Pedro Astudillo

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Pedro Astudillo and I am a freelance graphic artist and character designer.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was a truck driver for almost 5 years. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was very young when I started working in the animation field but am still proud of the work I did back then.
When I was living in Spain I worked as a freelance animator for two animation studios simultaneously. I wasn’t really doing great work but I am proud of the fact that my earnings helped support my family for two years.  Many years later I worked in the toy industry as a character designer for entertainment properties, for a few years. It was one of the most prolific periods for me as an artist and am proud of my body of work during that time. Most recently and while I was still working at Disney I worked on a Pinocchio program that consisted of designing and supervising several items of limited edition. That was the last interesting project assigned to me during my last months at Disney and am very proud of the results. The fact that Pinocchio is my favorite animated Disney film only increases that feeling.
How did you become interested in animation?
I  fell in love with animated cartoons at a very early age, long before I even knew how cartoons were made, like most of us.
When I eventually became aware of the creative process behind them I knew I wanted to be involved in it, in one way or another.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Havana, Cuba.  When I was 18 a friend of mine that knew how interested I was to get into animation, introduced me to his uncle that was a professional animator at a big studio and at the time they were looking to recruit some new talent. So, he got me in as an “apprentice” and a few months later I got hired as an in-betweener. Great times!

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Up early, answer some emails, and then work for at least 10 or 12 hours, sometimes longer, depending on the project at hand. That includes hand drawing and working on my computer as well but mostly drawing. Whether I’m working on a personal project or for a client makes no difference.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Freedom!… and everything that that implies. I can’t emphasize this aspect of freelancing enough!  Creative freedom, freedom of selection, being master of my own time, work late if needed and take time off when needed. No boss (although I don’t think I ever had one, not really) and last but not least, no more pointless meetings and no brainstorming sessions!!!

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I have been asked to work on-site and I have, a few times but dislike it. I’ve done it in order to be polite and grateful for the opportunity, believing in my client’s good intentions but I’d very much rather work in my study, at home.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Don’t use technology that often. I draw a lot with pencils and if I think a drawing would look better by adding some color or certain effects I use Photoshop.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Negotiating budgets. Necessary but always an awkward situation for me. Most freelance artists, myself included are inept at handling the business side of what we do, we just want to get it over with and get to work. These type of situations can sometimes lead to lamentable outcomes, unfortunately.  We need to keep in mind that making a living is as much a part of our duties as doing a good job is. Once this balance is achieved you’re worry free.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Met Hayao Miyasaki once and shook his hand. Told him (through an interpreter) how much I admired him and that I had been aware since childhood of his career in animation when he started as a character designer. Miyasaki’s work and career had been and still is a constant source of inspiration for me for many years.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Back when I was working as a truck driver I was constantly concerned about whether I could ever make a living as an artist again. Couldn’t find any jobs in the art field and if there were any jobs to be found my work as a truck driver occupied most of my time. Crazy long hours, some of which were spent far from home and whenever I got to spend some time at home I was too discouraged to do anything creative. I did manage to make an effort during my free time and came up with a modest portfolio that eventually got me my first job as an illustrator in an ad agency.

Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Yes, a couple that I’d like to share the details of but can’t. Not for lack of wanting though.Soon, I hope.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Sculpting is a “hobby” of mine that I really enjoy. I don’t do it commercially though, just do it for the “exercise” and it is a very rewarding experience. You can learn a lot about lighting, highlights and shadows, volume, form and shape. Not just that but your drawings will improve dramatically as well. Highly recommended!  I also spend a lot of time reading (not a talent) which is something I truly enjoy and wish I could spend more time doing. I often wish I could be a writer but the more I read the more I’m convinced that I would fail terribly at it. I go to museums often  too… I lead a pretty boring life according to worldly standards!

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Giving advice one always runs the risk of sounding preachy and even condescending. Besides there is always the urging temptation to “tell what you really feel” if only for the sake of others.  So, please keep in mind that what follows is only based on my own experience and my own perception.  Draw! Anytime, anywhere… Always carry a sketchpad and pencil with you no matter where you go, whether you like drawing people, landscapes, architecture or all three. Do not spend too much time on details but concentrate on capturing a moment, an expression, a gesture, an attitude while paying close attention to shape and form and how they harmonize with each other.  There is really no better way to improve your skills, if you’re serious about being a graphic artist. It is useful to have a vision right from the start but not absolutely necessary, you can develop that vision as you go by. There are many imitators out there hiding their mediocrity behind someone else’s style or technique. It’s OK to be inspired by others and reproduce other artists’ work at the beginning, artists you admire and want to emulate, we all do that at one time or another, but only as a way of finding “yourself”, your own “vision”, in the process.  The moment you start questioning your worthiness you’re heading in the wrong direction. Remain faithful to the path you’ve chosen, overcome obstacles and ignore misleading distractions.  There’s a lot of crap out there. Unfortunately, in our field, mediocrity is not only allowed but often praised and nurtured. Sometimes and no matter how hard one tries to avoid it, mediocrity will “bump” into you, not just figuratively but literally as well. Ignore it, don’t accept it.  Occasionally, you will find yourself pondering whether we need  mediocrity in our lives. Some believe it to be a “necessary evil” that inspires others to do better. I don’t think so.  I’d much rather find inspiration in what makes others great at what they do.  We’ve all heard that rejection builds character and it’s true, as long as you believe in yourself and your craft, otherwise you’re doomed. You must never allow anything or anybody rob you of your integrity as an artist and keep in mind that the reasons behind a rejection might not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of your skills but plenty to do with trivial matters. Sad, I know.  That said, one must always move on, whatever the circumstances and remember, we never stop learning and there will always be room for improvement. There is no “end of the line” for the path we’ve chosen and this is not a contest or a competition. The way I see it, the moment you start seeing life as a competition, you’ve already lost.

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