We Interviewed Andrew Gonzalez - Cinematic Animator

Posted at Jul 18th, 2014 by AnimDesk.

Andrew Gonzalez - Cinematic Animator

Andrew is a Cinematic Animator/Artist from Southern California. After graduating Full Sail University, Andrew worked as a freelance artist in Los Angeles and San Francisco on different projects and jobs ranging from graphic design, writing, coordinating for major television shows and feature animation.

Andrew has been animating for TV, Games and Featured Films. His venture into feature films began as an intern at PIXAR animation studios which led him to work on animated characters such as Sheriff Woody, James P. "Sully" Sullivan and other beloved animated characters.

Andrew just finished working at Warner Bros. on their newest addition to the Lord of The Rings game franchise: "Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor".

Andrew Gonzalez - Cinematic Animator

Thank you very much Andrew Gonzalez for this interview, we would like to start by telling us about yourself, where are you from?

Hi Shany, thanks for having me. Originally I was born in Baltimore, Maryland but moved when I was around three or four. After that I was raised in Southern California, particularly Irvine and Newport Beach.

After graduating college I worked as a freelance artist, working on different projects and jobs ranging from graphic design, writing, coordinating for major television shows and animation. I recently came from Pixar Animation Studios and am currently wrapping up a project at Warner Bros.

What do you love to do when you’re not animating? Any hobbies? Extra passions you do?

I love to write, the art of storytelling has always fascinated me. I feel like animation is my connector into that world and being a part of the creative process in any medium is something I enjoy doing, especially working with other artists collaboratively.

Aside from that I love staying active to keep myself balanced.

Growing up, did you use to draw? Did people encourage you to keep up with art?

Throughout High School I spent a lot of time drawing and took just about every art class that was available. No one in my family was particularly invested into art, so I was generally on my own with it.

During High School I wasn't what you would call a "good student". I didn’t find much interest in many of my classes and always found a way to get in trouble. All the time I “wasted” on my art turned out to help me the most though. I became fascinated with storytelling after learning what I could in High School and knew I wanted to be a part of the entertainment industry by my Senior year.

After doing some research I realized that animation was the best way to learn about and pursue all the different aspects of film, entertainment, design, story and character all in one.

Where did you go to learn the art of Animation? Which School, College or University was it?

I originally went to Full Sail University; it was an accelerated/intensive four-year degree program compacted into two and received my Bachelor of Science in Computer Animation.

Full Sail was a great school but it had a very rushed program. If you wanted to become a character animator in particular I don't feel it is very well suited for that, only because the amount they expected us to learn in the small amount of time they gave us was quite ridiculous. But there were things I learned from Full Sail that helped me aside from animation such as meeting deadlines, strong work ethic and many other aspects of CG/film.

After graduating Full Sail I felt that I didn’t have the level of work that I was proud of. So about two years after graduating and continuously working on my craft/working, I found The Animation Collaborative. I continued taking personalized workshops on the side for about a year and that is where I felt I really grew as an artist.

Did you have a natural talent for animation? Or did you have to work really hard to progress?

I guess I could say I have a talent for entertainment. But that pails in comparison to the amount of hard work that was put into honing my craft as an artist. Talent only gets anyone so far, the rest is all hard work and perseverance. Pairing that with animation I was able to create appealing work and could infuse that into other mediums such as storytelling and design. But with that considered, I would definitely say my ability as an artist mostly came from the effort I put into learning it.

What was your first project you ever worked on? How did you get it?

My first project I ever worked on was just out of college; I was living in L.A and found a job posting on some 3D forum. It just said it was looking for animators and was totally unspecific towards the company or project that I would be working on. I remember receiving a phone call after emailing the contact, asking me to complete an art test.

I was so excited because at that time I wasn’t working in animation. The art test was... absurd to say the least. But I wanted this job more then anything. I remember it was given to me on a Wednesday afternoon and was due that Friday night and consisted of a 72 frame walk cycle of a giant spider and an animation of a giant spider running across the street, up the side of a building, crawling across the building, then jumping from one building to another and running across that building then down the side and across the street to the finish… yeah…

So seeing as I was also working full time, what did I do? Bought a crap-ton of energy drinks and took that $%!* head on haha. The recruiter called back on Monday and said I was the only artist who submitted finished work, so they hired me then and there. It ended up being a live action VFX feature that went straight to the Sci-fi channel. It’s called Spiders 3D, I think you can find it on TV somewhere, but it’s totally not worth watching, seriously, don't watch it...

Aside from being a terrible movie, the project itself was a blast to work on and I learned a lot about working in VFX, hitting notes and working with directors…. oh yeah…. and spiders (Yuck!). I was definitely grateful for the opportunity.

Tell us a little bit about PIXAR, how did you end up animating for them? What steps did you take to get there?

After working hard on a new portfolio, I was accepted into the Pixar Animation Internship. About 10 weeks into the 12-week internship I was hired on as a Fix Animator.

