What We See on the Surface: An Interview with Animator Daniel Olivas

Animation still by Daniel Olivas.

Daniel & PuppetsDaniel Olivas is the animator for Hopscotch Chapter 16, available online here.

Olivas is a multi-media visual artist who was born in San Diego and received a B.A from UC Davis in Art Studio and Film Studies with a minor in music. After co-founding ASUCDs Aggie Public Arts Committee, he became chair and held that position putting on exhibitions, community building events, and creating installations, contests, and group murals. Learn more on Daniel’s website.

Interviewed by Josh Raab, Dramaturg for Hopscotch and Design & Community Manager for The Industry.

Josh Raab: When did you first start animating? What medium did you start with and why?

Daniel Olivas: Well, I’ve wanted to be an animator ever since I was 5. The first experience I had animating was with my brothers using legos and a video camera. But when we got our home computer in 1998, I really got the rush for animation by playing a game called, “Microsoft 3D movie maker.” I was at the age of 9 and spent more time animating with that program than anything else at that time. I recall just endlessly animating everything I could imagine from detective films, to fight scenes, surf and skating films and even love scenes. This program didn’t have the capabilities to do what today’s technology does, but I tried everything to bring my visions to life. When it comes to animation, I think the medium of choice is usually based on what the artist has access to.

JR: How did you get involved in Hopscotch?

DO: I was first introduced to the project through a contact at UCLA where I’m getting my Master’s degree. The Animation Workshop always looks to give students opportunities and when Hopscotch came through the carrier pigeon, I contacted Yuval. We communicated very well from the beginning and I could tell we both shared a lot of passion and vision for the story. I came to the project a little late, but Yuval made me feel very welcome to the Hopscotch project.

JR: Maybe this was intentional, maybe it has to do with the medium itself, but many (all) of your animations include something morphing into another thing. Images like a man consuming a skull and taking on a new shape, or two people intertwining their arms and bodies until they are one. What does this idea evoke for you?

DO: One of the most inspiring aspect of animation to me is its transformative nature. Animation has the magic to make metaphors literal and show you something that you can only imagine. Even in my paintings you can find my subjects to be made up of more than just one symbol or object. I do this because feelings and emotions aren’t always direct. Sometimes a gesture feels much more significant than what we see on the surface. And as an animator, morphing things together is one of the funnest things to do; taking something recognizable and turning it into something that wasn’t there before. This allows you to tell something complex in a simple and comprehensible way. You can say so much. So yes, it is very intentional.

JR: Who are some of your inspirations? Whether it be other animators, artists, or someone in your life?

DO: The list is always growing, and I could say so much about each artist that inspires me. Animator Ryan Woodward has been very inspirational through his fluidity and movement; Glen Keane through his sense of nature, whimsical movement beautiful character design; Mikey Please, who is an amazing stop motion animator with a strong sense of storytelling and practical design, captures so much emotion with elegance. I’m traditionally a painter so I have to also pay my regards (in nor particular order) to Naoto Hattori, Frida Kahlo, Chet Zar, Tomas Zalen Kopera, Salvador Dali, Van Gough, and Ray Martin Abeyta to name a few. While all of these artists have influenced me greatly, nature inspires just as much. I’m compelled by elements of liquid, smoke, fire and trees. The most inspiring person in my life is my love and best friend, Christina Mora. She is my muse, my spark, and I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if it wasn’t for her love, support, and her push to keep me going.

Screen Shot 6

JR: What is your favorite thing to draw?

DO: My favorite things to draw are faces, crows, trees, roses, and mostly things that don’t exist. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I just love drawing a face where the eyes can carry out an emotion. Crows are in my spirit and I just feel a strong connection to them. Roses are so symbolic of many things in life and trees just always find their way in my work. I couldn’t count how many times my drawings and paintings just turned into trees. I think because trees symbolize life and time in such a beautiful way to me. One of the most challenging things to do as an artist is to get your drawing to look just like your vision. I have too many vivid dreams not to at least try to visually comprehend them.

JR: What has been the most exciting part about working on Hopscotch? Anything particularly surprising?

DO: One of the most exciting parts about Hopscotch is how much I can relate to the story. My particular section of Hopscotch really allows the viewer to get a sense of what artists and musicians go through. It surprised me how much I could relate to Orlando. From little things like watching the rain drop from the windows, to making puppets, and being a musician. I’ve also had moments where all I wanted to do was make art, but couldn’t; and I’ve also dreamed of moving to Paris. I was shocked when I came to learn that he was a dishwasher for some time. Most people don’t realize that artists really do have to struggle to keep their work alive. Also one of the most exciting things about Hopscotch is how many artists get to be involved. It’s like a massive Haiku where every line contributes to the same story, but is told in a completely unique way.

JR: What has the process been like in terms of working with the music for this animation?

DO: The process has been unfamiliar to me because I didn’t know what the music was going to come out and sound like. In fact, this is the first project I’ve worked on where I’m not composing or performing the music myself. But it’s great. Allowing someone else to put together a piece of music based on what I’ve put together visually, I think, adds to the collaborative process in making it an organic work of art.


JR: What did you have for breakfast and why?

DO: I had a bowl of Golden Grahams because it’s part of a balanced breakfast! And I love cereal, and who wouldn’t want to wake up to something golden in the morning?

JR: Anything else? Feel free to ask write your own question and answer it.

DO: Sure. So Daniel, would you be interested in doing another project for The Industry in the future?

DO: Yes, I would. I enjoyed working on this project and if an opportunity comes up, I would love to participate in any way that I can.

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