* Thanks to Disney Pixar for hosting this experience. Opinions are my own.
Xoloitzcuintli is a dog breed, most commonly known by its nickname Xolo or Mexican Hairless Dog. Xoloitzcuintli (say it with me= “shoh-loyts-kweent-lee”) are cute and ugly at the same time. In Pixar’s upcoming animation COCO, Miguel’s sidekick is a street-dog named Dante who happens to be a Xolo. The pair travels to the Land of the Dead in search of answers. And on a recent trip to Pixar in Emeryville, CA Character Designers shared answers on how Dante came to be.
Xolos are an interesting breed as they are mostly hairless and to be quite honest, initially, they are a little creepy to look. I’ve met a few and they seem guarded, intelligent and I learned that they are a bit of a status symbol and top dog in Mexico. A little back history on the breed- Xolos are ancient dogs, referenced as far back as 3,500 years ago! They’re native to Mexico and Central America. They are named after the Aztec God Xolotl (who was associated with death, lightning bolts and dogs).
Christian Hoffman (Pixar Characters Supervisor) shared that Xolos were regarded as protectors, “They safeguard the home from evil spirits and intruders. They’re also said to have healing powers. The heat from their bodies is commonly used to soothe arthritis and other ailments. They’re basically big, snuggly hot water bottles! They also are said to have served as guides for the dead as they transition from this world into the next.”
The creative process into Dante started with drawings to try to figure out what the character will look like. Then they start to play around with Dante’s personality. The next step was to create a clay sculpture of Dante. They also created a clay sculpture of Dante and Miguel together. They tried to figure out the form on Dante, as well as play off the relationship between the two and tried to figure out the proportion to each other and other issues.
Designers looked at animated dogs for inspiration as well. Like Doug who was used on ‘Up.’ They looked at ‘Bolt’ as well as some 2D Disney characters such as ‘Lady and the Tramp’. These references were perfect as far as movement and form for dogs. But there’s one big difference here- all of those dogs have hair, and Dante is hairless. Hairless definitely created some concerns.
Now, “hairless” doesn’t quite mean no hair at all. These dogs are considered hairless, but they’re not quite hairless. Dante has some hair on his head and his ears. His tail has a big clump of hair on it as well. And then all over his body, he’s got little light tufts of hair. As the creators described it, “It’s kind of scraggly and wiry. It’s kind of gross, but we feel like that just adds to his personality. He’s a street dog and it adds to him.” Street dogs just don’t get any justice!
One of the pros of having hair or fur is that fur can hide details but in this case, the designers didn’t have fur to hide behind. There are a lot of wrinkles and a lot more skin texture and detail artists to pay attention to. Dante’s rib cage and shoulder blades can be seen so they also had to worry about anatomy.
Xolos have large, bat-like ears, so Dante has those as well. He also has a little tear in one of his ears, and his other ear is flopped over and broken. He’s a street dog and has gotten into some scuffles and you can see the scars from his battles! Another issue for Xolo is that they have dental issues. Xolo owners were brought in so creators could get up close and personal with them. One of the owners said that if his dog, “Happens to bite a bone the wrong way or bump his tooth off a rock, he might lose it.” So what happens when you’ve got a dog who’s missing a bunch of teeth? You get this tongue sticking out all the time. Director Lee Unkrich wanted this to be a characteristic of Dante. As we can see in this video of Dante, his tongue does hang out a lot.
COCO opens in theatres everywhere on November 22nd and is Rated PG