Career Advice and Creative Insights With Animator Francisco Anabalon


Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today Francisco, we’re looking forward to hearing more about your creative process and how you became developed your skills and began your career as a 3d and traditional character animator and artist. 

Firstly, please can you introduce yourself and tell us about how you began your relationship with art and animation?

Hi! I'm Francisco Anabalón, a character animator from Santiago de Chile. I've always liked to draw and I also like to play music. I discovered animation when I was about 9 years old, a friend of mine showed me how to do it on a notebook, and understanding that I could do my own animations blew my mind! my dad would bring me post-it blocks from his office on which I did a lot of "flip book" animations. Not too long after, I discovered it was possible to do Stop Motion with a videocamera, so I started to do a lot of animations with clay using a video 8 camera that my grandma lent to me. When I was older, I started to experiment with a lot of techniques, I had a friend who taught me how to use a software called Flash Macromedia, we produced animations over "live action" videos, "cut-out" animation with "symbols" in the same program and also traditional animation on a "hand made" light table that I made with my Dad. When I finished school I was very sure that I wanted to be a professional animator.

You currently work as a character animator for a studio in Santiago. We would love to find out more about your role and projects. Please could you tell us about your background and studies and explain how you entered into your position?

After some research when I finished schooI, I decided to study animation on Universidad Mayor, a local university in Chile. There I learned all the basics to do an animation from the script to the post production. I liked the career in general, but the subject I like the most was character animation. 

When I was starting to work professionally, I took a 3 days workshop dictated by a Dreamworks animation supervisor at a Chilean animation festival called "Chilemonos". I absolutely loved it, I realised that character animation was so much more than to just "move beautifully" the storyboard, I mean, it is always said that animation it's about acting, but seeing the incredibly high attention to detail that is kept in mind on the production of the big studios made me realise that I wanted to learn animation the way it's done for movies. After working 2 years as freelancer I decided to enrol in the character animation program of Animschool, an online animation school of which I graduated in 2018.

During my studies in Animschool until now, I have been working as character animator for different studios in Santiago, while also undertaking animation and drawing classes at Universidad Mayor.

Can you tell us about what projects you’re currently working on, and how your role fits into the wider team?

I'm currently animating on a short film called "Killer" that's been produced through Artella, an online platform for animation projects, so there are artists from many different countries. It's been really cool to work on it, because there is a lot of care in the quality of the animation itself, and there are amazing artists participating in it. 

I also recently finished a pilot-test for a movie by Universidad Mayor, to develop a look for the animation of a movie, based on a tv series. I was excited to work on this because it's rare to have this opportunity, most of the time you receive specific ideas for your project from a director that you have to develop. 

Generally as an animator you receive all the job of the pre production (script, character design...) and part of the production (lay out and rigging/model sheet) done and ready to start "to move", so you just concentrate on the performance and the animation itself. The directors are in charge of the coherence of the work of all the artists in the movie, so you need to understand that you are working for the vision of them, and respect the needs of the production. Also, you have to be aware of what other animators are doing and learn from what they have done and the feedback they received, it's a very collaborative process.

Do you have any advice for artists looking to enter into a similar career and join a studio?

It’s better to focus on one speciality while you study, for example storyboarding, modelling, animation.. don’t try to be able to do all these things perfectly, choose one and go in deep with it. This doesn't mean that you can't spend time learning complementary animation skills, but keep in mind that the studios look for specialists. I think this is true even for small industries in the Chilean market.

When you start working professionally, be actively learning and always improving your portfolio. Generally the projects that you do at work aren't enough to get better opportunities in the future, so I recommend to do personal projects, try to find an experienced animator that can critique it and address their comments until you get the best result you can. When you try hard to improve a project, it's when you learn the most, and producing your own animations enables you to come up with original ideas, which is important.

I would also recommend to have hobbies and learn things that are non animation-related, in animation you have to come up with ideas to tell a story, and I think you get that from outside animation.

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It’s better to focus on one speciality while you study, for example storyboarding, modelling, animation.. don’t try to be able to do all these things perfectly, choose one and go in deep with it.

We would love to find out how you create your animation work. Can you walk us through the process to create your piece ‘Gym’? How did the idea come to life?

