10/1/01 Jorge Gutierrez Makes El Macho: El Bonito on Screenblast!

By Rita Street

Jorge R. Gutierrez doesn't consider himself a great animator which is funny considering the fact that his webisode, El Macho, was number two on Screenblast.com - Sony Pictures' consumer content and creation site - two weeks before the series officially launched. Says Gutierrez, "To me, a cartoon is three things: story, design and animation. Of those three things, the thing I'm not so good at is animation. My things are design and story. So Flash has been a blessing; it allows me to put the emphasis on those two areas."

Yeah, yeah. That's all well and good; it's just that Gutierrez's designs are so enticing - so spectacularly, folklorically, colorfully, delicious - it looks like he's animated the hell out of them. Simply put, El Macho is as pleasing to the eye as Cartoon Network's luscious Samurai Jack, and the storylines aren't bad either. The Internet series follows the trials and tribulations of El Macho, a muscle-bound Luchador (that's Mexican Wrestler; you know, those big guys with the masks…) who is brought up by a nun in her quaint little orphanage. He's a really muy grande guy with a heart of gold that fights to protect the orphans from muy malos guys.

Curious to learn about the artistic muscle behind El Macho we questioned Gutierrez about everything from his early artistic years to his influences that include another great stylist, the late Maurice Noble.

AMO: El Macho started wrestling while he was still in diapers. Did you pick-up a pen when you were still a toddler?

Gutierrez: I was born in Mexico City and moved to Tijuana when I was 10 years old. I started painting around then and I wrote short stories, but it never occurred to me that you could put those two things together to make animation. I went to high school in San Diego and was told I should go to CalArts. So I debated whether I should go into painting or live action; it still never occurred to me to go into animation, but Jules Engel accepted me [into the Experimental Animation Program] on the spot. My parents didn't have enough money for the whole degree so I made a deal with my dad. I said if he could come up with enough money for a whole year, it would be my responsibility to get enough scholarships to finish my degree. CalArts, and the Mexican National Arts Council completely sponsored me. I'm like a perfect example of someone who was supported the whole way through.

AMO: Why computer animation?

Gutierrez: At first, I was scared of computers. My thing was folk art; Mexican folk art. But then I started working on my computer-animated film, Carmelo, and I got an Emmy internship to work on Stuart Little. Sadly, I realized how many people it takes to make a huge feature; and how little creativity there was for someone like me as a computer animator. So, I went back to school to finish my own short and just try to eventually get into story and design. Roman Laney and CalArts animation teacher Lawrence Fagan began to help me on the El Macho pilot [El Macho vs. The Mariachis of Doom!] I finally finished Carmelo my third year and it won a student Emmy for Best CG Animated Film. The people at Sony called me and I got to pitch here [at Sony] to Andrew Schneider [Sr. VP, Screenblast.com].

I’ve been at Sony’s Screenblast for a year now, where I’m constantly challenged to be as creative as I can. Everything has to be approved but they let me loose as far as story ideas, designs and colors. One problem I had when I was pitching [to other studios] was people thought my work was too Latin. Sony’s Screenblast liked that and wanted me to be true to Latino culture. Hopefully, they'll let me do a Spanish version as well. What's nice about El Macho, I hope, is that it highlights the great things about Latin culture. It's also got a lot of heart.

AMO: Do you do all the work on the series?

Gutierrez: Well, I did at first, but now I've got super artist Roman Laney to help me. We're going to be doing between 26 and 32 episodes. We should be getting more help really soon.

AMO: Who are your influences?

 

Gutierrez: The old school UPA guys, Covarrubias and Maurice Nobel. I got to work with him before he passed away and it changed my life. We were working together (with another WB legend Bob Givens) on Chuck Jones’ Timberwolf series. Maurice was also in development on a series about folktales from around the world, Noble Tales. Maurice and Tod Polson contacted me to come up with the Mexican folktales. He loved Mexican art. Maurice had a gazillion stories and great advice. He liked El Macho but he thought I used too much color; he told me I was giving it away for free, not saving it for special moments. At first I was a little hurt, but he's right in a way. Still, Latin color is like Chinese color; it's bright most of the time. It's harsh but in a nice way. Also, Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls, Bruce Tim’s Batman and John K.’s Spumco work continue to inspire me.

AMO: What's next?

Gutierrez: My superdream is to one-day make a CG Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) feature.

 

© 2001 Animation Magazine Inc.