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Art Director Diego Coutinho talks award-winning film Hola Kitty and its relevant message on immigrat

Diego Coutinho explored his creativity from a young age, long before earning the professional nickname of “Couts”. He says it came from his mother. When Coutinho was a child, his mother kept food packs to give him; with just scissors and glue, he would turn those ordinary objects into something extraordinary, like robots, monsters, cars, and objects with all kinds of history. To this day, Coutinho continues to do this. He transforms something small into a big and beautiful piece of art. But now he doesn’t work with toilet paper rolls and boxes of corn, he works on computers with dozens of people beside him, making his dreams reality.

Coutinho is an art director and motion graphics designer. His passion for what he does, which has been there since he was a young boy growing up in the countryside of Brazil, is evident with every project he embarks on. His achievements are vast, and his abilities are endless. His work has received countless awards and recognition. He is talked about both in Brazil and internationally. But for him, it all comes back to his mother.

“I had many difficulties learning how to read as a child. My mother says that in the middle of the year, the teachers were sure that I would be disapproved at the end of that year. Then, during the summer holidays, she bought a series of books that told what happened to the classic story characters after the traditional ending, such as the story of Robin Hood after becoming a knight or Snow White after her marriage,” he said. “I have a great memory of how my mother was affectionate and had a lot of patience with me. She made me copy the texts and learn from it, so afterwards I could read the books by myself, and during the intervals I drew the stories. So, with much encouragement from my mother, that was how my love of illustration was born. It turned out that after that vacation, I was advanced compared to the whole classroom.”

Eventually, this love of art and illustration turned into a degree, and that degree turned into a career. Part of what defines Coutinho’s career is that he works on projects that not only win awards, but have meanings that resonate with viewers. This pattern continued with his work on the documentary film Hola Kitty. The film was shot in New York, mainly in Times Square, and address the challenging issues of Latino illegal immigrants in the US. The main subject is a Latino immigrant who works in New York City in a Hello Kitty costume. Never revealing who's behind the mask, the film is a metaphor of faceless immigrants who work in the shadows of American society. The documentary blends social commentary with pop culture.

“Working like an illustrator, I created a unique art direction and style. Coherence was something important to this project, because we have shots of abuse and rape in the animated sequence, and the illustrations represent the heavy theme. With a lot of texture and dusting, what we see are cute characters in a very heavy context, which creates the awkward originality of the piece,” described Coutinho.

The film intertwines live action and animation throughout to properly tell the story. Coutinho was responsible for developing the design and artistic direction of the animated excerpts. He worked closely with Diogo Kalil, the director of animation for the film. The two agree they have a good dynamic while working together, with a similar artistic vision.

“To me Diego take his profession as passion, always running the extra mile and doing everything that is possible to make the project better,” said Kalil.

This did not make their job easy however. Achieving a visual result that represented the heavy subjects that were portrayed needed a perfect balance. The scenes that were selected to be made into animation are the heavier scenes in the movie, including moments of extortion, suffering, exploitation, death and a scene of rape.

“In the end, the illustrations reached the drama that was necessary. The texture, the choices of the amount of black, the unevenness in the trace, they were added together to create a very oppressive image. Some scenes are oppressive and ethereal in an attempt to show that this is more than a human being can bear,” described Coutinho. “I was very happy with the style of the illustrations, as I think we came up with a very original result, and that is the goal, to create original designs with a unique look. The issue of developing these new aesthetics and solve design needs is where I believe the designer's function lies.”

The film went on to win a series of awards and was recognized at many film festivals. At the Broadway International Film Festival it won Best Documentary Short Film. At Cannes Short Film Corner it won Court Métrage, and was a special mention at the Philadelphia Latina Film Festival. These are just some of the accolades the film received, but for Coutinho, its message is more relevant than ever before.

“Even though that film focuses on Hispanic immigration in the US, we can not forget that there is an international immigration crisis on the go. The problem in Syria, Brexit, President Donald Trump's approach to American immigrants, all these subjects have an enormous influence on the media and in people. So, before we attack these immigrants with prejudices, I believe it is very important to hear their history, because they are all human beings, and they should be treated as what they are,” he concluded.

You can view more images from the film here.

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