A Car, A Man, A Maraca: A Profile on Mexican Animator Jorge Gutierrez

Within an animation industry currently home to wonderful artists from all over the world, from Pixar to Ghibli, the most famous animator within the Latino community is a man named Jorge Gutierrez. To a general audience, he’s a nobody. Even quite many people who are into animation don’t know who he is. But within a few short years, mainly due to his feature film debut “The Book of Life,” Gutierrez has shown he is an exciting director with the potential to be one of the most exciting directors in the new generation of animation.

After graduating from CalArts, the Harvard of animation, Gutierrez started out working as a character designer, art director and writer for certain episodes of different television programs, including Nickelodeon’s “Chalkzone,” Cartoon Network’s “Class of 3000,” and PBS’s “Maya & Miguel,” to name just a few. The first work he created on his own was the Nicktoon “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera” which he also made with his wife Sandra Equihua. Largely based on his childhood growing up in Tijuana, El Tigre boasted a unique art style, consisting of bright colors, distinctive backgrounds and character designs, and strong attention to detail in textures and patterns. It also offered a lot of laughs, thanks to its memorable premise of a kid with superpowers trying to decide if he should be a hero like his father, or a villain like his Grandpapi, and a hilarious cast of characters. Although it only lasted one season, it garnered a massive cult following, leading to him going into the world of filmmaking seven years later.

In 2014, Gutierrez would work with animation studio Reel FX to create the musical comedy “The Book of Life,” a film set during the famous Mexican remembrance holiday “Día de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead” in English. “The Book of Life” focuses on a man who travels through the Land of the Remembered in order to come back to life and marry his true love. Much like El Tigre, the film’s defining feature is its distinctive art style. The character designs are similar to wooden puppets, and the film’s backgrounds, particularly when it comes to the afterlife segments, are vibrant in their color schemes and designs. With most animated films, concept art is often heavily stylized, but never makes the final cut.. Instead of jagged looks and unique colors, most of the time the characters will look basic in the film, which is fine in the context of the film, but a touch underwhelming considering what the artists had drawn before.

Gutierrez strayed away from that idea, trying his hardest to recreate the concept art for his film into the actual end product. This helped make the film one of the most visually distinctive animated films of the decade, thanks to its stunning designs and fast-paced and colorful animation. Along with a stellar voice cast, wonderful music, both old and new, and an entertaining story, “The Book of Life” garnered a Golden Globe nomination and received solid reviews. Sadly, the film was a bit of a disappointment at the box office, failing to gross over $100 million worldwide. But as time has gone on, “The Book of Life” would also garner a cult following, building Gutierrez’s career even further, and by this point he is currently one of animation’s most sought-after directors.

At Reel FX, the studio that produced “Book of Life,” Gutierrez is not only working a sequel to the Day of the Dead-themed flick, but also plans to direct an original film entitled “Kung Fu Space Punch,” a hybrid of Kung Fu movies, space movies, western movies, all wrapped into one feature film. Essentially, with a description like that, Gutierrez could very well direct the coolest movie ever made.

He also is going into the world of the LEGOs, a toy that prides itself upon creativity and imagination, as he is expected to direct a racecar movie entitled “The Billion Brick Race” for Warner Bros. Little is known about the project, but considering the madcap ideas and comedy found within Gutierrez’s other projects, it’s safe to say the man will probably bring the LEGO property and film franchise to a whole other level in terms of quality and creativity.

Hollywood has only recently cracked down on its issues with diversity both in front of and behind the camera, and the animation industry is also at fault. In spite of the many films transporting audiences to different cultures, it’s hard to find many directors or animators working today who are from a racial or ethnic minority. Gutierrez is one of the few, and one of the most criminally underappreciated animators currently in the business. His clever humor, gorgeous art direction, and love of animation is clear as day, and I can not wait to see what he brings to the world of animation in the years to come.

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