Join Jorge Gutierrez for an in-depth discussion in this video Educating Jorge, part of Creative Inspirations: Mexopolis, Animation Studio.
(Music playing.) Jorge Gutierrez: This piece is one of the first paintings I ever did. I was 16 years old when I did this. This painting is called "The Woman Who Had a Coyote Lover." It's this woman who has all these children that are half-coyote, half-human. There are all the things that I love. Tons of skeletons, tons of candles and crosses and I love baroque Mexican Catholic iconography. It's everywhere in there.
We looked around in Mexico and there are no cartooning schools and my dad at that point was like, maybe if you're really serious about cartoons, let's try to get you to go to the best cartoon school in the world. If you can get into that school, then it means you are serious about it. So we started looking and we found the school called CalArts, the California Institute of the Arts. I was going to high school in San Diego and everyone in high school told me, well, you're not going to get in. But every time you get rejected, you'll learn a little more as to why you couldn't get in.
So by the time you apply a third or fourth time, you'll know like what you did wrong and you might get in. I told my dad like "Dad, this is perfect. Because every year I don't get in, it gives you one more year to save money from me to go. So this is all going to work out." So I'm a junior in high school and they tell me, well, bring your portfolio to Valencia. And meanwhile, my cartooning portfolio was full with 17-year-old drawings, like aliens, barbarians, girls in bikinis, like all the stupidities of youth were in there.
My painting portfolio was all Mexican folk art, which is the stuff I love. Like ever since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with it and they are very, very different. It never occurred to me that I could mix those things. So we get to CalArts and at the front of Experimental Animation line is Jules Engel, this legendary artist, cartoonist who orked at Disney and UPA and he is kind of done by this point.
He's seen a bunch of crappy stuff and here I am, really shy, and I put down my cartoon portfolio and he asks me like, wow! What kind of artist are you? That was a big question. I didn't even have an answer for that. I said, "I want to do cartoons." Like that was my answer and he gave me this look of like you poor idiot, like what's wrong with you? So he opens my portfolio and he's kind pissed and he goes through my drawings and he goes, this is crap.
He is like, "You see this? This is crap!" And he turns over the page. He grabs like a barbarian. He is like, "this is derivative," and he turns another page. He is like, "I've seen this a thousand times, but drawn better." And he's just tearing me a new one, just destroying me drawing by drawing, and he's like, "Is this supposed to be funny?" And I go, "Uhhhh-uh." He is like, "It is not funny." And he just? And my ego is going down as he keeps destroying me and destroying me and then he is done.
He is like, "That's it, that's all you have?" I was like, "Yeah, that's it." He is like, "You are not ready to do film school, you are not ready to be a real artist." And he said, "This is what everyone else is drawing and you are only drawing things you like. This says nothing to me about who you are." So I take all my stuff and I am putting it all away and I put my painting portfolio on the side. As I am grabbing my stuff, I forget painting portfolio and Jules goes, "You forgot this stuff." So I come back and there is a tiny piece of a painting peeking out of it, and he goes, "Let me see that." So I open my painting portfolio and I explained to him, oh it's about Mexico and folklore and all the things I love about my country and he starts looking at it, and his eyes light up and he is going through all the artwork and it's very colorful and it's very personal to me.
And he goes, "These paintings, this is who you are, this is who you -- this is your voice as an artist, this is where you are from and this tells me who you are." He says, "If you can make this move, then you will be making something that I have never seen before." I am officially accepting you into the CalArts' Experimental Animation program. I went home. I told my dad. I am like, "Dad, I met this crazy old man. I think he let me into the school." And my dad was like, "That sounds crazy." He was like, "You should call the school to confirm." So I called the school and they had no idea of what I was talking about.
I waited a week and then they finally told me like, "yeah, Jules Engel accepted you into the Experimental Animation program." My dad said, "Well, your grandfather and me talked and we got enough money for you to go one year." You can only go to CalArts for one year. And at that point I thought, that's more than enough, like that's all I need. I will go to CalArts for one year and I'm going to learn everything that needs to be learned in one year, and that's it. Perfect! I was like, how could this fail? So I go to CalArts, first day of school, you get to sign up and you are supposed to do roughly-- you are supposed to do nine units a semester.
So I look at the book with all the classes and I'm like, well I should try to get 40 units this semester and then I'll get 40 the next semester. That's it! I got my degree! So I go and I started signing up for classes and the teachers are like, "Wait a second. How many units do you have?" I was like, "Don't worry. I have this plan. We are going to do this in one year." "Just trust me. I'm going to get this done." And you are supposed to do one film a year in CalArts.
That's kind of what you're expected to do. So I ended up doing four films my first year, and out of the 40 units I took for that first semester and then I think 38 in the second semester, I ended up getting a high pass on most of them. Like I don't know how I did it. Just drinking tons of coffee and visiting Sandra every two weeks. So all the teachers at the end of the year were like, "Wow! He almost died but look at all the stuff he did. Let's give him a scholarship."
In Bonus Features, we follow Jorge to an emotional reunion with his childhood idol, legendary Mad Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones.