Creative Inspirations: Mexopolis, Animation Studio
Illustration by John Hersey

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Video: Interview with Lynda

(Music playing.) Lynda Weinman: Hello! I'm Lynda Weinman and I'm very excited to be here today with Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua of the animation studio Mexopolis. It's a great name. Where does it come from? How did you come up with it? Sandra Equihua: Well, it's a combination kind of where we are from originally, which is Mexico, and Metropolis.
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Watch the Online Video Course Creative Inspirations: Mexopolis, Animation Studio
1h 51m Appropriate for all Jan 29, 2010 Updated Sep 01, 2011

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Mexopolis is the husband and wife team whose animated television series El Tigre has defied all the rules and won eight Emmys. Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua personify the successful integration of personal creative vision and commercial success. Born and raised in Mexico, this dynamic couple has managed to blend their passion for over-the-top Mexican popular culture with digital animation techniques to create characters and stories that dazzle the eye and strike universal truths in the heart. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers into the personal worlds and methods of this inspiring young couple.

In Bonus Features, we follow Jorge to an emotional reunion with his childhood idol, legendary Mad Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones.

3D + Animation
Jorge Gutierrez Sandra Equihua

Interview with Lynda

(Music playing.) Lynda Weinman: Hello! I'm Lynda Weinman and I'm very excited to be here today with Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua of the animation studio Mexopolis. It's a great name. Where does it come from? How did you come up with it? Sandra Equihua: Well, it's a combination kind of where we are from originally, which is Mexico, and Metropolis.

We decided to just combine the two. Jorge Gutierrez: And it's kind of the world where all our characters live in. Sandra: Correct. Jorge: We were always shocked it was available. Sandra: Yeah, it's so basic and easy and simple and obvious. We're like why is it? Jorge: I think when we tell them, oh, our company is called Mexopolis. Sandra: Hey! Didn't you get a call last week saying that somebody wanted it? Jorge: Yeah, somebody wanted to buy it. Sandra: They called us and they said, we'll buy off you and we're like no, thanks. Lynda: Yeah. I mean, I can relate to that with the name of our company too.

So I first learned of you actually because I attended an event that was honoring a CalArts professor, Jules Engel, who had an amazing influence over lots and lots of animators. So obviously, you went to CalArts and I'm curious what kind of influence that had on your career and your life? Jorge: Oh! It pretty much changed my life. Going there was an incredible incredible experience. Originally, I'm from Mexico. So was I was kind of a-- in a way I was Mexican until I went there and when I was there, one of the great things that I learned over there was they kind of group all the Latino kids together as one group.

So I got to meet people from Argentina and Brazil and Colombia and like I don't even know we had anything in common, but they kind of grouped us together and it was great. I was telling Sandra it was like a bunch of Earthlings when sent to another planet. Of course, you put the Earthlings together and so I gravitated towards all those guys and I really, really fell in love with Mexico and having left Mexico made me really nostalgic and really love all the things that made my culture unique.

So when I was there, it was the one thing that I grabbed that I said this will be my shield and this will be the identity. Sandra: My flag, yeah. Jorge: Yeah, the flag that I will raise. And thankfully, most of my teachers really encouraged me to explore my culture. At the same time, a lot of my teachers were really worried. They said, you got to be really careful because, and they didn't mean that in any negative way. But they said, if you keep doing this Mexican stuff, you're not going to get a job because there is no Mexican movies or Mexican TV shows.

There is no Mexican animation at all. So you're going to-- and there is no Mexican animation industry. So you can't go back to Mexico and there is nothing here. What are you going to do? I was drunk with youth and I figured I'll figure it out but I know this is the thing I love and this is the thing that makes me unique and I'm going to-- Sandra: Embrace it. Jorge: I'm going to find my way through it and I told Sandra, like we will be the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo of animation except without the train running you over and the infidelity and all that stuff.

Lynda: So I think it's so refreshing to see you really embrace your heritage and ethnicity. I think it's really become in vogue like-- Back in the days when you came to America, it was probably, Mexicans were sort of considered second-class citizens and I think today we're living in a much more global economy. We have an African-American President. We have a lot more respect I think for different cultures and awareness. So it's probably worked to your favor at this point.

Would you agree to that, whereas maybe in the beginning it didn't? Jorge: Exactly. Sandra: Definitely. I think like our population right now for Latinos, especially in L.A., is so humongous and it feels nice to be able to contribute to them because as a Mexican being in L.A,. even though we are among so many Latinos, you feel this nostalgia, feeling being away from where you originally from. I didn't know how much I missed Mexico until I moved up here. So when we create things for Latinos or anyone in general, even if they aren't Latino, and if it has a Latino touch, it feel nice to know that people that are Latino are thinking, Oh wow! There I am. Here I am on the screen.

Here is a part of me and I relate. Yeah. Especially little kids, that's even cooler. Jorge: Yeah, you've seen the Dora generation, kids grow up watching Dora The Explorer. To them a Latino cartoon is normal. Like that's something we never had and even if you're not, you could be of any culture and you think a Latino cartoon character is normal, that's a better world than the one we grew up with. Sandra: Yeah, exactly. Lynda: The two of you have very different artistic styles. How do you balance the two styles and how does that work? Sandra: We have a rule between Jorge and myself that I say that the main rule between us is he gets to draw the men and I get to draw the women.

