The Mill's Jorge Montiel has been Head of Animation in the London studio since 2012. He leads our character animation creative team and oversees all animation work that comes into the building. He's headed up the animation on projects such as Smithwick's 'Squirrel', Audi 'Hummingbird', Fruit D'or 'Hugo' and Lexus 'Swarm'. I caught up with him to find out a bit more about where his love of animation came from and what his role entails…
Tell me a bit about how you got into animation…
Like everyone I know in animation I grew up watching a lot of cartoons. Since I was young I was inspired by stories such as Pinocchio and Frankenstein, and the thought of being able to bring a character to life. Pinocchio and robots were my favourite toys and I used to always imagine that some day they might come to life. I also loved to draw the cartoons I watched and I think a combination of wanting to create a moving character and loving to draw, fueled my love of animation.
Did you study animation at school?
I actually taught myself. I read up about animation and animators and found the best way to learn was through observation. I watched films over and over again copying the techniques and drawing the characters. Back then there really were no animation schools or internet blogs. 3D animation was something relatively unknown in the beginning of the 90s and only expensive computers and sophisticated equipment were able to generate 3D graphics.
What does your typical day in the office entail?
Well first of all a coffee is a must! The great think about my job is I don't know what to expect when I walk in every Monday morning. I like to meet up with all of the animators, talk about their weekend and go through their animations. I find the best time to give feedback is in the early morning because my head is fresh and it's easier to get an accurate idea of how an animation can be improved. I work across so many projects that I never really establish a routine, as each one is so different. I like to spend a lot of time with junior animators to assess their work and I find it very rewarding to see how they are improving. It's a slow process, animation can't be learned from a book… it's all about perception.
Finding the right team for each project must be a challenge, how do you go about this?
Finding the right animator is a whole extra job! Have you ever had to have a new kitchen or bathroom fitted? It can be very difficult to find a handyman who can do an excellent job of installing all of the appliances, understand the style and decoration, and use his time wisely... well, that's it! There are many factors that I keep in mind when looking for the right animator; animation skills, communication and ability to talk to the team, style, experience, ability to solve problems, managing timings and flexibility in learning new tools are some of the main things I consider in advance. After working with a stable team of animators it's easer to know the strongest points of each one. The tricky part is knowing the other 50%, the client's personality and their ideas.
Tell me about some work you've completed recently that you've been particularly proud of…
I recently completed a project for Smithwick's in which we animated a Squirrel from scratch. As any other small fury creature it's a very likeable character, but also it needed to have something distinctive, unique and different from the other squirrels around. Why different? Simple, he is related to the human world, we see him running around a brewery at night crafting the perfect pint, obviously not normal behavior for the average squirrel! Because of the nature of his work, he shouldn't look tidy, stylish and sweet. From the start of the project we had to establish the character's look - he was meant to look old, and wise to reflect the years of craftsmanship that have gone into brewing Smithwick's beer. It was crucial to define his personality and think about his everyday tasks. We wanted to add real behavioural traits of squirrels, as well as giving the squirrel a sense of craftsmanship, passion and experience. A huge challenge was to make him as photo real as possible. Most of his actions are impossible for real squirrels, so we mixed the complex human tasks with twitches and muscle movements that would be seen is small rodents. Extensive research went into the realistic movements of the squirrel. We worked carefully on his eyes, mouth and hand movements. The process has been a constant transformation.
Who and what inspires you?
I admire a lot of animators and am inspired by all sorts of animation. A huge influence on me was definitely Disney. Disney animators brought animation from being simple cartoon strips to something way more sophisticated and complex.
If you could be any animated character who would it be and why?
Hmmm maybe Pinocchio- I didn't like school either!