***This interview originally appears in the May ‘19 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 290)***
Over the past decade, Diego Molano has had a colorful career working as a storyboard and layout artist and character designer on shows such as Golan the Insatiable, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, China, IL, The Powerpuff Girls and Black Dynamite. This spring, however, Molano hit the creative jackpot by getting his own show on Cartoon Network, based on his college thesis. Victor and Valentino follows two half-brothers who spend a summer with their grandma in Monte Macabre — a small and mysterious town, where the myths and legends of Mesoamerican folklore come to life. We had the chance to chat with Molano about his career and the new show, which debuted on CN in March.
When did you know you wanted to work in animation?
Pretty early on… I’d say maybe when I was four or five. I loved drawing characters that had great appeal like Kermit, Mario or Daffy Duck. My mom still has a framed drawing of Ernie and Bert I drew from when I was four. I just recently saw it, and It wasn’t too off model!
How did you get your first job in animation?
After college, I applied for an internship at Titmouse studio. Thankfully, they accepted me into the program, so I packed my stuff and flew to California. After a while, they offered me an official gig as a clean-up artist on this amazing show called Superjail!. That’s where I had to draw and track all the tattoos on all the inmates. It was a lot of work, but in the end, it was worth it!
Who are your animation idols?
There are too many to name, but some are Peter Chung, Mike Judge, Shinichiro Watanabe, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Matt Groening, Henry Selick, Jamie Hewlett, Tim Burton and Jim Henson.
- Peter Chung: Aeon Flux on Liquid Television came out when I was only nine, and It melted my little brain. I was fascinated with how he uses movement to tell a story, even without any dialogue. I used to record Aeon, pause the TV, put tracing paper over it, and trace Peter’s drawings. I used to sell the drawings in school. In the weird way that life is, he is now my animation director on my show, which I’m greatly thankful for.
- Mike Judge: I used to watch Beavis and Butt-head Probably every paper I turned in at school had either Beavis or Butt-head or Daria drawn all over it. I just really dug how irreverent it was. My teachers thought it was ruining me.
- Shinichiro Watanabe: Cowboy Bebop was the very first anime I obsessed over. I spent a lot of money tracking down all the VHS tapes back in high school. It was the first series that really showed me how cinematic and emotional animation can be. I even got my mom to like it.
- Hiroyuki Imaisihi: Gurren Lagann is one of my all-time favorite series to watch. I’ve seen it so many times, but I still put it on in the background while I draw or write because the stuff on screen goes by so fast and is so brilliant, I always find new things to admire. My eyes salivate over his storyboards. They are incredibly energetic, expressive and appealing. My heart hurts when I think that I will never be that good.
- Matt Groening: Futurama was incredibly influential for me. The humor is so smart, but not alienating. It makes me feel smart, even though I’m far from it. To me, Matt’s sense of comedic timing is masterful.
What were some of your favorite animated shows or movies growing up?
Futurama, Aeon Flux, Toxic Crusaders, Ren & Stimpy Show, Count Duckula, Freakazoid!, Cool World, Invader Zim, Beavis and Butt-head, Gurren Lagann, Daria, The Maxx, The Brothers Grunt, Dumbo, Cowboy Bebop, Ninja Scroll, Orotsukidoji, Tom and Jerry, Labyrinth, Batman Beyond, Dr. Katz, Merry Melodies, Tazmania, The Sword in the Stone, The Real Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Home Movies, Metalocalypse (Jon Schnepp, RIP), DuckTales, Duckman, The Simpsons, X-Men, The Hobbit, Rock and Rule, TMNT, King of the Hill, Tales from the Cryptkeeper!
Tell us a little bit about your new Cartoon Network show.
The show is a supernatural adventure comedy with some action elements. It stars Victor and Valentino, two very different half-brothers who spend their summer with their grandma in a place called Monte Macabre, a town where the myths and legends of Mesoamerican folklore come to life. At first, Monte Macabre seems like an ordinary town, but soon they realize there’s more than meets the eye, as they discover other worldly beings, strange creatures from forgotten folklore, and places only described in myths. All while learning life lessons about being brothers and what it truly means to be a family.
What do you love about this project?
I love how deep I get to dive into my favorite subject, mythology. I’ve always been inspired by the great mythologies of the world, but especially the Mesoamerican mythologies of pre-Hispanic indigenous people of the Americas, like the Aztecs, Toltecs, Olmecs, Mayans, Incas, Tainos, Muiscas … the list goes on. I think these myths and legends are so cool and so not talked about compared to Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Norse myths. So, I am grateful I get to share my enthusiasm and affection for these stories with people that might not have heard of them.
What was the biggest challenge of launching your own show?
The biggest challenge I’d say has been wrangling these large, epic scale, sometimes adult-themed myths/stories into small, 11-minute, digestible content rated for kids. And sometimes the myths are so abstract and so ethereal, that it’s sometimes hard to tie it down to a more realistic tangible world … but that’s where the fun lies!
Where is the animation produced and how many people work on your series?
Victor and Valentino is produced at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank. That is where we do all of the writing, boards, pre- and post-production. Cartoon Network has a crew of 36 people that work exclusively on Victor and Valentino pre-production. We also have a support group of dozens of people that work on Victor and Valentino as well as other current Cartoon Network Studios series. The main animation production is split up into two animation studios in Seoul, Korea. They are SMIP Co., LTD. and Digital eMation, Inc. They each also have a team of dozens of people that work on the series.
What are some of the visual inspirations behind the overall look and design of the animation?
The visual inspiration for the show mostly comes from Mesoamerica’s beautiful, ancient art styles. We are inspired by its patterns, motifs, colors, landscapes, environments and architecture. When we have creatures, gods or animals in our folktale/myth-driven episodes, we look at many of the beautiful Aztec codices for inspiration.
What advice would you give animation newbies who want to follow in your footsteps?
Choose subject matter that you find irresistible and that you have an almost insatiable lust for. If you do this, your creative gasoline will be infinite, and you will never get tired of it. There will always be something new to discover or something new to learn. Choose something that is so immensely interesting to you, that you’d probably be doing that even if you weren’t an artist. For example, If I wasn’t an artist, I’d probably be an archaeologist out there somewhere on an excavation, on the brink of discovering new things to add to the mythology of Mesoamerica.
Victor and Valentino airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network. Episodes are also available in English and Spanish anytime on the CN app and On Demand.