What we learned (virtually) meeting with Director of Oscar Winning Features: Coco and Toy Story 3

Some crazy things we learned on a Zoom call with USC Alumn, Director Lee Unkrich.

Director Lee Unkrich poses with the Oscar for Toy Story 3 in 2011.

Hey Gems it’s Geminii! We had the incredible opportunity to listen to the Oscar winning director, Lee Unkrich as he shared personal details about his incredibly successful and highly acclaimed movies, Coco and Toy Story 3!

We are so grateful to have had the chance to learn from him, and we wanted to share some surprising facts we learned during the call!

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1. The original Coco main character was American?

Photo: Pixar’s Coco

That’s right! Directory Unkrich revealed that his original idea for Coco was an American boy with a Mexican mother that had just passed away.

The story would take the viewer with they boy as his American father takes him to visit the Mexican side of the family and the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos would serve to help him overcome his grief.

“We pursued that idea for a while, but I ultimately came to an epiphany that we were telling a story from a very Western point of view, not a Mexican point of view.”

-Director, Lee Unkrich

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2. The Inspiration for the Ending Scene in Toy Story 3

Photo: Pixar’s Toy Story 3

Remember the painful scene when Andy get’s back into the car after he has given his toys away, and he looks back at them for the very last time?

The scene was actually inspired by a memory that Director Unkrich has, looking back at his ill grandma for what he knows to be the very last time.

I grabbed that mental snapshot of [my grandmother] laughing with her friends — she wan’t even paying attention to me at that point — and I held that, always. So when I created that moment in Toy Story 3, that’s what I talked to the animators about. I referenced that moment.”

-Director, Lee Unkrich

3. “There was worry from everyone”

Photo: Pixar

Unkirch explains that Pixar brings all the people running the global offices for Disney together in a meeting once every year. The point of this meeting is to present all the new projects (at various stages of production) to the global team.

When it came time to share about COCO, the Director recalls that many of the global offices were worried about the film. 

The Director went on to mention that the Chine office was particularly nervous about releasing the film. It is very difficult for American films to be permitted for release in China, and very few end up making it. There are a lot of guidelines which would make it hard for COCO to succeed in China, such as the depiction of ghosts and afterlife. In fact, some global offices even asked if Miguel could wake up at the end of the movie and it would all be a dream. 

In the end, Unkirch decided to continue with the film without alterations, and it ended up receiving an incredible reaction from Chinese fans! 

“COCO in China ended up making more money than every other Pixar film combined”

-Director, Lee Unkrich

4. Starting at USC

Photo: Hollywood Reporter

The USC School of Cinematic Arts has turned down hundreds of thousands of exceptionally talented applications over its history–including Lee Unkirch. 

The Pixar Director started his cinematic journey at USC in the Fall of 86’. He made the exciting decision to leave his home in Ohio for sunny Los Angeles, California to pursue his love for film!

“I had to make a choice at that point to come to USC or try to go to another school, but I knew that SC was the Film School that I wanted to go to.”

-Director, Lee Unkrich

While he was not originally admitted into the USC School of Cinematic Arts,  this did not stop him from becoming heavily involved with the program at USC. His earliest jobs on campus included working at the cinema stock room and being a projectionist at Norris Theatre. 

“In my case, I actually wasn’t accepted to the film school right away. My first application was denied,” Unkrich explained.

5. The Ultimate ‘Shining’ Fan

Because the interview was done virtually, one of the viewers took note of Director Unkrich’s background during the zoom: where a plethora of ‘Shining’ aritfacts were featured.

Among the books and printers, Director Unkrich kept small painted figures of the movie characters, a face cutout, and even a movie action sign with the title, ‘The Shining’ written on it!

“I saw the ‘Shining’ when I was twelve years old, when it came out in theaters originally in 1980. It started what has become as a life-long obsession with the film … It was the film that inspired me to become a filmmaker myself.”

-Director, Lee Unkrich

We hope you get the chance to experience an Indian wedding in person, and we hope you enjoyed learning more about them! See you tomorrow on the blog!



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