3D Total Interviews

An interview with Carlos Baena by Mike Rickard.

3D Total: Tell us about yourself.

Carlos Baena: My name is Carlos Baena. I've been animating since 1997. I've been fortunate enough to have worked at places such as Will Vinton Studios, Click3X, Wildbrain Inc. and more recently Industrial Light & Magic. I'm currently an animator at Pixar Animation Studios. I've been enjoying this field more and more every year as well as the people you get to meet.

A character from Carlos' extensive portfolio of animations.

3DT: What's a typical day for you?

CB: I basically start out by going to "dailies". These are meetings & reviews of the animation shots in progress with the director, the editor and all the animators. Sometimes dailies can be as early as 8am. In these "dailies" both the director and the animators tell you whether your shot is going the right way, or which changes could improve it, performance wise and direction wise. Throughout the day and with the help and feedback of the animators surrounding me I work on my shots and I try to bring my best ideas to my shots. Sometimes someone will give me an idea about my shot that ends up being better than the one I originally thought of. This is when you realize how much of a difference team work can make to any project. At the end of the day, the director/animation supervisors go through people's offices reviewing shots again. At Pixar they call these "walkthrus". This is when you end up either going home early or maybe staying a little later at work trying to improve the shot. In the end all this feedback makes the film better.


A typical day for Carlos, hard(ly) at work! He's the airbourne guy btw...

3DT: You've worked for some pretty high profile companies - notably ILM & Pixar, which for many 3d artists would be their dream job. Is it as cool and glamorous as we think?

CB: Well, I do have to say that I've had the most fun I've ever had in these two places than in most other places I got to work. For me it all comes down to who are the people surrounding you every single day. Both at ILM & Pixar I've been fortunate enough to work side to side and to share offices with some of my best friends whom I knew from long before. ILM or Pixar added a lot to this, in the sense that I got a chance to work on really fun projects that not everyone has the chance to work on and that you are proud of them. But I really think if you work with people around you who are constantly making you have a good time, making you learn and improve at what you do and make you forget that you even have a job, then to me, that's a dream job.

3DT: Is there any part of your job you don't like?

CB: Like any other job, there are things like deadlines, stress and pressure that you have to constantly deal with somehow. Sometimes deadlines can drive you a little crazy - shots don't come out the way you first expected them to, or you get last minute changes that will turn your shot upside down. Unfortunately this comes with any job so you have to do your best at dealing with it. Some people do know how to deal with them with such a good attitude.

Pancho here is one of the main characters in Carlos' short film.

3DT: Who are your favourite artists or animators? Who inspires you?

CB: Wow...Long list here. I've been getting really inspired by my co-workers. It's just mind blowing the talent & knowledge going on at Pixar. Something as simple as a quick sketch done by another animator already impresses me. There is definitely a few artists and animators I'm looking up for constantly. Here at work there is a few animators that I feel are doing the best animation work I've gotten the opportunity to see in this industry, such as Doug Sweetland, Brett Coderre, Rich Quade or John Kars to name a few. Dailies are always humbling, It's almost like watching the work of these people makes me tell myself "would you look at that? Now go back to your desk and let's try a little harder, come on...". It really pushes you. Other animators whose work I've always respected or who I've learned from in the past are David Weinstein, Delio Tramanzotti, Steven Rawlins, Mike Thurmeier, Scott Robideau, Rodrigo Blaas, Traci Horie, Bobby Beck, Shawnk Kelly, Joe Henke, Glenn McIntosh, and the list goes on and on. I love the attitude of people like Glenn Keane and Glenn McQueen. Everytime I see one of Glenn Keane's lectures it makes me so aware about how much I have to learn....in many ways. The guy is just so humble about his work...and he's just so good, it's certainly inspiring. Glenn Mcqueen was an animation director at Pixar for the last 7-8 years I believe. He was certainly a very inspiring person to hear him talk about animation and understand what it really is that we are doing here. I didn't know him as much as many of the animators here, and I wish I had that chance. He did influence a lot of people. He passed away a few months ago and was a very sad time around here at Pixar. There are a few things he said that will always motivate me as an animator/artist. In terms of 2D artists and illustrators, there are two names that come to my mind right away, that are Jon Wayshak and Scott Campbell. They are two good friends I went to college with whose illustration work is some of the most impressive stuff I've ever seen. I also want to mention Nancy Kato, a brazilian animator here at Pixar, and one of my closest friends.