The reason why this is is because when I try and draw males, they don't necessarily turnout very masculine and when Jorge draws females, they come out looking a little more, I don't know. Eighth grade fantasy, shall we say. Jorge: Augh. Women of relaxed morals. Sandra: Is that what you're calling it? Jorge: Yeah. Sandra: Yeah. So that's one of our main rules. When it comes to our actual style- style I would say Jorge is a little more -- I don't know. Concrete. I think you've like totally mastered your style, the way it's supposed to look, whereas I'm little more of a chameleon.

Jorge: I want my style to punch you in the face and then kiss you in the mouth and then you don't know what happens. Sandra: What does mine do then? Jorge: And yours is more like you drop a little handkerchief and it's a little more subtle and more refined. Sandra: Well, okay yeah. That's true. Lynda: You guys are so wonderful to watch the way that you interact and that is sort of part of what you're doing together. You're a married couple. You started your own company, you kind of chartered your own course, you work with a lot of your friends. I mean, talk to us little bit about what that's like to work with family.

Jorge: Well, at first it was kind of looked down on. Even at Nickelodeon. Sandra: Oh, they wouldn't let us say anything. Sandra: You can't say you're married. Jorge: You can't say you're a couple. Jorge: What if you guys get in a fight, what if you get divorced? It could be problem with the crew. Sandra: It's understandable. It's a tremendous amount of money that's being invested into a project and if you get a divorce or -- Jorge: And I didn't help because I was like, well you know we're hot blooded Mexicans and it could happen. So then we pinky-swear that none of that would happen and in fact, we said we want to hire all our friends and you guys think we're hiring them because they're our friends but it's because they're really talented and the fact they were hiring our friends will make them work even harder because they love the project, and they love what we all want to accomplish together.

And in fact our crew had I believe six couples. And so not only did we break the rule but we broke it six times and it worked out perfectly. Sandra: Yeah, and actually, one of them married my sister. I think who is our -- Jorge: Yeah, one of our directors married Sandra's sister. Sandra: Our director married my sister. Sandra: So it really is in the family. Yeah. Jorge: So when we say like our crew is our family, it really was. Sandra: It really was. Lynda: I think it really takes guts to stick to your own style in the beginning when it isn't popular and I think a lot of what you've done as you said no to a lot of things.

Almost it seems more than you said yes in the beginning. For people who are starting out, I think that takes a tremendous amount of courage and sometimes it's just completely impractical. But could you talk a little bit to the importance of saying no and the importance of really understanding what you want and going for it. Jorge: Well, I think early on when we first started out we sort of came to terms with something and that's something that Jules Engel really emphasized in school, which was obviously you need the work and you need to make money to make a living.

But the day you stop making your own work, that's the day you die as an artist. So whatever you work on, you have to work on your own stuff at night and on the weekends and that's the number one thing we did when we first started out. Sandra: As it is, in the industry, you have to be like-- you have to have something stable, so you can actually start working on something on the side. So you could actually-- it's almost like a seed. You have to plant a seed and in the background it's going to be growing. So finally, you could show it to the world, you know. Yeah, because there is no other way around it. Jorge: And at first, we turned down a lot of work and obviously our parents reacted like, "How dare you? You're in the US." "You don't have all the support you have here and you're turning down work." It was one of those things where we said if we're going to bet, we're going to bet on ourselves.

Every time we say no to something, it's because we have to justify it by working on something of our own creation. It sort of helped us in a way. It kind of made us sexier that we kept saying no, because the offers became more intriguing and more interesting. Lynda: Interesting, of course. Jorge: Exactly and then we would say, we are honored that you guys were asked this to work on this, but we would rather pitch you guys our own project. That's how we started doing our own pilots and our own work by turning work down and saying oh, I know you guys want us for this, but can we show you what we would do with our own idea and if you hate it, it's okay but just give us the opportunity to pitch.

Sandra: You have to be kind too. You can't be such a rock star to the point where the companies actually starts saying oh god, we don't want to deal with those guys because they are total rock stars. You have to be able to open yourself up and play with them like they want to play with you, yeah. Lynda: Well, it seems like your past projects, I might be wrong, were spearheaded by you, Jorge, and I understand you have a new project that you actually spearheaded that is being produced at Disney. Can you talk a little bit about that? Sandra: Yeah, sure.

Previously we were working at Nickelodeon and we had a show called El Tigre and it was a little more focused on boys. It was action packed and it was a comedy and everything, but this new show is for Disney and it's more for girls. Fortunately, I'm the one in the company that draws the girls a little better and we presented it in my style and they said, "We really like the way this girl looks." "Can you start drawing a little more around her, draw her friends, draw, I don't know, her mom if she has one and whatever." So I did.

Unfortunately, the men didn't come out as well as I wanted them to. So Jorge kind of hopped on board for that. I needed it. They said, "I think we need a little more testosterone injected into our men." Jorge: Then I was like "I'm there!! Where do I start?" Sandra: I'm fortunate enough to always have Jorge like leaning up at the door with the glass. You know like, 'Oh, they need me. Okay, I'm there.' So I always feel like I have somebody catching me when I falling backwards. Lynda: Yeah, that seems like a very important part of your dynamic that you kind of have each other's back. You're each other's biggest supporters.

It's very inspiring. I thank you so much for sharing your story. I think a lot of people aspire to start their own companies and live their dream and practice their art. You guys are living examples of that dream. So it's great to hear your story. Thank you so much for being a part of this. Sandra: Thank you. Jorge: Thank you Lynda. Thank you for asking us to do this. We were really honored. Sandra: It's a pleasure.

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