Disney/Pixar's Oscar-nominated 'Soul' brings NYC to life in painstaking detail

BySandy Kenyon via OTRC logo
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Sandy Kenyon reports on "Soul," the Oscar nominated Disney/Pixar film.

NEW YORK -- "Soul" from Disney/Pixar was released to almost universal praise from the critics, and now, it's nominated for an Oscar as Best Animated Film.

"Soul" takes place in New York City, and those behind the film wanted to make sure they got the details right.

And so, anyone who lives in Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan's West Village will find that much is familiar in this movie that plays like an ode to the Big Apple and its people.

Joe Gardner, brought to life by Jamie Foxx, is a music teacher who dreams of making it big as a jazz musician. And while the character is fictional, he is based on a very real retired teacher.

"The movie starts in my classroom," Dr. Peter Archer said.

RELATED | Meet the real NYC music teacher who inspired Disney-Pixar's 'Soul'

His classroom was recreated by an army of artists and their supervisors, like Paul Abadilla, who served as sets art director for "Soul."

"If we're doing our jobs really well, the audience shouldn't notice," Abadilla said. "The audience should focus on the characters, the main characters, in the scene."

The faces in the crowd are Mara MacMahon's focus, and dozens of background characters come from hundreds of sketches and detailed drawings.

"As character model lead on the film, I work on the characters which is a compliment to the sets," she said. "And what I loved is each one of these designs of individual people, you could tell there was a story behind it."

They add up to realism, the same way little touches like graffiti do.

"It just adds a sense of richness and that sense of age and wear and tear to the city that made it that much more believable," Abadilla said.

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Among the big team shaping this were those who grew up in the city, according to MacMahon.

"There were actually points in the film where we were working on particular shot or scene, and somebody would say, "Hey, I'm actually from that neighborhood, and what I noticed when I am back home or I'm visiting family I usually see this,'" she said.

And all of this is intentional and vital, Abadilla said.

"That's what the film is about," he said. "Celebrating the ordinary, the overlooked things about life, right?"

Which is why you will find gum on the sidewalk in "Soul."

Abadilla and MacMahon's pride in their work and their determination to fairly represent the many different cultures found in New York City is evident in the final results.

So many people put their hearts and souls into getting the smallest details right, and that has to be one of the reasons the film is nominated for an Oscar.

RELATED | 'Soul' both a celebration of Black culture, reflection on life's meaning

"Soul" is from Disney/Pixar, which is owned by the same parent company as this ABC station.

Mark your calendars: April 25 is Oscar Sunday. Live coverage begins Sunday morning and continues all day with special "On The Red Carpet" coverage leading up to the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. After the last award is handed out, stay with "On The Red Carpet" for continuing coverage. Be sure to follow @OnTheRedCarpet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for all your Oscar news and information.