Pixar’s newest film Onward recently released and shading art director Carlos Felipe Leon took the time out to discuss everything Onward and beyond.
When entering the room to talk about the film, Leon appeared relaxed as if he knew what he worked on was something special. He came off as excited to speak about Onward, a film that received five stars from our site the previous week.
The Road Less Traveled
Leon was raised in Bogota, Columbia, where his career was considered more fantasy than the movies he now works on. “Growing up in Columbia, working in animation seemed like a far fetched dream. At the time, there was no internet, and the industry wasn’t as developed as it is today,” he said.
Before long, the aspiring artist attended college in France, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts In Computer Science in Industrial Engineering. This didn’t mesh well with his childhood love for drawing, resulting in his sights being set elsewhere.
The college student considered dropping out his last year before being convinced by his parents to finish it for the “peace of mind.” You know, so the food in front of him wasn’t something he drew but bought with that precious job money. Being a starving artist isn’t too fun.
Later, 2012 saw Leon join DreamWorks to work on projects such as Trolls, The Lorax and Despicable Me. He then joined the Onward project over two years ago as a set designer originally before quickly becoming the shading art director.
Onward answers the question what would you do if you got one day to spend with someone you’ve lost? Two brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), go on an adventure to get a chance to say goodbye to their father.
The animation industry thrives on creativity, so Leon finds himself going out and experiencing life for inspiration. For example, Onward’s retroelement inspiration comes from 80’s fantasy films such as Labyrinth or The Neverending Story.
Leon researched architecture to get the mix of suburban and fantasy design Onward looked to emulate. He looked at gothic and medieval designs as he aimed to combine elements from two different worlds.
“The biggest challenge in this film was always trying to balance the fantastic and mundane without them canceling each other out while still feeling interesting and entertaining,” Leon said.
The Manticore tavern scene in Onward has a meticulous amount of detail as Leon thinks it helps resonate with audiences more. The scene scenes familiar elements like the sticky floor similar to ones found at Chuck E Cheese while adding unfamiliar unique dishes like a pie with a talisman design.
Pixar is notorious for putting easter eggs in their films to the point where not even people who worked on them can’t find them all. When it comes to the A113 easter egg hidden in every Pixar project, Leon even laughed that he’s “still looking for it” in Onward.
Everyone Wins From Great Ideas
On the subject of how collaborating on Pixar projects works, you might think it’s “whoever speaks the loudest,” as Leon jokingly mentioned. However, the process is far from the way he paints the picture.
“Dan Scanlon (the director) used to tell us that it wasn’t his film; he made it clear that it was our film.” he said.” Ultimately it is Dan’s decisions, but he made the decisions based on what we would put on the table,” Leon said, emphasizing the teamwork.
“Sometimes, it’s tricky to make decisions when people might not agree on everything. You can have really good ideas…but at the end of the day, you have to do what serves the story most.” Leon said. This is how his favorite parts, such as the van chase sequence, ended up in Onward.
Different Pixar films speak to everyone; differently, Monsters Inc. resonated with Leon the most out of them all. “There’s something about that first Monsters Inc. that I really like. It’s just full of heart, so imaginative… it’s wonderful.”
When it comes to other animated films pushing the medium onward, Leon says he adores and wants more films like I Lost My Body. “It shows that animation isn’t just a genre,” he said. “That film has a very poetic feel to it.”
Leon is currently ecstatic about all the work going into the upcoming Pixar film called Soul. If one thing is clear, this Pixartist has a deep love for the industry and anything he touches.
Did you think of Onward lived up to the rating we gave? Any animated films you think pushed the medium forward over the years? Have a favorite artist you follow? Leave a comment!