In this week’s edition of “Because I’m a Lady,” we sat down with Pixar Visual Development Artist Ana Ramirez! She just finished working on Disney•Pixar’s “Coco,” and had the chance to contribute illustrations for a new “Coco” inspired book, Miguel and the Grand Harmony! We talked to her about her experience illustrating a book for the first time, and what it’s like to be a Pixar artist.
When did you discover your love of art?
I started drawing my last year of high school. My mom’s very artistic and my sister has painted and drawn since she was little, and my dad’s actually a shoemaker just like Miguel [laughs]. I grew up surrounded by art, but I was never interested, because I wanted to do something different, I wanted to be a musician – also just like Miguel [laughs]. It was my mom who finally suggested I start drawing, I even fought her on it. She convinced me to take a line drawing class and I ended up loving it so much that I signed up for the rest of the semester.
Then my sister, that same year, told me that our friend Alonso, who we knew growing up, was a director at [Disney Television Animation], and graduated from CalArts. When I heard about the school I knew it was perfect for me and I had to go. Alonso eventually helped me apply to CalArts, but I didn’t get in at first. So, I decided to move to France and attend a fine arts school to get better and build a stronger portfolio. I was there for a year and a half, and then went back to Mexico. I was determined to go to CalArts still. So, applied again two years later and got in! Being in France helped me develop my technical skills.
I still didn’t quite know what I was going to do at CalArts other than to draw, so I chose the experimental program. I was in animation for film and video, but also took music and costume design which was cool—all of those helped me in “Coco.” It’s been a lot of me not knowing and then just ending up where I am!
Is Miguel and the Grand Harmony your first book?
This is my first book!
How does it feel?
It was a great opportunity, and I felt very supported by everyone at Pixar.
Music plays in an important role in the book. How did you go about capturing the idea of music in illustrations?
It was really challenging. We didn’t want to give “The Music” a gender, so I thought about making her a woman, because in Spanish it’s “La musica.” But, I wanted everyone to relate [to it], so I wanted [it] to be this genderless thing that illuminates people’s lives and makes [them] better. I tried to represent “The Music” through color and pattern. When Miguel was sad, it was darker.
How did your work as an artist on “Coco” affect how you approached the book?
It was actually really hard to start on the book, because I thought the book would be like the story of the film. I was excited to draw skeletons and papel picado like I was, but then I was given a different story that was a completely different tone. So, it was challenging, but of course I had lots of references from the film—but it’s a 3D film, so it’s more realistic. The illustrations are flat, so I don’t have to draw every wrinkle in Mama Coco’s face [laughs]. It was a really cool challenge, but I loved the result. Drawing Dante and Miguel was super fun, too.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I feel like I have always admired and loved the work of painters like Matisse or all the New Yorker cartoonists and I think what they have in common even though they’re so different, is that they’re very expressive, and not careful about their lines. They don’t think about it, it’s just expressive and bold. It’s so raw, and feels like they didn’t really think too hard about it. I don’t care about perfection. I just care that it’s expressive.
What is your favorite part about working at Pixar?
I think it’s awesome to collaborate with so many people doing so many different things. What I love the most about working on “Coco” was that I was able to develop great relationships and have great role models. The people here keep motivating you every day. So, the answer is: the people.
What advice would you give to aspiring female artists?
I would say to always be yourself and embrace your imperfections. Always draw from your own experiences and don’t be afraid to be yourself. I was very lucky to have all my Mexicanity in my portfolio, because it was perfect for “Coco.” I felt conflicted if I had too many Mexican drawings in my portfolio, but keeping true to who you are is important.