What part of your job do you like best and why? What makes it so awesome in your eyes?

Animation has some of the most interesting people/ artists and working alongside them is my favorite part of what I do. As well as being a part of the creative process/collaborative effort of a team is what excites me.

What’s your animation workflow look like while animating?

It always depends on the shot for me. I may approach working on one shot totally different from another. I think being flexible and adaptable to the situation a shot may call for is a very useful skill.

Some shots would be almost impossible to animate in stepped and call for a layered approach. Whereas other shots may feel like it would be cleaner to approach in a stepped method.

Being able to see both workflows is an asset that could always be relied on by yourself or other animators asking for a critique. Depending on what the shot calls for I may go shoot reference for it, or in another case I will find the essence of the scene at my desk or sketchpad, then after I have the approved blocking in the computer I will shoot reference for polish or tiny nuances I wouldn’t have added otherwise.

Also once I block it out very quickly, I will show it as soon as possible to get feedback and approval so I don’t waste time.

What freedom do you have when you’re animating a character? Do you go out and record some crazy reference videos and work out the animation from them?

It depends on what you are working on. For instance, if you were to animate a well defined character, you can definitely place your own touch to the character BUT they are probably so established that instead of thinking about animation and motion in particular, usually you are asking yourself “Would he/she do that?” or "Why would he/she do that?" With that said, your choices narrow down very quickly and you begin to think about how the character moves and their thought process, that's when you find the essence of the character and the character comes to life.

I think once an artist is true to a character and pulls that from them, not just a gag or an action for the sake of movement or a quick laugh, that’s when a character comes to life. That is great animation to me.

In retrospect, do you look for imperfections in your work?

Always, that’s all I see.

Tell us a little about the tools that you are using, what’s your preferences? Plugins?

While at Pixar we used a proprietary software, when I worked there many of my methods and preferences changed to adapt to the workplace. At WB we would use a blend of Maya and MotionBuilder.

Can you explain to the audience, what a ‘Fix Animator’ is?

A Fix Animator is essentially the last person who touches a shot on the animation side of the pipeline. You could receive notes from the director or supervisors on shots that need tweaking or polish fixes or sometimes a massive overhaul (such as reanimating a scene).

But you go in, fix or polish it up then get out as clean and quick as possible while trying to keep as much of the original animators work intact as possible.

What are you thoughts of the general ‘work instability’ that a lot of animators talk about?

The nature of the ‘work instability’ in the animation industry is purely based on one thing…. If there is work available or if there is not. Sadly, it is common for companies to let an artist go when there is no work and call them back in the future when they are needed again.

Have you ever had a character or a scene that was too difficult for you to animate?

Every scene presents its own unique challenges. Being able to adapt to those challenges and problem solve is just another part of the job.

Who influenced you the most in the animation industry? Who is or was your ultimate Mentor to this days?

My good friend and Mentor, Michal Makarewicz. He is Supervising Animator at Pixar and owner of The Animation Collaborative. After taking one of his classes (and learning a lot) he saw something in my work and myself and decided to invest more time teaching me about animation.

For that I could never repay him enough.

Throughout the process Michal has become a great friend and and inspiration to me as an artist. Anytime I have a question about animation or my career, I know that I can trust him. Thanks Mike!

Do you find yourself checking out other animator’s works? Comparing them to your own? Learning new tricks maybe?

I think that is an essential habit to have. Always watch other artists work, whether it’s animation, story or illustration and ask yourself…"Why do I love that so much?", "What does it have that my work lacks?", "How could it be better?" That is vital in the development of an artist’s eye and skill level, always learn from others!

What tips could you give to any (new or experienced) animator when creating his animation reel? What should they or shouldn't they include?

  • Make sure it’s your best work.
  • Best-shot first. (They might shut it off after that if they don’t like it)
  • Second best shot last. Go out with a bang.
  • Keep it SHORT. Don’t give them a reason not to like it.
  • Cater your reel to the company you are applying.
  • Watch every shot and ask yourself honestly: Is this entertaining? It all boils down to entertainment for me. Whether its big action or subtle acting.

Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2014?

I just recently wrapped up a large project at Warner Bros. called Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Check it out on shelves this October ;).

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation or gaming business?

There's going to be times when you question yourself and times when life gets rough. But down let that hold you down. It all comes down to how bad you want to succeed and perservering, because whatever you may be going through, no matter how hard it may seem, will eventually end, and something better will take its place. Unless you quit.

Eventually you’ll be where you want to be. I’ve seen too many artists graduate college then think its time for all their hard work to pay off and get that dream job they been wanting… and when they don’t get that job they just lose momentum, slowly stop creating work and end up quitting.

Graduating from school is the very beginning; so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a job that first year out of school. I’ve seen some of the most talented artists I know, working odd jobs out of school just to pay the bills and stay afloat while continuing to hone their craft. Now they are at leading studios and doing what they love, and there is only one thing in common between them. They never gave up and eventually, they got their big break. Just keep on keeping on!

Thanks for having me!