Theology, Animation, and Toy Story: A Conversation with Jorge Canedo Estrada
In this interview we get to chat with animator and creative director Jorge Canedo Estrada. Jorge is known for working with ministries such as Desiring God, Crossway, and Ligonier. He’s also worked at some of the best motion design studios in the world, such as Giant Ant and Buck. He’s always trying to bring the motion design community together and one way he does this is by curating one of the most viewed channels on vimeo: Wine after Coffee.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in 1990 and I grew up in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and I’m 26 now. I’m married to my beautiful wife Emmy Lou. We have one son, Matthias, who thinks his jokes are really funny, but they really are not that funny. My wife likes to say he gets that from me and she is probably right.
How did you get into animation?
One day my dad bought a handycam camera, and my brother and I couldn’t stop ourselves and started playing with it. That led my brother to make short films with his friends, which led me to copy him and try to do the same. We also decided to try “chuckimation” (as seen on “Action League Now!” for those who might remember that) which was really just stop-motion. I loved hitting record and then hitting record the second after so much that I made hundreds of stop-motion films with all my toys. Eventually my dad got a laptop with an early version of iMovie where you could edit and add effects and I also loved doing that. A few years later, a friend introduced me to the software Macromedia Flash where you could animate things and make websites, and that is really where I started to play with animation.
Were there any animators whom you admired during that time?
Too many to name here, but the interesting thing is that what got me into animation wasn’t the classical animation side of things. Sure, I really liked classic animated movies, but they never made me think, “I wanna do that for a living.” So in that sense, I don’t really have “heroes” from the golden era of traditional animation. Rather, it was guys like Adam Gault that put a reel in 2007 who blew my mind and that’s who really made me say “I wanna learn how to do that.”
What is your favorite animated film?
The Toy Story movies, and not because of their animation breakthrough, but because Andy is basically me. It was so close to the way my toys came alive in my (terrible) stop-motion movies.
How does your theology shape you as an artist?
I feel like there are at least three aspects to this.
- First, I aim to worship God with and in that everything I do. The way I see work, the projects I take or don’t take, how critical I am of my work as I struggle to create the best work I can: each of these falls under the umbrella of me trying to glorify and enjoy God in everything I do.
- The second aspect (which really just expands on the first point) has to do with the fact that ultimately I’m communicating something. This forces me to want to use this medium to ultimately proclaim the truth in some way. It makes me want to work on projects that are directly related to the proclamation of the gospel, but at the same time it makes me more discerning about other projects as well. So, before taking on jobs, I try to make a practice of asking questions like, “Does it call the problem anything other than sin, and the Saviour anything other than Jesus?” (to paraphrase Timothy Keller). That has definitely influenced not only the work I do, but my whole life as well.
- And thirdly, my faith enables me to not rely on my strength or my abilities and thus find my work’s validation in the world, but rather solely in Christ. I’m validated by the work of Jesus, which gives me a freedom to create.
Of course, as a sinner, it’s difficult to constantly remember all of this and even harder to put this into practice every time I’m hitting a wall, feeling creatively down, or struggling with a project. But I try to set my eyes on this beautiful truth, on Jesus himself, and apply it to every aspect of life, not just my work life.
Tell us about the animation process for Luther. Where did you start and how did you move forward?
Stephen contacted me last June with the idea to add some animations to the documentary he was working on. Although we had never worked together, I was interested from the beginning because I enjoy working on collaborations like this. However, the request for ten minutes of animation was crazy to me--there was no way I could do it on my own. The first thing I had to do was find someone to help with the illustration side of things. That’s where Rommel Ruiz, co-founder and illustrator at Patrol, comes in. He was really excited to be a part of this, and without him it simply wouldn’t have happened.
After one Skype call with Rommel and Stephen in late October, we set to work on the concepts for the animated sections. Stephen gave us a very rough outline for the animations, basically one page with nine bullet points. We took that and the script Stephen had written to create the storyboards for the nine animated sections.
Since Rommel was in L.A., Stephen was traveling, and I was in Vancouver, Rommel and I would shoot ideas to each other and even sketch together via skype. (We still had yet to meet in person!)
Our first passes were extremely rough. We were just trying to get the concepts in a good place and then clean them up afterwards.
As soon as Rommel had the first chapter of designs fully complete, I started the animation process. It wasn’t too long after starting to animate that I realized I was going to need more help than I originally anticipated. At this time, I only had Victor Silva helping me as an extra animator, so I reached out to some people with whom I had worked in the past for The Biggest Story. That’s how the rest of the animators came in: Kyle Martinez, Chris Guyot, Will Fortanbary, Frank Suarez, Juan Behrens, and Mike Mirandi.
We started animating in December 2016 and finished animating around fifty shots by February 2017. I animated about half of them and the other animators split the other half, while Rommel did all the illustrations.
You have worked on many projects. Was there something unique about animating Luther?
Definitely! For one, I’ve never really done work for a movie, let alone a documentary, which has a very different pace and feel than most of the work I’ve done. Most of the time, the videos I work on are fighting to get your attention while you're busy scrolling. Here we have you sitting down ready to watch a documentary, which allowed us to be smart about how we make 10 minutes of animation: making the illustrations the hero while keeping the animation complementary with subtle movements, with slower cinematic movements and longer shots. At the same time, of course I wish we had more time and resources (like on almost every project), but I do believe we were able to create something special given all that.
What was the most significant challenge during the animation process?
There was a lot of back and forth with me and the animators to try and keep the style of animation as consistent as possible, but even more challenging that that, I think I would say just being smart about which shots to focus on and make the animation shine.
What is the one most significant piece of advice you would give another animator?
I would first ask them what advice they have for me! I’m constantly realizing how much more I can learn in animation, there is so much more I can practice. After that, I would say something related to that: surround yourself with amazing animation and animators so you’re constantly reminded of how much more there is to learn, and above all, keep practicing and doing it! It’s really the only way to grow.
While directing Luther, did you learn anything about the man?
Absolutely! Particularly his growing up and his personality, but one of my favourite things was seeing the many references that Rommel kept finding regarding that time and place of certain shots. It was fascinating to try to recreate these past worlds into animation.
Where can we find you?
You can find my favourite projects (and some of the cool processes behind them) at my Behance page. Or you can see some gif and design action on Dribbble or on Instagram. I also enjoy tweeting about stuff. And most of my animations are on the coolest place for videos, Vimeo.
LUTHER’s official release date is April 21, 2017 but you can pre-order today and receive some sweet free content that will enhance your experience of the film including:
Digital Download of LUTHER Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The Legacy of Luther E-book courtesy of Ligonier Ministries
*Free downloads will be delivered with your LUTHER DVD or Blu-ray.
Duration: 1hr 31min