Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sergio Pablos Interview

To kickoff 2016, here is an interview with animation director Sergio Pablos, who was very kind to answer a few question I had about his animation career so far.

In addition to directing, Sergio has spent 20+ years in the animation industry as a creator, writer, executive producer, character designer, supervising animator, and studio owner.
His screen credits include ‘Despicable Me’, ‘Rio’, ‘Asterix and The Vikings’, ‘Treasure Planet’, ‘Tarzan’, and the upcoming ‘Smallfoot’ for Warner Bros.

Sergio’s work has twice been nominated for Annie Awards: for his character design work on ‘Rio’, and for his character animation on ‘Treasure Planet’.

Sergio helms The SPA Studios, where he created ‘Despicable Me’, ‘Smallfoot’ and the upcoming ‘Klaus’. In addition, his studio does work for Blue Sky/Fox Animation, Paramount Animation, Sony Pictures, Dreamworks, and many others.

I was wondering if you could let us know how you first discovered the process of animation?

My parents tell me I was five years old when I first decided I was going to become an animator. I was always mesmerized by the idea that you could breath life, movement and soul into drawings. At the time, I knew nothing about the process, but it was always fascinating to me.

If you could provide a brief timeline of your animation career so far. You first worked for Disney and then you created "Groo" the evil bad guy in "Despicable Me". Did you only design the character or did you animate him too?

I attended Cal Arts, where I was privileged to share the classroom with some of the most talented individuals working in animation today. I got my first break working in small animation studios in Spain, then got a chance to work at the now-extinct Disney Paris Feature Animation Studio.

 After Cal Arts
Chris Buck, Craig Maras, John Ripa, Sergio Pablos, Dean Wellins, Randy Myers, and Randy Haycock.
From then, I made the jump to LA to supervise my first character on a Disney film, Tantor the elephant on Tarzan, followed by Dr. Doppler on Treasure Planet. 

After that, it came time to leave Disney and return home to Madrid, Spain. I set up my own small studio and I started trying to get better at story-telling and content creation. It took me a while to get any good at it (I developed several failed projects), but eventually, something clicked and Despicable Me came out of it.

I didn’t animate on the film, and the designs we produced early on look nothing like the ones that ended in the film. My contribution was mostly coming up with the original idea on which the film is based on. We also did some Visual Development and Story Boarding early on.

Then you worked on the Smurfs and Metegol. When did you form SPA? and what did you do on Nocturna, which looks really interesting.

In addition to creating animated film projects, we offer Development and Animation services as a means to finance our operation. We did about 30 minutes of character animation in Nocturna, did a good chunk of the animation for the Smurfs TV Special and Metegol, among many other European and North American productions.
Click here to view animation clip

Futbolin / Metegol / Foosball Character Animation The SPA Studios from The SPA Studios on Vimeo.

And now you are working on "Klaus", which you are not promoting as a 2D film, but as what?  Are you finding traditionally trained new talent to help you animate this feature project?

Click on the poster to see preview...

We’re promoting Klaus as a film, hopefully a good one. We see no advantages in advertising it as a 2D film in a marketplace that’s clearly biased towards CGI. I’m not speaking of the audiences here, but of the gatekeepers, the producers and investors you have to convince in order to get your film made.
If we accomplished something with the unique look of Klaus, is that most untrained eyes assume it’s done in CGI, so why shoot ourselves in the foot? 

Regarding talent, we’re full aware that it’s going to take a combination of veteran talent and newly trained artists, but based on the response we’re getting I’m confident we’ll be able to recruit a great team.

Are you using ToonBoom Harmony, TV Paint or some top secret animation software you have created?

We’ll be using ToonBoom Harmony as a main production software, combined with other software that we adapted to our needs. It’s still an ongoing R&D process, but hopefully all the tools will be ready by production start.

What advice would you give to 2D animation students about animation? 3D Animation students?

I don’t really make a distinction. Learning animation is a battle against your own limitations. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of information and to get overwhelmed. Line of action, arcs, timing, acting. It’s important to remember that all these are terms created to help you achieve believability and appeal, but the end goal is always relatability and entertainment. Don’t forget that.

Which part of animating do you enjoy the most? Writing the script? Character Designing? Storyboarding? Voice recording? Animating?

I would say that the early stages of creating a new film idea are the most interesting. You’ve found a diamond in the rough, a great idea that needs shaping. You know there’s a great story in there and it’s your job to mine it out. Also, Character Design and Animation are at the top of my list as well.

How many people are working at SPA? Are you sending work overseas or working with animators in other parts of the world?

Our core team fluctuates between 15 to 20 artists, including artists and management. We tend to favor working with In-House artists, as it is my believe that’s the best way to achieve the right climate where artists will get challenged on a daily basis, but we also have freelance artists that work for us remotely.

Do you have a sample animation test to send out to Animators? Are you looking for employees?

We don’t have a standard animation test. Rather, if a test is required, we will want the applicant to work with the actual characters from the film he’s being evaluated as a potential animator for. But generally, we tend to base our decision on the applicant’s reel. If there’s a good sense of acting and mechanics in it, we’ll be interested.
We’re always looking for new talent, although the categories vary depending on the nature of the upcoming jobs we have lied up. Right now, we’re reviewing 3D animators and Concept Artists, but we’ll start looking for artists with other skillsets soon.

When will the animation on Klaus be finished? 

Not sure exactly when animation will be completed on Klaus, but the tentative release date is Christmas 2019.

"The preview is amazing and I know I'm all excited to see the final film when it comes out. I hope to meet you sometime before 2019 and good luck on finishing the film!" Just then, a large white bearded man burst into the room, carrying a giant old brown bag. Sergio nodded and had to return to work. AE

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