We’re excited to kick off the first of our series on animation career paths for animators! Sometimes in this industry it can seem like feature film is the holy grail, but we have so many mentors and alumni who’ve found great success beyond film. In this series, we’ll share some of their stories.
First, we talked to Jose Alejandro Garcia Muñoz, alumnus and Director of Creative Development at Ánima Estudios. He’s also one of the creative minds behind Legend Quest, the first ever original animated Netflix series out of Latin America! Read on to learn what it’s like to be in the creative driver’s seat in the animation industry and why sometimes it pays (big time) to look for opportunities in your own backyard.
-The Animation Mentor Crew
Animation Mentor: Tell us a little about your journey from Animation Mentor’s first graduating class to directing the first ever Netflix original animated series produced in Latin America, Legend Quest! Those are two really big firsts.
Jose Alejandro Garcia Muñoz: When I joined Animation Mentor’s first class ever I was already working at Ánima Estudios as a CG generalist just to get my foot in the door. I took every opportunity to do character animation and storyboard scenes while on the job, and this eventually got me my first opportunity to direct a Christmas special for an American client.
From then on, I kept receiving opportunities to work with bigger clients. The main breakthrough was when the team I led competed and won a contract to animate Nickelodeon´s Pig Goat Banana Cricket, that was like a sign that we were ready for the big leagues. So, when Netflix confirmed their interest for Legend Quest I was lined up to become its Creative Director.
AM: What is it like to be in the driver’s seat vs. working on someone else’s project? There must be pros/cons to each. Do you still get to animate?
JAGM: It is very different. In short, being the creative decision maker increases the stress level and the satisfaction you get out of creative problem solving. The stakes are just extremely high and the connection (or failure to connect) with the audience is entirely your responsibility. You feel both exposed and engaged. It’s exhausting, and I absolutely love it.
Animation Mentor taught me to direct animators, to analyze the needs of the scene, and to communicate to others the vision I have for it without animating it myself.
On the other hand, working on someone else’s project is rewarding in the sense that you are collaborating and growing from the exposure you get to other artists’ work. It’s a great learning experience and is probably a necessary step toward becoming a confident creator. Enjoy it because as a showrunner you don’t really get to animate at all!
AM: We love Legend Quest! It’s so cool how much Mexican folklore is incorporated throughout the story, and it’s clear that was important to the team. Can you tell us a little about that process?
JAGM: Thanks for noticing! To our team, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. We got to make an animated show that can be seen across the world, and we had all the creative control. This was our chance to define what a cartoon from Latin America feels like!
We built a two-step approach toward the storytelling where the episodes were first fleshed out as scripts in Los Angeles, and then our directing team in Mexico City would take those and design the episode in a way that resonated with the distinct cultural values and sensibilities of our region. That way we ensured that the portrayal of our characters and our folklore felt true but also familiar to our global audience. We strived for Latin-American authenticity and Hollywood flair.
AM: What is it like working with Netflix? They’re such a huge part of the space now for TV and film.
JAGM: It’s exciting! Netflix truly is an ideal creative partner for us at Ánima Estudios, and for any creator concerned with serving their audience. It is rare to find a partner that takes a chance and grants the creative freedom required for different concepts and new voices to appear. They enabled us to devote ourselves entirely to telling the story we wanted to tell, and that is a blessing to any filmmaker.
AM: How did your time at Animation Mentor prepare you for your career path?
JAGM: As time passed I started realizing that beyond learning the animation principles and technique, while at Animation Mentor you are getting an invaluable demonstration of the single most important skill of the director: providing feedback. As an AM student, you are getting feedback from artists that are, in their jobs, getting feedback from some of the best directors in the world. It’s easy to overlook that providing feedback is a skill that needs to be actively developed.
I would encourage anyone that is still going through the program to analyze HOW your mentor is structuring the feedback you receive, then think how you felt while receiving it. To me, this is the unsung lesson: Animation Mentor taught me to direct animators, to analyze the needs of the scene, and to communicate to others the vision I have for it without animating it myself.
Look at your own countries and regions for production houses that might be on the verge of going global. That’s where opportunity lies and potential for growth will be found. Take the less traveled route and grow.
AM: What are you working on now, and what’s next for you? Can we expect another Legend Quest season?!
JAGM: I’m gearing up to animate a friend’s show for a broadcast network and developing a new show of my own. As for a second season of Legend Quest, you never know. I really enjoyed working with Netflix for the first season, but you’d have to ask them!
AM: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give to current animation students?
JAGM: As you plan your career be mindful of this: The entertainment industry is in flux due to the appearance of digital distributors like Netflix. This affects the quantity, quality, and location of opportunities for young animators. As the old Hollywood distribution fights the new digital distribution model, there’s an unprecedented need for quality content, and this is opening the doors of worldwide distribution to productions from regions that in the past were overlooked, like Mexico.
My advice is: Look beyond Hollywood, look at your own countries and regions for production houses that might be on the verge of going global. That’s where opportunity lies and potential for growth will be found. You’ll be closer to the decision making, instead of a cog within an already consolidated machine. Take the less traveled route and grow.
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