Monday, May 3, 2010

Interview with Mario Menjivar

(a drawing from the drawing club blog by Mario Menjivar)

Mario Menjivar's site

An ex-Disney animator is in town in NYC, came in for David Levy's class and he's a totally awesome guy. Won the hearts of many students this year.

I was fortunate enough to have a sit down interview in person with him today in school! He was very generous and offered to drop by on his own after I contacted him.

Pixar building Stop motion studio:

Jessica Polaniecki was notified of his arrival too, (by Mario himself) and jumped in and asked the first question about any opportunity of stop motion in Disney.

Mario actually referred her to "Pixar"

Mario: "Visit Pixar site, they are starting a stop motion studio.... Disney... they are a bit lost right now, trying to find out who they are, deciding between 2D, or 3D; while Pixar knows what they want to do. Go to studios that know what they want to do, avoid becoming part of the experiments. I know it's frustrating even for veterans."

That was the last thing we imagined, Pixar opening a stop motion studio!

I heard Don Hahn was doing another stop motion with Tim Burton in London, but at Pixar? That's way awesome. Looks like Stop motion will be the cool stuff for a while. What a go-get them for stop motion majors!

Jessica's second question was about contracts, Mario confirmed that Disney did used to have contracts that would allow them to own everything the artist do during their stay at Disney. (even at home) Now that clause has been taken out of the contract. (Mario hopes to confirm this for sure)

Speaking on the topic of contracts:

Then Mario mentioned a horror story about what to watch for freelancing between competing companies, the fight of the ownership of Bratz between Mattel and its original owner, MGA, due to the mistake of a freelancer working in Mattel's studio while still freelancing for Bratz. Bryant, the designer for Bratz, left items of his work for MGA in Mattel, now after years of battle, Mattel won.
Now Bratz is claimed by Barbie.

BIG Lesson learned: DO not bring another companies work into another professional studio, it can cause a whole company trouble and ruin the freelancer's reputation as well, for years!


After Jessica finished her questions, it was my turn. Mario tries to keep the focus on one person at the time when he does talk to people, so it's really a nice intimate way to get to know him.

Animation tips and studies:

First I asked him about his mentors, he mentioned his mentor was:

"Phil Boyd, he's a clean up artist. I learned from him how to be a professional, how to work with people, and just ask questions, don't be afraid of failing. At first when you learn animation it's a lot to take in, the weight, the acting, the drawing, but after 3-4 years of doing it, it clicks. And you don't even think about it anymore.

I would recommend to buy a physics book."

Me: "Physics book?"

Mario: "My mentor taught me this: If you let a paper fall as it is, it floats in the air slowly downward, but if you crumble it up, and drop it at the same time as a pencil, it will hit the ground at the exact same speed as the pencil. You would think the pencil would hit the ground first, but 'Heavy weight act as the same weight.' This is where it helps if you know Physics."

Today's animation in the biz tend to lack emotional depth:

On the topic of animation, I mentioned a comment Dan Haskett has made about US animation now of days, Dan said "It's all good, people understand the principle of animation and all, but it felt to me a kind of fuzziness. As if sensation is enough, people don't have to think too hard about it. It lacks the depth of emotions. Everything is sort of being done the same way."

After hearing Dan's comment, Mario agreed quickly, "I would agree to that."

Me: "Do you know why?"

Mario: "I think the animation is being done too fast now of days. Thus the animators don't have the time to think about what they are animating, it's assembly line. It's just making that deadline, get it done for that day. There are no voices coming from the West Coast right now in animation. Pixar is the only film making studio, the rest of them are working like assembling lines. A lot of the talents are wasted there. They think they can't do it on their own, but they can."

"Unless it's European animation." I commented.

(thinking "illusionist" and "Hedgehog in the fog" as well as "Old man and the sea")

Mario: "Right, lets learn from what Japanese have achieved, good story telling. Like Miyazaki, Pixar has this current system because they idolize that man, you never know what he will make next! And it's all about the message, and the story.

Mario: "And another favorite of mine was Tokyo Godfathers. Just three homeless people trying to get a baby home. They didn't have super powers. It's about humanity."

(OMG we totally click on this topic!)

