Color characteristics of Mexican afterlife expressed in animated film <Coco>



Xiaoshuang Zhang, Donghyuk Choi


Department of Visual Contents, Division of Digital Contents

Graduate School of Dongseo University, Dongseo University

Busan, South Korea,







  <Coco> is an animation film made by Pixar Animation Studio in 2017. It is based on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’, which is a traditional festival of Mexico related to the afterlife. It was evaluated as the best global animation movies and it showed a new possibility for the animation movie. Therefore, this study analyzed the characteristics of how the color culture of a region was utilized in a video content by analyzing the color of <Coco>, which expresses the afterlife of Mexico with animation. Therefore, this study analyzes the characteristic of how color culture of the region is utilized in image contents through color analysis of <Coco> which expresses Mexican posthumous world with animation.



Keywords- Afterlife; animation; color; and Coco


1. Introduction


As the video contents industry has received more attention, people begin to pay more attention to the traditional culture that becomes the subject of cultural contents. The audiences experience identity and cultural belonging from an animation film based on a local culture and they understand diverse local cultures from the movie. Mexico’s ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’ is a festival commemorating the dead and the importance of this local culture has been recognized worldwide. Therefore, it was recognized as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2008, for the first time in North America. Analyzing image of the afterlife can help you more easily identify the symbols and the roles of colors in the animation based on regional characteristics. Therefore, according to the color analysis of the afterlife can helps the film animator to convey the intention of the color characteristics of various cultures. The afterlife of the East is divided into the nether world (冥界) and the next world (黃泉) and the afterlife of the West is generally divided into heaven and hell distinctively. From a literary point of view, the image of the afterlife is a culture expressed in the form of an afterlife or myth showing unique worldviews through the literary works and video contents. <Coco>, the analysis topic of this study, was released in Oct 2017 and it earned $29.76 million until Sep 2018 and it was evaluated at the best global animation movie [1]. It will be meaningful to understand how to utilize the local color culture in the video contents by analyzing and characterize the Mexican people's perceptions and colors about the afterlife that is described in <Coco>, which is based on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’, a custom of Azteca, which is an old kingdom in the Mexican region.


2. Historical Background and Meaning of "Day of the Dead"


The “Day of the Dead [2]” is originated from the ritual of Azteca and it is a traditional cultural festival and a religious ceremony. It was modified due to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century and other historic factors to have the current form. People visit the tombs of their dead family members on November 1 and 2 to decorate the altars of the tombs with flowers, candles, skull shapes, and foods [3]. Moreover, the objects decorating the altars have certain forms and philosophical meanings. Yellow chrysanthemums, orange marigolds, and skeletons made of sugar are known as symbols of autumn, when nature's vitality begins to decline. In Mexico, chrysanthemums and marigolds are used to commemorate someone. The marigold means grief, disappointment, sadness, and happiness that must come. Moreover, one of the important elements of the festival is the skull. Skulls are made of sugar and chocolate and bone-shape candies are prepared. The names of the dead are written on them and they are placed on the altar. When objects containing the remembrance and respect are placed on the altar on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’, the souls of the dead are led to the altar so they can meet their families. Table 1 shows the symbols of words on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’ [4].


Table 1. Symbols of words on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’







- Lead the dead to the alter.



- Express the shape of the marigold bridge.

- Stands for the home of a soul or the arrival location of a soul.

Catrina doll


- A representative image of Mexico and it stands for the dead soul and the origin of life.

- It means graceful death.

Skull doll


- It means the dead and it is needed to decorate.

Paper decoration


- Items decorate the altar.


There are various category classifications for making a cultural approach to color. The color is not only a perceptual phenomenon perceived through the sight but also a psychological phenomenon accompanied by a feeling through the senses. In the animation, the color can describe the characteristics of an object or an event and it also can express an emotion that delivers character's feeling or emotion. Many studies on the images and symbols of colors have made various approaches to the recognition and preference of the public to the color. The color describes the characteristics and image of a country, a region, or a city, and it greatly affects the socio-cultural domain. It is because the personal preference of color and the color preference of a cultural zone, in addition to the universal color cognitive abilities of people, vary. The color has a close relationship with the emotional experience of people and the emotion built in is expressed through colors. Table 2 shows the analysis results of the sensibility reaction survey regarding the correlation between color and emotion-related words in the US, Europe, and Mexico [5].


