Interview with COCO's Gini Santos, Pixar's first ever female Supervising Animator

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Born in the Philippines, Gini Santos and her family moved to Guam when she was just 3 years old. She then came back to Manila where she finished her studies at University of Santo Tomas with a Fine Arts degree and a major in Advertising.

After spending five years in the advertising industry, she returned to school and earned a Master of Fine Arts in computer arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She then joined the Pixar Animation Studios in 1996 where she worked on her first project as a character animator on Toy Story 2 which was released in 1999. She also worked on A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and a short film entitled Lifted.

Gini Santos Disney Pixar Coco

Gini Santos is in Manila to promote the latest Disney-Pixar film Coco, where she served as the Supervising Animator, the first ever woman in Pixar's history to hold the position! We sat down and had a quick chat with Gini where she shared what exactly Supervising Animators do, how she relates to the main character in the new film and gives an advice to artists who would want to break into the animation industry.

Question: For those who don't know what a Supervising Animator is, what exactly does one do?

Gini Santos: The way our animation team is structured is: we have our animation team and with this show, we had like about 80 sub-animators and every show has a supervising animator – sometimes there's only one, sometimes two – on this show we were two just because of the scope. Under the supervising animators, there are directing animators who leads more and helps the team. As supervising animators, we do help out with our team by setting up our team overall but we also kind of are bridges to other department so we can co-work together.

But as a supervising animator, you're taking basically your experience of having been an animator. You will have a creative opinion about it but, at Pixar, we really practice the spirit of collaboration so as sups, we don't tell what the animators should do – we guide them and help them do their work but we recognize that our team has highly talented animators and they're going to have great ideas to bring to the floor. So, we're just there to kind of shephered them and making sure they get what they need and they're able to share that information with the director and the director is able to talk to them. There's a lot of artistic personalities we have to deal with but to just make sure they're able to do their work and to animate the best that they can.

How do you think Coco is different from other Disney-Pixar movies?

Well, we've never animated skeletons before so that's our biggest challenge. Every story we tell takes you somewhere different so it was nice to have a story that was set in Mexico but I think our biggest challenge was the scope of the film, the skeletons and all the music performances were authentic. That's what took a lot of time as any scenes that guitar or trumpets playing – they were all authentic; we didn't just animate them to animate them.

Gini Santos Disney Pixar Coco

Do you relate yourself to Miguel knowing that he's passionate about music and you being passionate with your artistry?

I do, yeah, I relate a lot to Miguel because of that and because my dad was against when I wanted to be an artist. When I first declared my college choice, they were like "oh no, how are you going to feed yourself?" To come to this point where all of a sudden I'm at Pixar, doing well and following that dream. So yeah, I definitely relate to Miguel.

What would your dream project be like? Do you have any new projects that you're working on right now?

Oh no, we just finished Coco and I had been on it for three years so I need to take a break. I'm sure there are new projects I'm gonna get on but as of now, I don't know yet, they want me to rest.

Gini Santos Disney Pixar Coco

Do you see yourself progressing to being a director like your colleagues at Pixar who started as animators and are now directors?

I actually get that question a lot. There are so many animators out there who has a sense of timing and ability to tell stories in their animations but some of us strive to be directors and some of us don't. I don't know if it's something I've ever thought I wanted to do – I could do a short, possibly – but I just love animating. Sadly, as a Sup, I don't get to animate anymore but I've always loved animating and figuring out the character especially if it's a story I'm really interested in. We'll see if I think of an idea and I want to do a short, I guess that's kind of the path.

What do you think would you be doing if you weren't an animator? Any other career path you'd be interested in?

Oh, I love to just be an artist – like old school painting. You know, I graduated from UST and I remember when we were just out in the field painting. I feel like since my life has been about the computer, I don't do a lot of drawing anymore so I just want to go back and just be an artist.

Gini Santos Disney Pixar Coco

For students here, what's the best way to get noticed by international companies or animation studios?

I can only speak from animation. Just make sure that the quality of the animation is there and before animation made its leap onto the computer, there's the old school 2D animation. There are 12 principles of animation and a real animation student would know that. So I get asked by students a lot on what they should put on their reel and I always tell them that it comes down with what we see in the animation. It doesn't have to be polished, we've gotten reels where the animation is rough but we could see the timing is there, the acting and the beats are clear. So, really, it just goes back to whatever your principles of animation are, making sure you know that and applying it to whatever the animation is and we'll see that even beyond anything else you put there.

Do you have any advice to to artists who'd want to break into the animation industry?

There's so many resources now on the web that gives you information on schools. Even at, there's a Careers page where you can find internships. You know, way back when I started, there was no information. I entered into Pixar and they were just trying to figure it out. Now, there's all sorts of information on the web, there are even lessons. So, if you really love it just keep doing it, find a way to put it on the web and just share your work. If you're able, find out if you can enter schools that can teach you animation.

Gini Santos Disney Pixar Coco


Coco opens November 22 in cinemas nationwide. Follow Coco on Facebook and Instagram for exclusive updates.

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