Sure. I really like to think deeply about dramatic sense of the project, before I start animating. I start thinking of a character that has something that he wants to achieve (a motivation), and an obstacle (conflict). Now, we have a tendency to build the idea around things that don't emphasise the conflict. For example, I could do the same idea of "Gym" with a “big muscular guy”, that would look like it makes sense, because he's in a gym, right? but If his objective is to lift weights, being small and skinny makes the conflict much more interesting, (is he really going to make it?). After figuring out the motivation and the conflict, I try to think of a twist on the end, something that breaks the expectations that the character and the audience have about what is going to happen. After I have my idea clearly defined, I do thumbnails (little drawings to figure out ideas) on “Tv Paint” or any 2d animation software, and write what the character is thinking on every acting choice (the subtext). Then I try to show this thought process just with the acting it self. Then I record myself acting out the shot, and when I have all that, I start to animate. 

The animation process has a lot of iterations and small explorations until you get it right, it's a lot of work because every detail in the motion and the poses (facial expression, body postures, the speed of the movements, the blinks the character makes, even the micro-movements of the eyes while he thinks) are conveying information, and it has to be right to be believable. Since studying this in the Animschool course, I had comments from an instructor. Generally you get that from an animation director or animation supervisor at work, so it's very useful to get used to this process. That's broadly the way I develop the idea of this shot and I think it can be applied to any self-contained idea you have to animate.

I’d like to take a step back from character animation and speak about your wider creative process. Life drawing is a particular focus for you, and you also perform music. Can you talk about your creative outlets and inspirations and explain how they contribute to your professional practice? 

In animation we are depicting via the actions of a character what he think, what he feels, how he sees the world, his real intentions. I think the ideas and insights to do that comes from your interests and your hobbies, you need to be curious about understanding and learning new things. Besides playing music, I try to read things not directly related with animation, things that interest me, I've found this helpful to come up with better ideas.

It is very useful to know how to draw in animation. It also develops a way to approach and solve problems visually. Gesture drawing is very good training to rescue the essence of a pose, for example. But I also do all these things because I enjoy them, it's nice to have a reason to not leave them.

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Can you tell us about the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your professional life, and explain how you overcame it?

The first two years after graduating from university where the hardest ones for me, the projects that I was working on were not very artistically challenging, I felt I was learning nothing about acting and what I was creating was not useful for my portfolio. I also thought that to have better opportunities in the future I had to leave character animation, that was the thing I wanted to do. What I did was to look for projects that gave me the chance to have interesting things for my portfolio, outside the more standard advertising and tv series jobs that I was doing. In time, I started to find productions that value the quality of the animation and I’ve also had the chance to teach at Universidad Mayor, that lead me more interesting projects. Studying on Animschool allowed me to improved my portfolio, that has open to me better opportunities. The university I'm working at now is always looking to support projects that could help to develop better standards for the national studios and films, so working here has been really rewarding in that sense, and I'm finally doing animations I deem worthy to be on my demo reel, I think next year I'll be able to show some of them online.

You reside in Santiago, Chile, can you tell us about the local industry landscape and community in Santiago?

The industry in Santiago has grown very fast in the last four years, and there are really interesting projects in production. The problem is that original content, that requires better artistic efforts, tends to have lower funding than advertising, this it's not very sustainable, but there are studios that are starting to have important international deals, I think this is an important step that will allow Chilean animation industry to have a more international presence as well much better positions for artists.

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Could you tell us about a favourite project that you’ve worked on? Do you have any ‘wish list’ projects that you’d like to participate in?

Since I animated the short film ‘Here's the Plan’, I've been working on really interesting productions, so I feel that was a special one, but I would say that I like all the projects I've been a part of since then.

I don't have a specific project I would like to participate in, but I would like to work doing CG animated movies after I finish the projects I’m currently working on.

Finally, could you tell us about what you have planned for the next 12 months, and any personal or professional goals you’re hoping to achieve? 

Beside the projects I'm already working on, I'm producing a personal animation that I expect to finish at the beginning of the next year, I have worked a lot on refining the idea so I'm really excited to apply all I've been learning on it. I hope that by including this in my portfolio, I'll be able to participate in animated movies for bigger productions.

Thank you very much for your time today Francisco!

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