The story of the scientist who worked on “Encanto”, the last animated film from Disney

Arepas, Vallenato, Bambuco, Café and of course magical realism. Is that Charm, the new Disney movie, left no chance to faithfully represent every corner of Colombia. This is the reason for losing the strange honor Gabriel Gracia Marquez One hundred years of unity.

This animated film tells the story of Madrigal, a wonderful family who lives hidden in the mountains, in a charming house located in a town full of surprises called Encanto. In the plot, all the boys and girls in the family are blessed with a unique gift, from super strength to the ability to heal. Except for Mirabel, the cute and beautiful bespectacled hero, who may be responsible for saving Encanto from a terrible danger.

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To achieve a faithful representation of Colombia’s culture and biodiversity, Disney cartoonists enlisted the help of several Colombian specialists in culture, anthropology, botany, music, language, and architecture. the great explosion They chatted with Felipe Zapata, or professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, where he studies plants, evolution, and biodiversity, and was one of Encanto’s advisors.

Philip is originally from Bogotá, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Los Andes. She has her lab in Santa Monica, United States; He was an assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University after having been a researcher for 5 years at UC Berkeley and Brown University.

What was your job when you transferred all your information to a Disney movie?
– My job consisted of being part of the Colombian advisory team to help Disney a little bit with plants and biodiversity in general. So basically my job was to meet the Disney animators team and talk about Colombia. They would ask me about plants in a particular area of ​​Colombia, so I would go and do a presentation, look up pictures, bring pictures and books, and show them some plants.

What kind of questions did they ask you?
– They’ve asked very specific questions about certain plants, like what do they look like, how do they come close, what do the leaves look like, what do the flowers look like, and we’re working in different areas of Colombia. Then there was a more dialogue process where they showed me pictures they found on the internet or found to be special or beautiful, and they wanted to know if they were from Colombia or not, so I’d go and help them identify plants and some plants that were more special to the regions, or to correct problems when they came up Plants or animals of Colombia. So we talk a little bit about that.

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Colombia has a great diversity of culture as well as an amazing flora and fauna. That would be very hard work.
Yes, that was a little complicated. Fortunately, they had a very specific interest. As the film was one of the plants of the wax palm region, which is one of the palm trees that prominently appeared in the film. Or in the region of Colombia where today it is common to find this type of palm, at least we had a medium-selection site, which was cloud forests, and there we concentrated a lot, but they were also interested in other areas of the country such as Chocó or the Amazon . It was more complicated there because in the forest there are a lot of plants and animals. But fortunately, they are starting to worry about representing some things that are very unique or one might recognize in the area as something very special. For them, they used a few species or organisms that were central to defining the area but not all of the forest diversity because it is basically impossible.

What did it mean personally when you saw your land represented in a Disney novel?
– She was very special. During the process of working with them, which lasted for two years, I never had access to photos or illustrations, right up to the final cut. When I finally got to see the illustrations and saw the gymnastics movie on screen, in a theater in Los Angeles, and with so many people, it was very interesting to see the representation of plants and forests. How they achieved this very faithful representation of how the forests, homes, and ornamentation of plants and leaves are seen in Colombia. It was something very special. I’ve lived in the United States for a long time and the movie made me feel close to home. I managed to reconnect to Colombia.

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What did your colleagues say when they found out you were working at Encanto?
Well, my colleagues do not believe it. Many are jealous in a good way because they find it incredible that as scientists, as academics, we can end up working with Disney, or that our knowledge can help Disney in some way. Many of my colleagues do not believe it. Many ask how you did or for whom you wrote. The truth is, Disney found me. They were looking for someone who knows this, lives in America, so I might get lucky with that. But many of my colleagues dream of achieving something similar.

What did your family members or your friends’ children say?
-They are happy. My relatives and friends’ children are fascinated by the movie. The kids didn’t quite understand what was going on. They thought I was in the movie (laughs). But later I explained to them what I had done, that I was a biologist and that I worked with animals and plants, and so they understood what I helped do.

How do you feel when you think you can represent your country in a movie that will be seen all over the world?
Undoubtedly, it is very special to be part of the Colombian club because we are part of Encanto. It is a pleasure to be able to help represent my country. And it is very special to see the work that we did and the discussions I had with them, one way or another, captured on screen.

When did your passion for biology arise?
– She studied biology in Colombia. I got my degree in my country. I was interested in many living things. I have always loved plants, animals, etc. But perhaps, towards the end of my career, I became more interested in plants. They seemed to me wonderful beings, very important to the ecosystem and to respiration. They are the basis of order for many organisms and are very special. They are very diverse in Colombia, as is the way they grow. So after a lot of studying, I moved to the US for my graduate studies and from there I work with them.

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What is your favorite plant featured in Encanto?
There is one I really like. It may not have been the main movie in the movie, but it is very well known and very special in Colombia called Yarumo. Often seen in the Colombian forests, this plant has silvery or white leaves. So if you focus on the back of the woods in the movie, and all of a sudden you see some trees that have leaves like silver, these are the Yarumos trees, and to me these trees are very special, I like them so much and it’s so nice to see them in the forests in Colombia. It seemed that with their silver leaves they illuminated everything. And they put some of those in the movie, which I thought was really cool.

This film also highlights the importance of caring for the environment.
Disney’s mission to seek advice from scholars for the production of this film shows that there is an interest in achieving as honest a representation as possible to show what our organizations look like in Colombia. And perhaps, I hope this very sincere inspiration from Colombia, will lead more Colombians to get out into nature, learn about the regions and learn about the animals. and trying to inspire new generations to better understand Colombia’s biodiversity. It is a country that is very rich in species of animals, plants, fungi and many organisms. But we actually know very little. There is very little investment in basic research and I believe that having a film that represents our cultural and biological wealth can help raise awareness and change policy to advance education and support science.

Terry Alexander

"Award-winning music trailblazer. Gamer. Lifelong alcohol enthusiast. Thinker. Passionate analyst."

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