We live in a world where technology is in continuous evolution, where every time we think we've seen it all, some talented 20-something-year-old comes up with the latest tech revolution.
For some artists it has been harder to adapt to this continuous change. Especially those who have been working in the industry for a long time before digital technologies started taking over. However, we have had the pleasure of speaking to one of the most innovative artists of the past two decades, who has not only learned to adapt to the evolution of technology, but has embraced the changes it brought along with enthusiasm.
Rodrigo Blaas was always interested in learning more about movement, from humans' body language to bio-mechanical movement of animals or how an inanimate object would move. Growing up in Granada, Spain, in the 80s, he explored his passion for animaton by making shortfilms in different mediums, but it wasn’t until his brother got him a software to animate in CG that things really took off.
He was fascinated by Eastern European stop motion shorts, but what really caught his eye in the late 80s, were the short films coming from Pixar, PDI, and the CG shorts made for festivals like Imagina in Europe and Siggraph in the States.
"I was interested in the possibilities of animating characters and bringing them to life," he explains. "In Spain, at the time, the few companies that did CG were using it mostly for commercials. There was very little character work."
He realized that moving to the States was the only way to focus on character animation in full and learn more about character performance, which is why he packed his bags and went to work on the first Ice Age movie with Blue Skies Studios.
"It was a great first introduction to understand the process and the medium," says Rodrigo, who was given the chance to join Pixar after the success of Ice Age.
"Pixar was a place that inspired me and where I always wanted to work," he recalls. "They were creating spectacular stuff, creating unique characters and telling really engaging stories. Character animation was of the utmost importance there."
"We often spoke about how lucky we were to be living a great era at Pixar," he continues. "We got to work on Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille... There was so much variety in the type of characters you could animate! Very exciting times."
But Rodrigo's will to explore further brought him to make a controversial decision: he took a year off Pixar to work on his own short film Alma.
"I wanted to go back to basics," he says. "Short films were how it all started for me, and I wanted to go back to that. I wanted to push technology and try new things."
His efforts paid off when Guillermo del Toro contacted him after watching Alma and asked him to team up to work on Trollhunters, which was supposed to be a feature film, but turned out to be an animated series for Netflix.
Rodrigo went from the big screen to an online streaming channel.
"I don't call it web TV. For me, it's TV and new media TV," he explains. "TV is basically reinventing itself as a new medium. Artists need to explore different mediums and not be afraid of what's going to come tomorrow. They need to see the potential of technology, understand it and push it."
"I believe this is a great time to try things and make mistakes to figure out what works and what doesnt on new platforms," he continues. "Technology is always changing and it's hard to predict. Many people tell me that TV has too many limitations and I won't be able to achieve a certain level of quality in TV animation, but I always rebel. I see it as a challenge; as a door, not a wall. It's a bridge to something else."
Modern-day TV series have inaugurated a new way of telling stories: the characters evolve from season to season, sometimes changing completely. In animation, this was never happening. Cartoon characters didn't ever age or change even if the medium at their disposal was very flexible, and Rodrigo found himself wondering why.
"With Guillermo we decided to pitch Trollhunters as a more serialized animation, where things affect each other and change the dynamics of characters through time. We're trying to bring more emotion and adventure in CG," he carries on. "It's been four months since we released the series and the response of fans has been great, even though it's hard to have exact figures on new media. We got a green light for season 2 and are very excited about that!"
When asked if he thinks Netflix and similar platforms are killing theaters, he replies, "Some of the most-viewed movies of all time are in the cinema now! And the theater experience is sacred, I love it. The goal should not be that of competing with feature animation for theaters, but to tell a story in the best way possible. Challenge technology and see what you can do with it. Shake the system and see what happens!"