From ‘ONWARD’ to ‘SOUL,’ what it’s like to be a set designer at Pixar Animation

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ONWARD – Visual development art by Maria Yi. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Preston Barta // Features Editor

Artist Carlos Felipe León’s fingerprints are all over the latest cutting edge of animated feature films. Noted by his bright, colorful and distinct style, León began at Pixar Animation Studios in August 2017. He joined the acclaimed team full-time that summer. Since then, he has worked on Onward as a set designer and Pixar’s upcoming Soul (June 19) as a key lighting designer. 

León’s role is the type of work that is meant to make a fantastical world feel more grounded in a reality we know, whether that’s helping to position the light in a particular area within animation or designing the look of buildings and the visual layout of a set. 

On Onward – a fantasy film about two teenage elf brother (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) who embark on a quest to find magic so they can spend one last day with their father – León worked with the animators to design and guide the building process for individual sets and architecture for the virtual worlds in which the animated characters inhabit. Additionally, León works in lighting. On Soul – a tale that follows a musician who is transported out of his body and must find his way back – he oversaw the lighting and shot compositions to convey a particular mood that aligns with the tone of the film.

Fresh Fiction recently sat down with León in Dallas to discuss the art of normalizing extreme realities and how his role in animation gives him a new perspective of seeing the world. 

Onward opens nationwide on Friday.

León’s personal website is under construction, but you can follow his work on his Instagram under the handle @cf.leon.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.