Me: "Yes, and how they run! I just can't forget that run cycle of Hana, (the drag queen) and how there was a shot running up the stairs. It could easily be a shot people forget but one can remember it so well."

Mario: And do you remember that scene in the Little Mermaid?"

Me: yes.

Mario: "For a good example of animation, when she found out the prince was charmed by the witch, she backs away behind the pillar, as she was breathing, her hand was breathing with her. (Mario's doing a gesture similar to rubbing fingers) It's a sign of nervousness, some women does that. That's really digging into the character."

Me: "I think I have to watch it again."

Me: "How do we push the medium of 2D animation to the next level if the standard that has been achieved is so high already?"

Mario: "You don't push for visuals, but it has to be the storytelling."

Me: "But some people think it's ok to have so-so storytelling as long as there are good visuals."

Lets do what LA is not doing here in NYC:

Mario begin to speak with a voice of passion when it comes to this topic,

Mario: "This is why we need to do what LA is not doing here in NYC. LA is good at what they are doing, let them do that. We can do something that's uniquely New York, which is telling the human story.

I have to say, after Lion King, it's all formula again, everything has got to have singing, little side kicks, and it went down hill from that. I learned in this industry is, never talk down to people, don't insult your audience. Thinking just great visuals would do it, if the story isn't that great it's ok.

Visuals, you can pull off special effects anytime, since that's the standard now.
Visuals will get outdated in a few years, and those films with only visuals, once they are gone, they are gone. No one will remember them." ('s those with good stories and visuals that supports the story, stays with people.)

(me: I must agree that's a very affective argument against people who think "so-so story is acceptable as long as you have amazing visuals." )

Mario: "One question to ask is 'What are you saying?' with your films, for example, Harry Potter is a kid who goes through life and death situations, that's why he does so well. Lion King dealt with death, losing a parent, and coming back to take responsibility. It's a story of life. Grown ups go to see it and cry with it.
When grown ups love it, it's a film, not just an animation."

Mario: "Don't worry about upsetting people. Art is meant to upset (when it has a message.)"

(me: pretty NY sounding there, lots of art galleries here like..."upsetting stuff" *laughs* I know that's not what he meant but I saw a lot of it. )

Mario: "I think in the future of the film, everyone will be making films on their own, studios might not make movies but just publish them. Now you've got a whole studio in 1 computer."

Me: "So what project are you working on?"

Mario:" I am planning a feature, right now we are still in script stage and design stage, I have a friend who knows people interested in investing in animation here. Again, if I am telling you guys to go stick your neck out, but I am not following through my preaching, I wouldn't be a good example, so I will be working on my own films as well. Whether it's you who succeed, or me, if anyone of us do well, it's good for everyone."

And later, he said it again:

"Let's do what LA is not doing here in NYC.
You can go work at a big studio and learn, but don't stay there.
The pay is good, but no one will know who you are, you will not have a voice until you make it on your own."

(W00t NYC spirit!)

Mario: "I said to myself when I come back here I want to teach, it's my way to give back to this city....

and I would prefer to teach at SVA. Because it seems to me (from the information I have heard) SVA focuses a lot more on character animation."

(HOLY CRAP, you undergrads have us, the alumni jealous now if you get Mario to teach in SVA.... we would want to take his class!)

Mario already applied to teach at SVA, but he is still hearing back from our chairman. Reeves, please approve him quickly, he's too awesome not to have?

A few of us Thesis students invited him to our screening this year, and he promised to come. ;)

My take away:

Mario is a soon to be director burning with passion to tell stories and make great films, my heart resonates with his in film making. I would love to help anyway I can and see him succeed here. If anything, he has more ducks lined up to succeed than a recent graduate, yep. I sincerely hope for his success here in NYC.


Brian "Beard" said...

It was great to hear such passion for story/character rather than the visuals of a film, I couldn't agree with Mario more. Not to mention his speaking on how it can all be done with a small group of people now thanks to the technology and he is so right! Very inspirational.

Thanks Mario and thanks Christine!

AneKat said...

This is great! love the interview! :) very intriguing ^^

inyuji said...

I agree that movies these days are solely for money-making and or entertainment
great to hear from this guy. So much is missing, which is why I like theatre better. For me, traditional animation appeals better to me, aesthetically.
by the way, I'm InYuJi on deviantart ^^