Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar

Pixar’s Coco.

Okla native Byron Bashforth has been involved in nine Pixar movies and four shorts to date, including the Disney subsidiary’s brand-new feature, Coco. Bashforth is the film’s character shading lead, meaning he is responsible for the team in charge of the look of all the characters in the film. Considering that Coco unfolds in two separate realities and the number of roles is in the dozens, Bashforth has his work cut out for him.

Byron got his Master in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan and has been involved with Pixar for almost two decades. “I remember watching the trailer for Toy Story and it occurred to me for the first time that you could use computers to do something else than computer science stuff. It opened the possibility of being able to combine my artistic streak and computers as a career.”

The animator has been the character shading lead for the short Lava and the features Monsters University and Ratatouille. I had the chance to catch up with Byron over the phone from California.

Byron Bashforth (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

– Can you explain what a character shading lead does?

– We create the materials for all things in the movie. On the characters’ side, we make sure the skin looks like skin, same with bone, fabrics, clothing and hair. A lot of the things we build are used in many shots. In the case of Miguel, our hero, he is through the entire film. We have to deliver our characters in the right schedule and order, so everyone working on the shots gets what they need when they need it.

– What was the biggest challenge for your department making Coco?

– The scale of the film. It was almost twice the work we normally do for a movie: We had heroes, secondary characters, backgrounds and crowds for the living world and then we had the same for the skeleton world. On a smaller scale, we had the alebrijes (fantastic creatures from the spiritual world) a couple of hero-alebrijes and a bunch of crowd- alebrijes. It was a whole bunch of work to make each one of those three groups felt complete. Then we had the challenge of making sure the humans and the skeletons worked well together.

– Is there an element of Coco you are particularly proud of?

– For a project that overall was very challenging, I believe we came up with something very appealing. I’m also really pleased with how the human skin looks: There is a close-up shot of Miguel playing guitar and you can see a little peach fuzz and freckles on his skin. It’s very detailed, not in a photo-realistic way, but in a very painterly fashion.

– How do you think being from Saskatchewan has favored your career?

– It’s hard to separate my experiences growing up from who I am. Having lots of people around, the landscape, learning how to entertain myself, cross-country skiing on my own in the middle of winter, letting my imagination run wild, all that contributed to the art forms I became interested in and my ability to work with people as a team. I wouldn’t change growing up in SK, but it’s hard to say what exactly I pulled from that and I’m using here.

Coco is now playing, everywhere.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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