bohol couldn’t squeeze in a bahay kubo (as he did in The world of Nemo) since Soul is a completely different framework.

Paul joked with a smile, “Without revealing anything, I really think Filipino audiences will find a few moments in the movie where they’ll be like, oh, hey, I know that.”

Which of SoulThe major themes of – pursuing your passion, making the most of our time here on earth, the issue of mortality, what happens before and after the lives of people on earth – resonated with Paul the most?

“For me, as an artist, one of the things I live for is enjoying this moment of creation,” responded Paul, who briefly attended Jose Abad Santos Memorial School in Manila.

“So when I’m done with this task I’m still looking like, okay what’s next? And also, the movie is about where we get our personalities and interests.

“I feel like I have too many hobbies already and it makes me wonder, oh, yeah, that makes total sense. So for me, the subject of the like, when am I going to feel happy with what I’m doing? And it really resonated with me.

“As I worked on this movie, I definitely bonded more and more to Joe’s experience. So, from the start, I immediately got attached to the subject. And especially for him as a musician and me as an artist, there are also a lot of parallels there. “

“This idea of ​​succeeding, or of getting the concert of your dreams. In this regard, too, I can certainly relate to that.

Paul asked how my coffee table book project from my photos of talents that I have interviewed over the years, Through the lens of a writer, was happening as he and several other Pixnoys are featured. He’s glad to know he’s finally out (details on

I asked him to expand on the wonderful quote he gave me to accompany my photo of him in the book, on his return and sharing his knowledge in the Philippines.

“It’s something I still believe in today because I truly believe in the power of visibility. As a younger artist, I think I have these dreams of, oh, I wanna be an artist, but I’m not sure which way to go.

“But when I finally found out, oh, hey, I really love animation and want to be an artist. Bridging those two things and seeing this career path in animation definitely turned me on. as a youngster, but during this process I didn’t really see a lot of people who looked like me.

“We have had celebrities and media figures here in America that I have been able to relate to. And it helped me, definitely boosted my self-confidence and inspired me to work on my profession.

“So being here now, being Filipino, working in a studio at Pixar and having this opportunity, one of my goals is just to really give more visibility to the younger generation who, hey, someone like you can working and with dedication you can go into that career if you want to. Or even just have the opportunity to help create stories that you can share with the world.

Looking ahead, Paul said he worked on Luca, the Pixar film that will premiere in June of next year. Located on the Italian Riviera, Luca talks about the friendship that develops between a human being and a sea monster disguised as a human.

“I can’t really say much at this point,” said Paul with his boyish smile. “But immediately after Soul, I jumped on it to help with that. –

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