Table 2. Analysis results of the sensibility reaction survey regarding the correlation between color and emotion-related words in the US, Europe, and Mexico



Survey Results in the US

Survey Results in Europe

Survey Results in the Mexico City


Results of Multiple Choice Method/ Preference Oriented

Results of Multiple Choice Method/ Preference Oriented

Results of Simple Choice Method/ Preference and Percentage Applied




Red (89.6%)

Black (58%) Red (36%) Green (18%)

Red (43%)




Green (93.6%)

Blue (56%) Green (42%)

White (77%)



Orange (63%)

Yellow (61%) Orange (45%)

Green (24%)

Yellow (32%) and Green (29%)


Black, Gray (86%)

Black (76%) Gray (30%) Brown (18%)

Gray (37%) and Black (21%)


Red, Purple (81%)

Red (36%) Purple (81%) Pink (81%)



3. Case Analysis


3.1. Introduction of Analysis Target

The analysis target of this study was an animation movie, <Coco>, released in 2017. <Coco> is based on Mexican culture and it is full of rich cultural elements. <Coco> is a story of a boy, Miguel, who dreams to be a musician and fell into the world of the dead by accident on the background of the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’, which is a traditional Mexican festival. Particularly, the characteristics of unique colors expressed in the work allow people to experience the afterlife full of North American culture.


3.2. Color Analysis of Afterlife shown in <Coco>

In animation, a color can express the characteristics of an object or an event. It also has the function of expressing an emotion that draws the character’s feeling or emotion. Colors were selected around marigold and Marigold Bridge, which connects the afterlife and the real life on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’. They were repeatedly used in the scenes of <Coco>. They are summarized in Table 3 and Table 4.


Table 3. Marigold’s color symbolism








Digital Color Value (RGB)




What it stands for?

- It means the bridge connecting to the afterlife.

- Grief, disappointment, sadness, and happiness that must come


The marigold shown in the background of <Coco> has a special meaning in Mexico. The main color of marigold, which guides the path of the dead, is orange (Table 3). The color of marigold, the representative flower of Mexico, is orange and it honors the death and blesses the soul in the afterlife. The survey results of Mexico City (Table 2) indicates that orange is the between red and yellow it crosses the anger (hate) and happiness. Especially it turns into yellow when there is a contact with a character, expressing happiness.


Table 4. Skeleton’s color symbolism







Skeleton (Image of the dead)

Digital Color Value (RGB)




What it stands for?

- Stands for the dead soul of the dead and the origin of life.

- It means grace death.

The main color of the skeleton in <Coco> is white (Table 4). The skeleton symbolizing the dead soul of the dead does not give cold, scary, and sad feelings. The white of the skeleton expressed in <Coco> stands for the dead soul of the dead and the graceful death at the same time. The analysis results of the survey conducted in the Mexican City (Table 2) showed that people felt peace and serenity from the white of the skeleton (the image of the dead) expressed in <Coco> and they derived happiness from the yellow, the color of marigold (background), reflecting on the white of the dead.


4. Conclusion


This study analyzed the colors of <Coco>, which is an animation movie based on the ‘Day of the Dead (El Dia de Muertos)’, a traditional festival of Mexico. The results showed that colors could be used important tools to express the characteristics of a region in an animation based on a local culture. People living in Mexico have considered that the afterlife and the dead are in calm and happy objects and the animation reflected the meaning of the colors in Mexico in the movie as they are. Moreover, it was found that images filled with high chroma expressed the unique images of the afterlife with reflecting the regional characteristics of Mexico, where sunlight is intense. This study also could confirm the symbolism and role of colors in the animation based on the regional and cultural characteristics. We hope that the results of this study will be utilized as a data for video content study and application in the future. I also hope that there will be more studies on the color expression of animations and video contents based on local cultures.





[1] Box Office Mojo, “,” in Official Site.

[2] K. H. Kim, “World’s Festival of the Month: Mexico -‘Día de los muertos’”, International Regional Information Center for Interrogational Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, vol. 100(0), pp. 56-57, November 2001.

[3] C. W. Park, “A study on the cognition of ‘The Day of the Dead’ as a culture code,” Center for International Area Studies, vol. 14(4), pp. 53-78, January 2011.

[4] C. W. Cao, “Geographical and Spatial Implications of Mexico’s Day of the Dead,” WORLD REGIONAL STUDIES, vol. 21(3), September 2012.

[5] C. W. Park, “A study on the cultural psychology of colours in case of the Mexicans through analyzing the Colour Response Enquete,” Journal of the institute of Iberoamerican Studies , vol. 12(2), pp. 187-212, June 2010.