What is your name and your current occupation?
Ana Maria Alvarado, Character Animator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
In 1985 I got my first paying job was as an interpreter and guide for an American Journalist in Nicaragua (I grew up in Nicaragua). I was 15, and I made enough money to buy my own radio/boombox after a month of work. I basically just went around Managua with this journalist, helped him navigate the unnamed streets and helped him with his interviews. At one point he asked my parents if I could go north (to the war zone) with him. They gave him a resounding no, but when he returned he asked me to interpret a series of recordings of another American he met in a village up north whom he believed to be a CIA operative. The tapes revealed nothing. I also worked at Burger King in Stockholm, for 4 days.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I loved working on Stuart Little 2 and Open Season, at Sony Imageworks. The bar for the animation was really high, and I learned so much from other animators. Recently I also had the privilege to work on Scorcese’s Hugo at Pixomondo. It was a wonderfully collaborative process, and ideas for the animation of the flying paper sequence came from the ground up.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve always be interested in visual arts and storytelling. I was studying film in Prague (back when it was still Czechoslovakia). A one of my classmates and I were looking at some Preston Blair drawings someone had left behind in a classroom. My friend casually commented that I could probably draw like that. I didn’t think I could. While in Prague we tinkered with stop-motion animation. But a few years later when I had the opportunity to learn computer animation at NYU I went for it.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Nicaragua, and I lived in Stockholm and Prague before settling in NYC. I learned computer animation at NYU, back when the software only ran on SGIs. I worked for a few years in NY, mostly in commercial work and at a multimedia department of an accounting firm. During this time I was able to put together a reel that got me in the door at Metrolight Studios in LA.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
How I work: I log in, get an assignment (a shot, a sequence). I panic. Then I do a pose. That helps a lot. I do a few poses. Some get thrown out. I mess with the timing. At one point the poses are making their point, telling a story. This is when I like to show a pose test to the animation supervisor or director to get feedback. Changes always happen and “hearing” them is one of the important parts of the animation process. It’s always easier to make broad stroke changes while still in the early posing stage. Then I proceed to break down the poses. I usually have to adjust the timing, once I get into it. Finally offsetting and overlap, which I prefer to do once the shot has practically been finalled.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love posing. In the animation process for me it’s most creative part. While I’m posing I plan an action, and attitude, a gesture… and test it immediately. Anything seems possible at this stage. I love UNDO. It allows me to experiment. Go “what if”. I go down a path, a few minutes later I’m pretty sure that hunch was wrong. I go back. Like branches on a tree – the poses are the trunk (they hold it all up), and you start going down one way, and another… Every now and then, when I’m painting, I get a little over-confident and screw something up and… there’s no UNDO.*argh* Lucky side benefits to being an animator: a) you get to study people’s body language, nature and how things move b) you get to work with insanely talented people c) sometimes you get paid
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I work in Maya, SoftImage, Photoshop and sometimes I pick up a pencil.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Right now, it would be that very little animation work remains in LA, and animators have become nomads!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
There’s a very long answer to that question… Yes, I have worked with many talented animators.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I like to draw and paint.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I used to speak a few languages… But lack of use left me with only 2, spanish and english.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Have other people look at your work and give you feedback.