Imagine seeing your life's work come alive on the big screen, watching your heartfelt storytelling and illustrations inspired by your upbringing and culture unfold -- all with the help of your favorite producer, Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, a stellar cast, including Diego Luna, Channing Tatum and Zoe Saldana and a soundtrack that features the legendary Plácido Domingo.

Now imagine it all in 3D.

This has been the reality experienced by Jorge Gutierrez, who is the first-time director of the animated film "The Book of Life," which hits theaters Friday, Oct. 17.

"As you can imagine, it is a dream come true," Gutierrez told Latin Post in an exclusive interview. "I have been working on this for almost fifteen years and so for it to be finally done, and to have the support of Guillermo, Diego Luna, to all of the amazing actors and the music ... I still cannot believe how lucky I am."

"I felt like a little kid who was wearing the outfit of Robin and then Batman showed up and said, 'come on kid, let's go fight crime,'" he gushed. "I have always admired [Del Toro], and for him to look for up-and-coming, first-time directors was pretty incredible, and the fact that he liked my movie and that he liked the concept and said he would produce it. He's a great collaborator and honestly a great mentor."

"The Book of Life" takes viewers through the vibrant fantasy-adventure of the legend of Manolo (voiced by Luna), "a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds" -- The Land of the Living, The Land of the Remembered and The Land of the Forgotten, to return to his true love, Maria (Saldana) and defend his village.

Manolo's childhood friend, Joaquin (voiced by Tatum) is the "town hotshot," who is also vying for the attention of Maria, but his machismo often gets in the way of his quest for love.

"When the love triangle was being developed I thought, 'we need a quarterback type of personality, one that every guy wants to be, and that every girl wants to be with. And I thought, 'who better than Channing," Gutierrez pointed out.

Tatum joked that while he is like the dapper Joaquin, who is smooth and sports a killer moustache, he said, "'Jorge, you know I'm not Mexican, right?!'" and the two broke out in laughter.

Not only does the CGI romantic comedy tell an important tale about love, the bond of friends and family and life's lessons, but it's also highlights the strength of the human spirit and celebrates Mexican culture and its colorful holiday, the Day of the Dead (el Dia de Los Muertos).

"I wrote the movie for Diego, and I honestly didn't know if he could sing, he didn't even know if he could sing. He took lessons and I was like an expectant father waiting for the results. I get this phone call and he said, 'I can sing!'" Gutierrez explained. "The voice that Diego has when he sings is very earnest; it's very honest. I didn't want a highly-produced-super singer. I wanted it to sound like a real person who could describe something that was greater than him."

While "The Book of Life" is co-written by Gutierrez and Disney veteran Doug Langdale, the love story has a tender touch, with the help of Gutierrez's wife, Mexican animator and painter Sandra Equihua. Together the couple created the Nickelodeon series, "El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera," for which Equihua won an Emmy Award for her character designs.

Gutierrez says he seeks Equihua's advice "absolutely, every time. I have a co-writer, but every story that I have, I basically bounce it off of Sandra. Sandra is kind of my secret weapon," he said. "The female characters are very much a love letter to her and to my mother."

Born in Mexico City, raised in Tijuana, and now residing in Dallas, Texas with his family, Gutierrez says "The Book of Life" is also a tribute to his love of Mexican folklore, which is also reflected in his home. Gutierrez joked that his five-year-old son thinks it's Halloween or Day of the Dead everyday because their house is filled with Day of the Dead skeletons.

The 20th Century Fox and Reel FX film's soundtrack includes spin-offs of popular tunes by Mumford & Sons, Radiohead, Rod Stewart and Bizmarkie and features Plácido Domingo, Café Tacvba and Gustavo Santaolalla, a two-time Academy Award winner and Argentine musician, film composer and producer.

Making the film universal was key for Gutierrez, which he kept in mind when assembling the cast and creating the soundtrack. "The biggest thing [Del Toro] taught me what that if you want to be universal, you have to be specific," he said. "You're making mole here, don't be afraid of the chocolate, don't be afraid of the spices. You want people to taste something that you have never tasted before. You have to let go and just trust yourself."

"The Book of Life," which is generating Oscar buzz for Best Animated Feature next year, also includes a stellar cast, including Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizond, Cheech Marin, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Ana de la Reguera, Eugenio Derbez, Gabriel Iglesias, and Ricardo "El Mandril" Sanchez.

Gutierrez hopes that the release of "The Book of Life" will open the door for other aspiring Latino filmmakers and Latin-inspired themes.

"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for guys like Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo del Toro ... I hope that I can open more doors for Latin-inspired content and animations in children's media," Gutierrez said. "Kids are the future of course, and if they see other cultures up on the screen as something normal, I think that's my dream. Honestly, I didn't see myself in animated features. I kept waiting for the Mexican [Disney] princess to show up, and she never did, so 'The Book of Life' is an answer to that."

Check out the official trailer for "The Book of Life," which hits theaters Friday, Oct. 17.