Nicolás Villareal is a talented character designer and animator originally from Argentina and currently living in the Bay Area of San Francisco, CA. he has worked for The Walt Disney Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, The Jim Henson Company and Red Clover Studios among others and is one of the kindest and most inspiring artists I’ve had the pleasure to know. Although our time is always terribly brief, Nicolás never ceases to engage me with his beautiful artwork and usually an amusing tale, my favorite being of adolescent failure as “portrait of a young taxidermist” you’ll have to ask him about it sometime …
Nicolás was kind enough to take some time out of his busy work load to answer a few questions about his life and career…
Tell me about growing up in Argentina with a burgeoning interest in becoming a career artist, did you find education and opportunities difficult?
Since I can remember I have always dedicated my free time to drawing and painting. I spent all my time in primary school drawing. My teachers would complain to my mom how “restless” I was and my mom told them “put him to draw”, so I would be calm. If there was something they needed drawn, presidents, war heroes, holy entities, graphics, etc…
I would gladly draw them, of course my mom never I told me this was her idea until I finished high school.
We moved a lot when we were kids, but always my parents would find me a drawing teacher. My siblings and I are very lucky to have smart parents, not only abstractly, but also emotionally and since we were kids they guided us to follow our passions seriously.
What made you want to become an animator?
I was always fascinated by animation since I was a kid, although I didn’t quite understand what it was or how it worked. I knew the films were drawings but as a boy I did not understand exactly how it functioned. I started to copy drawings from magazines, animated drawings, movies and characters. When I was in 3rd year of high school we took a vacation with my family to a beach town in Argentina called, Pinamar, and my parents bought me a book called “Treasures of Disney Animation Art”. I spent the whole summer copying from that book and I remember seeing that under the drawings they were the names of the artists and I realized that those artists were “working”. Suddenly I remember having the desire “to grow” to be able to do the same thing. Just then I realized that careers in animation existed. I kept watching films, Akira, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Princess Mononoke, but it was the animation in Disney’s Tarzan that blew my mind away.
I began to study Architecture at the University of the La Plata and at the same time studied animation, drawing and classical painting with independent teachers. One of the warm memories that I have of my classical painting instructor, Miguel Alzugaray telling me “what? enough screwing around with that painting, 9pm is time for a good wine and cheese!”. A genius.
These studies gave me a very strong foundation in drawing and painting. Even though I liked architecture, I didn’t have a passion for it. So I entered “La Escuela de Cinematografia y Animacion” in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires Argentina and completed my studies in traditional animation there.
I continued my studies in San Francisco, and I did a Master’s in Fine Arts in Animation at the Academy of Art University. I graduated with honors and a lot of effort in 2002, with the financial crisis in Argentina and after the Twin Towers collapsed. It was a very hard time to graduate, but since then I have been working as a freelance Character Designer, 2d Animator and Visual Development artist.
What was it like working with artist Terryl Whitlatch?
I remember studying her drawings while I was at school in San Francisco so I was very happy and excited to have the opportunity to work with her. I shared several projects with Terryl and by far for me she is one of the top creature designers and I truly believe that she is probably the most knowledgeable designer regarding animal anatomy in the world, and I am not exaggerating.
How competitive has the 2D animation industry become since CG has dominated the entertainment industry?
It became highly competitive…
I don’t think that there was a time when it wasn’t actually. I think that a lot of traditional animators moved on to 3d animation or became designers, like myself. The demand for 2d animators is much lower right now, but in Europe they are still making 2d Feature films. One of my favorite films is “The Triplets of Belleville” a French production, from the same director of “the Illusionist”.
I understand you are working on an original short, can you shed some more light on it? What was the inspiration for the story?
The name of my film is “Pasteurized”, and it’s a 2d film with a few sequences in 3d animation, but we are blending these sequences to match the style of the short.
I began working on “Pasteurized” at the end of 2009 but was an idea that I had in my head for the last 10 years when I traveled with my family to Paris. We went to the museum of science “La Villete”. I had designs scattered in sketchbooks ever since then and in September of 2009 I decided to officially put it in production. I did the storyboards of the whole short, around 250 boards, and I put them up on a cork blackboard and pitched them to various friends that are working in the industry to see what they thought. I kept polishing the story during a few months while I kept designing the characters. Once I thought the story was clear I created an animatic (storyboard and sound) to keep solidifying the storytelling. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I can say that it’s about a scientist that while conducting sensitive experiments he is interrupted by an unwelcome guest that changes everything completely.
Do you have an expected release date yet?
We are in the last phases of post-production and we will start submitting it to Festivals in 2012.
Do you plan on making more original animations?
I have a few other ideas in my mind. One is about a children’s book that I wrote and illustrated a few years ago called “The Aces”. We are working with my family adapting it as an interactive Children’s Book for the Ipad and I would like to adapt it to animation.