What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Juan Ortiz, but sometimes I go as Johnny Ortiz because I share the same name with a well known comic book artist from the ’80s that isn’t me. Right now I am freelancing as a designer/illustrator. Most of the work is either for Disney or Warner Bros., but when I have the time I am also creating and publishing my own comic books. I recently created 80 Star Trek posters of the original series for CBS.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
My first job was working for Disney, so I really don’t have an answer for this question. Although at times we did get a little nuts.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
In 1989, I was fortunate enough to illustrate covers for “Looney Tunes” and “Tiny Toons” magazines, published by DC Comics. The magazines were edited by Joey Cavaleiri and the late Joe Orlando. I did that for about four years before working for the WB Studio Store. The stores had just started up and WB was about to open their flagship store in NYC. That was an exciting and fun experience that I am proud to say I was a part of. At least during 1993 and 1994.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in “Hell’s Kitchen” on the west side of NYC. I did take some animation courses and dabbled in story-boarding but I never saw myself working in animation. After college, I stumbled into the consumer products and retail business, purely by chance. Disney had an opening, so I went for it. I began in ’85 working in their NY department, as an “in house” freelancer before being hired. That lasted about two and a half years though. My real goal was to work in publishing.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I try not to do too much during the day as far as actual production work is concerned. As a freelancer, I try to take full advantage of the free time. It’s still important to keep inspired or to do research. Movies and trips to bookstores are a good way to do that. I also find that I can be more creative while walking, rather than sitting in-doors.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like working at night. It’s quite. No leaf-blowers outside my window. And there’s a feeling of accomplishment when I get things done before morning. I then feel like I’ve earned my sleep.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Probably not having a coworker around to give instant feedback on ideas, etc. But maybe not every day.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I’m happy that I no longer have to deal with rubber cement, spray mount, gesso, pastels, oil paints, etc. anymore. The computer saves me a lot of time and mess. Once I learn how to work on the cintiq, I’ll be even happier. A lot of my drawing is still done traditionally.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
There have been times when I’ve gotten very depressed at my desk, while working in one or two of the studios. You can easily fall into a routine of creating the same thing over and over again. It’s like being alive but dead to me. Most companies do not understand the creative process. There’s nothing productive about being in one hour meetings four times a week. Over time it ads up to a lot of days that you will never get back. Never.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Chuck Jones visited the WB Store offices a couple of times. He once did some drawings for us and talked about his early days at “Termite Terrace.”
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
there have been many. Professionally, I would have to say about two years before working at the Disney Store. It was a tough time for me. The work was slow and what there was didn’t pay enough. If it were not for a few friends, I may have found myself living on the street.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
The Star Trek posters that I created for CBS continue to be released in sets of four until early 2014, so I’ll be pushing those for a while. I also continue to work on my comics and this year I hope to have enough issues completed to go to print with. Issue #4 was used in the movie “I Am Number Four.” Last year, I published a pulp-style horror/detective book that I’ll be plugging to sell this year. The main character is called “The End.” The pulp-style illustrations are by comic book legend, Frank Brunner.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of quantum mechanics stuff, the multi-verse, time travel, etc. If I wasn’t in this art business, I’d want to be a scientist. But for now it’s just a hobby.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yeah, don’t be satisfied with mediocrity. There’s a lot of crap out there. Don’t accept it. Do something about it. Don’t just wait for something good to inspire you, either. If you see something that you think is mediocre, let that inspire you to create something better. Make a better comic, a better film, a better snow-globe or poster, whatever it is.