Los Angeles-based animator Danny Ochoa has been making art all his life. After studying Illustration and 2D Animation in San Francisco, he got the job opportunity of his dreams. In this Q&A, he talks about where he gets his inspiration, what his process is like, and the challenges he faces as a working artist.
Just keep working at your craft. Push for the best in your work and once you get there, try to outdo yourself. Kick complacency in its ass!
Alisa Damaso: How long have you been making art and what got you into the crazy world of animation?
Danny Ochoa: I’ve been making art as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil. Cartoons and Animation in general have fascinated me since I was very little. One of my earliest memories is watching a “Flintstones” animation documentary and thinking. “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” While most of the other kids were outside playing sports, I was geeking out indoors reading those old how-to animation books by Preston Blair and practicing animation by making my own flip books. I also remember freeze framing a lot of cartoons I had on VHS, old Disney and Warner Bros. shorts in particular.
AD: Did you go to art school, or are you self-taught?
DO: A little bit of both, actually. I was a pretty accomplished cartoonist and animator by the time I got to college. I attended the Academy of Art University majoring in Illustration and 2D Animation. Art school definitely helped me get a better understanding of Anatomy, Perspective and Color.
Getting in the zone is never a difficulty. The only difficulty I ever face is managing my time with my day job and painting at night. It’s still a juggling act I’m trying to find good balance with.
AD: Your paintings in particular are fantastical and gnarly. Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have to work hard to get “into the zone”?
DO: Thanks! I appreciate that. Believe it or not, I’m kind of a late bloomer when it comes to painting. I was never really interested in painting before, but within the past three or four years I’ve developed this tremendous desire to paint.
I get inspiration to paint from Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Alex Grey; my personal favorites. I also love the work of my painter friends Andrea Fuenzalida and Allison Danbom; I feel privileged to know them! I also get inspired looking at lots of Indian and Mexican folk art. Most of the time music is a huge inspiration. Just listening to great music can ignite tons of vivid imagery in my head. Getting in the zone is never a difficulty. The only difficulty I ever face is managing my time with my day job and painting at night. It’s still a juggling act I’m trying to find good balance with.
AD: What’s your process like?
DO: Basically If I get an idea for a painting it goes into my sketchbook as a rough pen or pencil drawing. Luckily, my sketchbook is never empty, so there’s never a shortage of ideas for paintings. The visual ideas I get are usually extensions of how I’m feeling about my life at the moment. When I’m finally ready to paint I can crank one out within a week, or a weekend if I’m lucky. Acrylic is definitely my paint of choice. Watercolors intimidate me and oils take a bit too long to dry. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I’m pretty grateful, to be honest. I get to draw all day and make a pretty decent living at it.
AD: Can you tell us about a challenge you’ve had and how you got through it? What about recurring challenges that you take on?
DO: The biggest challenge I’ve had to face recently was saying bye to all of my Bay Area friends and moving back to my home town of Los Angeles for a job offer I got at Fox Animation Domination High Def. I was very happy in the Bay but had to really start thinking career as it was too much of a good job opportunity to pass up. Plus, it’s the job offer I’ve been waiting a long time for. The only recurring challenge I face now is waking up on time everyday for my first 9 to 5 job in ages. I got very used to living the life of a freelancing, beatnik night owl!
AD: Is there anything you wish you knew before you started?
DO: I guess if there is anything I wish I knew before I got started with the new job was that I would have to adjust my sleep schedule dramatically.
AD: What was it like working on Lucas Bros. Moving Co.? How did the project come along?
DO: Working on Lucas Bros. was so much fun! I got to work alongside so many talented animators. I’ve never had the chance to work with other animators, so the experience was great. The feeling of camaraderie helps out a lot. Seeing the great work that my peers are doing inspires me to do an even better job. Every day the animators are given ‘shots’ which come from a rough storyboard/animatic. We have a four-second-a-day quota, so depending on the complexity of a shot, it’s either going to be an easy breezy day or a lot of teeth gnashing and hair pulling. We don’t get to see a fully finished episode until they screen it for us or we get to see it on the television broadcast. A good friend recently pointed out to me that I now have an IMDB profile as a result of working on the project, so that was interesting. The project came along because I answered a job posting on Craigslist. They sent me an animation test, which took me about a week to finish. I sent it to them and didn’t hear back until several months later. When they did contact me they offered me temporary freelance work, which eventually led to a full-time position working in-house at the studio in Los Angeles. I’m pretty grateful, to be honest. I get to draw all day and make a pretty decent living at it.
I usually take things one day at a time. I’m the type of person that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. The fact that I don’t know what tomorrow brings is all the more exciting.
AD: How do you spend your time off?
DO: Drawing, painting, playing guitar and hanging with friends and family. Also, playing The Legend of Zelda, sad to say!
AD: What are you currently working on, and what’s in store for the future?
DO: Currently, I’m doing cleanup work for a cartoon show that’s slated to come out later this year on FXX. What’s in store for the future? Not sure. I usually take things one day at a time. I’m the type of person that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. The fact that I don’t know what tomorrow brings is all the more exciting. Hmmm…the future…. Hovercars? Oh! The Hyperloop! Yeah. That thing’s gonna be awesome.
AD: Any advice you’d like to share with animation newbs?
DO: If you get rejected for any animation jobs, don’t get discouraged! I’ve been rejected by the best of them. I’ve even been rejected once by the same company I’m working for now. Just keep working at your craft. Push for the best in your work and once you get there, try to outdo yourself. Kick complacency in its ass! Observe the 12 animation principles — no school like the old school. Other than that, all I can suggest is be observant as an artist to everything. Observe movement of all kinds. Also, Definitely apply it all to your animation. My hero Chuck Jones said it best when he said, “Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.”
To learn more about Danny, check out his art blog on Tumblr.