Xochitl Beatriz Thienes
Prop and Character Designer
We’re pleased to feature Prop and Character Designer Xochitl Thienes this month! We appreciate having you, Xochitl. Could you please tell us about yourself?
Hello, everyone! My name is Xochitl Beatriz Thienes and I’m a prop and character designer currently working at Nickelodeon on The Casagrandes. I grew up here in beautiful Southern California and have always loved drawing. Telling stories has somewhat always been a passion of mine; if I wasn’t drawing, I was writing and if I wasn’t writing, I was coming up with ideas in my notebook. Once I started my Sophomore year of high school I knew I wanted to make a career out of drawing. From that point on, my personal goal in life was to make that happen. I graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2016 and after a few odd jobs here and there, I finally landed a job in the animation industry in early 2019.
Prop designing could use a little more love sometimes, and maybe it’s because some people don’t quite understand what it is! What is prop design and what is the purpose of having props in cartoons? Can you explain what your role as a prop designer in TV animation entails?
Sadly, it is one of those departments that oftentimes gets overlooked, but I’m here to tell you that it shouldn’t! Sometimes, I think of props as inanimate characters. Meaning, you can integrate so much personality and story into a prop just based on how you draw it. You can make it look aged, spunky, new, etc. and that is the fun in designing props. Prop design is exactly what it means–designing props–but it’s also more than that. It’s an object in an animated story that the character interacts with, so it helps the story progress. As a prop designer on The Casagrandes, my job is to watch the animatics, understand the action and objects in the storyboard, and use those boards as a leaping point into designing whatever prop needs to be designed. Sometimes, I draw variations of what I think it should look like, but other times I am sure of my design. After I’ve roughed out all props within an episode, which can range anywhere from 20-70 props, I go over them with the art director and together we identify any tweaks that need to be taken care of so that I can take them into cleans (cleaner versions of the props).
Your character and prop designs are very shapely and fun! What do you seek to accomplish when making your designs?
Exactly that! I seek to have the prop organically fit into the shot or scene. The goal is to have the prop feel like it’s part of the world. On that same note, however, I do want to make it somewhat interesting. It can be a hard balance to strike, but that is why you work with an art director as well as other artists who can give you input on your work.
You also have a background working in the video game industry. How different is it working in TV animation compared to working in the video game industry? Is designing for video games vastly different compared to doing it for TV animation?
I used to work at JumpStart Games and the fact of the matter is that working for them is very different compared to working for Nickelodeon. It also just depends on the size of the company. JumpStart Games was a relatively small, mobile game company with around 200 employees. The art department was a small group of about 20 people so it was very busy at all times. I was working as a 2D game artist, which meant that I wore many hats. I designed characters and props from scratch, however I have also revised artwork that was sent over to us from India.
Looking at your work one could see that there are various Mexican design influences and motifs throughout. How much are you drawing from personal experience?
A lot of my personal work is from personal experience or folk tales I was told as a kid. My dad, who is from Oaxaca, Mexico, was always talking to us about Mexican art and one of those things was alebrijes, which are sculptures of very colorfully detailed, fantastical folk art creatures. In a way, the character Lupita from my personal project, Lupita and the Alebrijes!, is very much like the younger version of me, someone who was absorbed by fantastical stories that I myself loved to tell.
Can you talk about Lupita and the Alebrijes! a little bit?
Lupita and the Alebrijes! actually began as a student project during my last year of college. I really wanted to showcase the unique culture, clothing, and folklore of the people from Oaxaca and at the time alebrijes were just starting to take off in popularity. That being said, the project was about a lot more than that as well. To me, it was a personal story about Lupita, her vivid imagination, and how that imagination affected her relationships with those close to her. As mentioned previously, it was very personal, as I drew a lot of inspiration from the stories that I was told as a kid.
How does working on a show like Nickelodeon’s The Casagrandes give you the opportunity to showcase your heritage and skill as an artist?
Especially with a show like The Casagrandes, I’m always drawing from personal experience. I grew up in a Mexican household with parents who loved showcasing their culture at home. Most of our furniture and decor was straight from Mexico. Things such as chairs, frames, and paintings were very much conversation starters when friends would come over as it was unique and new to them. In a similar way, I seek to design objects that are from my childhood so that other children can see and find interest in cultural objects that would otherwise be nothing out of the ordinary.
One of the things we hear a lot is that everyone has a unique road to achieving their animation goals and that there is no clear-cut path. What steps on your path do you think might be valuable advice for others seeking similar roads?
The most important thing is learning to talk to people and making friends who have similar goals as you. Obviously, as an artist, we have to work constantly on bettering our craft and showcasing our portfolio, but networking is oftentimes overlooked. It’s important to start early, even while in school. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it weren’t for my friends who have not only encouraged me to do better, but have gone beyond their way to help me achieve my goals.
Also, Prop Design is a great way to get your foot into the door, especially for those interested in character design! With prop design, you get to showcase just how much personality you can integrate into your drawings and from there, you can always talk to other character designers you work with and let other people in the industry know that character design is something you’d like to do.
Thank you for interviewing with us, Xochitl!
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