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

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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.