Carlos is currently working on Pixar's upcoming movie, "Finding Nemo". Image copyright Pixar Animation Studios.

3DT: What's your favourite piece of CG animation?

CB: I think it's between the little Scrat intro in the "Ice Age" film....and Doug Sweetland's Woody shot getting out of a box in "ToyStory2" trying to impress Jessie. To me, there is a huge difference between characters that are "animated" and characters that are "ALIVE". I tend to struggle in my shots as they constantly feel like they are just "animated". They lack that something that makes animation spark. In Sweetland's shot of Woody opening the box and walking towards Jessie, Woody was totally "alive".

Pancho poses for the camera.

3DT: You left Spain to study art in America. How important do you think education is in the field?

CB: I think education is really important in general and in this field it's as important in that sense as any other field. It's always good to have some general culture, whether you go to school or you study it in your own. In Spain they teach you about pretty much everything. Some of the stuff I studied my first few years of college was non-art related and I used to think it was useless. Now as I get older I start to realize why was it all so important, and I actually wish I paid more attention to it. Studying art will give you some more foundation to what animation is all about.


An example of Carlos' cg work.

3DT: What do you think is the most important lesson when learning to animate?

CB: Definitely patience. Not trying to rush into things. This applies to animation in the biggest of ways. Animation & films for me have been like a giant staircase. Animation builds in itself. You have to know and practice a lot about certain things before you can move on to other things. And even when you move on to other things, you still have to go back and don't forget about those first things you started with. I've read Frank & Ollie's "The Illusion of Life" a few times in the last 6 years. Every time I read it again, I always find something new I didn't catch last time. Stuff that perfectly applies to what we do now on the computer and that these people knew for decades and decades. You can only learn about this stuff if you are patience and give it enough time to sink in. I personally think animation is a combination of many, many things such as films, cartoons, figure drawing, body language, staging, photography, composition, music, etc etc. It definitely requires observation, practice, study and sharing and you can't learn this stuff in weeks or months. I think I've been animating for 5-6 years and every time I begin working on a new shot I still feel like I'm starting all over.

Nico, the robot dog.

3DT: What sorts of projects have you worked on & which have been your favourite?

CB: I think they have to be "Star Wars: Episode2" and "Finding Nemo". Working on "Episode 2" was such a fun experience because of the people involved in this project. They made it the best show I got to work while I was at ILM. "Finding Nemo" has been my most growing experience as an animator by far. Not only has it been a very fun film, but there has been a lot of dedication put on this film. People have been working so hard on it I really think it shows. The other cool thing is that animators in this show also found time and ways to get away from the pressure of working on a film. There's been so many days where I've been at work laughing all day long. It's been awesome.

Acklay was one of the arena monsters Carlos gave life to during his time at ILM. Image copyright Lucasfilm ltd

3DT: What advice would you give to aspiring artists or animators?

CB: I would tell them to have fun at what they do and not rush into things. I would also tell them to practice, study as much as they can and be as patience as they can. Some animations will take us longer than others....some won't be as good...but the important thing is to enjoy what we are doing/learning and have fun while we learn.

3DT: Tell us a bit about "Screws", your short film project.

CB: "Screws" is a project that sort of developed over the last few years as I was creating robot characters to practice animation on my free time. As I was creating these characters I wanted to keep the designs really simple and easy to animate in terms of modeling so that I could focus on animation and the fact that they are robots made the modeling part easier. I always loved robots since I first watched Star Wars when I was little. One of the things I always remember from it was the Jawa's sequence with those junkyard robots and how appealing that was for me. Then I watched "Iron Giant" and I just went nuts. I loved this film so much I started doing animation tests with one of these robots I did, and a couple of years ago I came up with a little story idea for them. I've been working on and off on this film ever since.

Screws will definately be one to look out for in the future.

3DT: What plans do you have for the future?

CB: For now, my main goal is to finish this short film. It's hard to do that while having a fulltime job that demands so much of your time and energy. If I can pull this off I'll be stocked. I'm really happy at Pixar right now, so this is my number one priority. I'm currently finishing up on "Finding Nemo". I'm really proud of being able to work on this and I'm very excited to see this project on the big screen. Thanks for everything Mike.

3DT: Thanks.


All images are copyright Carlos Baena, except otherwise noted. For more information on Carlos, click below to go to his website.

Click here to visit Carlos' site.