What’s your origin story, like when you started creating and finding your voice as an artist?
From an early age, I would copy what my brother did. He’s four years older. And he was always involved with the more bohemian cultural scene of the city. So, like bars where they would play guitar music, and, you know, his friends were writers. He started getting into filmmaking. And then we got a camera when I was, I don’t know, maybe 9 years old. We started playing with it, and he started doing short films in black and white — not great, but I thought they were amazing.
We started doing some stop-motion together. It was a Handycam, a very precious toy in the house. Which wasn’t a toy. My parents weren’t thrilled about us playing with it so much. We did break it. We did a little bomb with firecrackers, which bombed. We just stuffed a ball of paper with powder. Instead of blowing up, the little firecracker came out into the camera and exploded.
[Laughs] But, how was the shot?
There is a video of it, which is pretty cool. Eventually my mom had a big part in being very open for us to explore these things. Always very encouraging. When it comes to editing, we had my dad’s computer for his work. We asked for a cable that was super expensive just to connect the camera to the computer so we could import and start editing stuff. So my brother went off and kept doing more elaborate short films and writing, and he’s a commercial director right now. And then I started getting more into stop-motion and the editing aspect in iMovie and Movie Maker and whatever.
After that, I had a friend who was very into computers as well. He introduced me to this software, Flash, to draw frame by frame. When I had free time, I would either play video games or do Flash animations. I’m still in school, then eventually high school. And that’s where my mom got me my first job by telling one of her friends that I knew how to do motion graphics. I didn’t even know what it was. Like, I’d never even opened After Effects. So I kind of had to learn with tutorials. And that’s how it started.
I love that it started with you wanting to be like your older brother. It seems like y’all had all of this creative energy and just wanted to use it anywhere.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t a very social kid. And it was more like, I had a lot of time. [Laughs] This was kind of like an output just to have fun. But, yeah, I guess there was a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do.
All right, cool. Were there any challenges or obstacles along the way?
My parents got separated. Oh, man, it wasn’t a clean break, so it took years. So about when I was 15. My dad stayed, and me and my two siblings and my mom went to Mexico, where all her family is. Again, I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. For me, it was pretty, “Let’s pack, let’s go, like, I’m ready.” But this whole new world and starting again from zero was a challenge.
Do you feel like where you came from plays any part in your work?
Even though my parents weren’t necessarily into the arts, they were very much into new ideas and exploring new things and letting us go into anything we wanted, really, and being supportive of that.
My family in general is very musical. My sister ended up going into dancing for a while, almost professionally. My brother writes songs. He’s a great musician, also filmmaker. There was always music in my house, whether that was Bolivian music or my dad’s Norah Jones album, so that aspect definitely influenced my career, for sure. Because I think there is a certain musicality and rhythm that you need for motion design.
Looking through your projects, there’s an overarching sense of positivity. I was wondering if that’s a conscious choice or something that happens naturally.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a positive person. Not that I’m negative, but it’s not like I’m bubbly. I’m a Christian, and when it comes to talking about the true, the good and the beautiful, [those] are the three things that I want to be doing. So in that sense, there is definitely some intentionality, but I also think that those are the projects that we’re just attracted to generally, like, they just get us more excited. And so we’re more keen to take those on.
So a lot of projects like the COVID-19 project, are side projects, like collaborations with others, we [Ordinary Folk] take a lot of collaborations even though the outcome is just a cool experimental piece. It’s really awesome, and we do like giving as much as we can. We have a whole section on our website that gives project files for people to learn, because everybody that is in the team has received something from somebody else.
Artistically, what’s something you haven’t done that you would love to try?
We want to do a title sequence for a real movie. Ideally, Marvel movies, but who knows?
Ordinary Folk’s projects have these amazing palettes. How is color manifested outside of your art, into your general life? Do you have a really colorful wardrobe?
That’s a very good question because everything I wear is black, gray... mostly grayscale. And when we were designing the new office, it’s mostly grayscale. And then my wife was, “Oh, you gotta add more color.” If I had a choice for my projects to be all black or white or grayscale, I would do it.
I think working with other people and finding that, it’s just naturally made its way into the work that we do. So it’s not necessarily me personally. It’s more like the influence of the people on the team.
Yeah, it’s back to collaboration, right? Working with the right people. Also, shapes! They play such a part in your work. What attracts you to simple shapes?
I’ve probably always been attracted to the simplicity of it and how abstract ideas can be told with a couple shapes. The movement is what tells the story rather than the frame itself.
When I was in school, I did a one-year program of digital design here. It’s what brought me to Vancouver, actually. There was an assignment to do a title sequence. And my design skills were not great. So the solution was, let’s simplify the design to something I can actually accomplish so that I can focus more on the animation.
For me, there’s a certain elegance and simplicity where you can’t hide the movement. The motion needs to shine for those.
Do you consider yourself particularly political, and does it affect your work if you are?
I mean, I grew up in Bolivia, where all you talk about is politics, religion and soccer. At least in my family. Especially lately, I feel like the most meaningful conversations that I’ve had with people that I disagree with, or even with people that I agree with, have never been on social media. And so it is a choice for me to keep those discussions with people in front of me.
Even some videos that we’ve done that are for specifically Christian organizations are considered political. And to a certain point, they’re right. So it’s not like I avoid it from my work altogether. But I wouldn’t call my work political, and I think that’s intentional. When you’re talking to somebody to their face, yeah, there’s just a different connection.
Let’s end on a fun one. If you made a quick cheat sheet to improve one’s motion design, what would you suggest?
One, I would say, is music. Like finding the right music or the right composer, and then adjusting even a few keyframes here and there in a project, just to match to the music better, goes a huge way. I do believe music is like 60% of any motion design piece.
Be really open to feedback. When we work here together, notes for animation design might come from me, but it might come from your fellow animator or whoever. Just being open and receptive to new ideas. It’s incredibly helpful.
Don’t be afraid of just looking at the same movement a hundred times until it feels right. I need to feel the movement over and over again, to see what’s missing, what’s not missing.
And if it’s not working, don’t be afraid of starting again. A lot of the times, especially when I was starting out, you would spend so much time either building a rig or building something that you were super excited about. And then you execute an actual shot or movement, and it doesn’t quite work. I’ve grown very comfortable to, like, “you know what, this was not working. Let’s start from scratch because there’s new and better ideas.” Sometimes it feels like it’s a waste of time, but it’s not because doing this got you to the solution.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)