May 2020 - Christian Ibarra
Stop Motion Animator
Stop Motion Animator
Christian Ibarra is a stop motion animator who grew up in East LA, and West Covina with his Mexican immigrant parents who are both educators. He attended Mt. San Antonio College, then transferred to Cal State Fullerton where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Art. He works at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios and has worked on Robot Chicken, Crossing Swords, Supermansion, Lego Masters, and more. Currently he’s working on Gloop World set to stream on Quibi!
Thank you for doing this interview, Christian. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your path to where you are today?
I am a stop motion animator for television animation. Growing up in Los Angeles, California with immigrant parents from Mexico, I was always exposed to different cultures of art. Since I was a baby my parents would take me to Olvera Street for Dia De Los Muertos and I would be immersed in beautiful colors and decorations. I did not consider animation as a career until I attended community college at Mt. Sac, since at first I had aspirations of studying Geology. Art was always something I enjoyed doing as a hobby, and at some point it kept “calling” me when I would pass by the art department at school seeing kids carrying paint supplies on their way to class. I was always into movies like Jurassic Park and classic Disney animated features that I would watch on my VHS player as a kid. After I transferred to Cal State Fullerton, Paranorman had just released in theaters and I thought that it was amazing. I was hooked into stop motion and spent a lot of time in my room after classes working on my own projects, and that helped me get an internship at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. Since 2015, I’ve been working there in multiple departments learning as I take on different, new assignments. I love it.
Some people don’t realize what stop motion animating entails. How does it compare to digital animating?
What makes stop-motion different from other art forms of animation is the complete immersive experience you have on your “stage”. It is a hybrid of live action filmmaking and animation. Everything is built like a theater or movie set, except it’s all miniature. Once you walk onto a set, closed off with curtains blocking all surrounding light from the outside world, you are just focused on that moment in time. The set could be lit by the camera department in a dark dungeon with green light and fire effects, that is so much fun because you are actually inside that dungeon animating that dragon character! If there are ten characters on that dungeon set you have to animate all those characters by yourself at the same time. It’s really addictive.
Have you encountered any challenges while animating in stop motion? What is your thought process as you seek to overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve had working with stop motion, especially in TV animation, is getting everything to be as perfect as possible on my first try. We work straight ahead in our animation process. Since you cannot edit your animation in the middle of the process, or have the luxury of doing multiple passes to then get final approval, it’s very important that you are prepared prior to it so you are in complete focus with your scene. When I sit down with my animation director for notes, not only do I write down everything, I also ask dozens of questions–questions regarding anything from the speed of the character’s walk, to the speed of the flag waving in the background, to even the smallest detail of an eye blink.
The quota for our TV animation schedule is 10 seconds per day, so the more you understand your scene the smoother animating it could go. I usually do not touch the puppet or start animating until I know exactly what I am going to do. I will pre-mark the set with a pencil to create a path for the character to walk into and sketch all my poses, and even act it out so that I have a blueprint for every single detail of my scene.
Many students aim to start out as a production intern like yourself to move on to bigger things. How did you take advantage of your internship to achieve the career you have today?
When I started as a production intern I had no idea of the stop-motion process or even filmmaking for it–it was all completely new to me. What I loved about being a production intern is that it gave me a complete overview of how all the departments work together. I would visit each department such as: camera, set building, animation, and puppet fabrication, and all the while I would ask questions. Eventually, I learned that I loved to watch animators and their process in animating, so I decided to take that route. After being mentored by them and learning so much from their guidance I got a second internship with them in the Animation Department. Soon after graduating I started working as an Animation Assistant, then got promoted to Animator. I was very shy when I first got to Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, but I realized that I had to change my approach. I wanted to make friends and really show my passion for animating, so I put myself out there and had a great time working with others.
What are your thoughts on diversity and representation of Latinx in the animation industry?
The animation industry is getting much more diverse in the stop motion field and I love that there are more people coming from all over the world to work in animation to showcase their own voices. I got so excited when I first heard of Latinx in Animation because it has given me the opportunity to connect with individuals who have similar backgrounds as I do, and it’s empowering!
Do you have any piece of advice for people seeking to pursue a career in stop motion animation?
Yes I do. Start where you are right now! If you have an interest in building, puppet making, or animating, use any tool around you. I started learning how to animate using clay and a webcam–nothing fancy, just learning as I go while having fun! I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today if it hadn’t been for the artists who took time to give me feedback on my animation capabilities, and for giving me advice to work in a professional setting. Take the feedback you receive, make sure to listen, and be open to new ideas, especially when you are around artists who have valuable wisdom that they can give you.
What is next for you and where can we see your work?
Currently I am animating on Justin Roiland’s new clay show Gloop World! It will be streaming on Quibi this year. I just finished animating on Fox’s Lego Masters and Hulu’s new stop motion show called Crossing Swords to be streaming this June! Thank you for interviewing with us, Christian!
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