Interview with Pixar’s art director Albert Lozano: I really encourage them to think about storytelling their design skills


Ioana Sărăcilă: How old were you when you first discovered that you wanted to work in animation industry?

Albert Lozano: I think I was actually in high-school. My father forced me to work. He said that he could provide money for my education, for my everyday needs, but when it comes to having fun, I had to support myself. So, I applied for a work permit and got a job. I worked at a toy store, selling toys especially in Christmas time. It was a nightmare! When I started working I realized how terrible the jobs were. And it was actually the best thing for me then, because I told myself: “if I have to work my whole life, I should love what I do everyday”. So, this really made me question what I love to do and I’ve always loved art and I decided to go in that direction, so that was how I wound up in animation.

Ioana Sărăcilă: Are formally trained or are you self-taught?

Albert Lozano: I am formally trained. I went to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). At the time, it was one of the few animation schools that existed. There was one more in Rhode Island and another one in Canada. That was really all that was available, so I chose the one that was closest to home.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What inspires you? Or who?

Albert Lozano: I am inspired by lots of things and other artists, of course. I tend not to look at animation. I am more interested in finding inspiration outside of it. So, I look at other arts. I love going to the art shows, I love contemporary art. I like going to dance, to theatre, to music shows. Even going to the museum and watching art completely different than animation. Museums are places where you can watch people and as a character designer I’ll draw people in my sketchbook and I’ll do it pretty quick because I am more interested in reproducing their particular habits, their traits. So, museums inspire me a lot because I get to have the best of both worlds when going there.

Ioana Sărăcilă: Do you have a favorite animator?

Albert Lozano: I admire lots of animators. When I was learning the craft when going to CalArts I discovered Art’s Babbitt particular scenes of animation and I loved his themes, probably the most. Then, there’s Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and other animation Warner brothers classics. And as a kid I most liked Tom and Jerry – the classic version of it for its almost complete lack of dialogue and its strong action. It was very important to me that it could entertain me as a kid, and also my parents.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What was you favorite book when you first discovered you liked animation?

Albert Lozano: I didn’t know about it until I got into CalArts, but I guess you’ve heard of it. It’s The Illusion of Life, which was the animation bible for a long time. Early on, even before animation I used to look at comics. I especially liked looking at the drawings and the way how visual stories are displayed on paper.

Ioana Sărăcilă: How do you get along with the members of your team? Were there any difficulties that you had to overcome over the time?

Albert Lozano: The thing is that I really enjoy working at Pixar, so I get along pretty well with my colleagues. It is a very collaborative environment. There is so much work that I can’t really do myself so I’m relying on them. I’ve learnt in time that I have to let go to a lot of things in my personal agenda just to make it work and also, I am a pretty patient person. This serves a lot to building this joy of working together. I guess that is a mutual thing. And now, regarding the difficulties: whenever something out of order appears at Pixar I remember the moments when I had those terrible jobs and nothing here compares to that. Honestly, I am very lucky because Pixar attracts the best people and it attracts also people that are very passionate as well.

Ioana Sărăcilă: From all of your projects, which one is your favorite?

Albert Lozano: I have different ones, for all different reasons. As far as the premise and the idea, Inside Out was definitely my favorite and, artistically, was the most challenging and the most rewarding, but the most frustrating as well. It was a very difficult story to tell. It presented such a strong idea and we wanted it to be even better on the screen. And at the very end of it all, I think I felt disappointment. I was feeling the most proud I ever was, and the most disappointed. And I am a perfectionist, but not all the time. Experiences taught me when to be a perfectionist and when to let go and I think that feeling as I said, after finishing the project, and then seeing the people response, meant so much to me. I am continuously learning to let go and I feel like I am getting much better at knowing when to be a perfectionist and when it doesn’t matter.

Ioana Sărăcilă: How did you feel about the transition from 2D to 3D animation?

Albert Lozano: That was difficult and especially at that time, when I started. I was very young in media, I haven’t been around for very long. So, learning to work on 3D animation was such a big difference from working at South Park. It was a big adjustment and it made me figure out how can I be valued and what can I really do. It was pretty shaky at first, I wasn’t sure I was doing a good job, but as time passed by and I was patient and hard working, I was more sure about my role and what I had to do exactly. You can’t treat each project the same, you have to be open minded.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What do you think about the fact that more and more movies now are over-using the CGI technique? Do you feel like this takes a lot of work out for animators?

Albert Lozano: Yes, I feel that it’s being overused. And it has been. I am noticing a trend of directors that are rebelling against that. I think it’s a good thing. I think the best films disguise their technique so you, as a spectator don’t want to think about it. The fact that people are recognizing that as CGI is not benefic because it distracts them from the storytelling. The best people that work in the industry know when it’s appropriate to use such techniques and when it’s not so as the outcome to be an art form in itself. I feel like CGI is such a valid form of doing things but it shouldn’t be the only one.

You know, the way I look at it is different. I’ve heard the same thing years ago when 3D animation was presumably trying to take away from 2D animation. And it did, it took away the people that know how to learn, how to adjust, how to adapt, how to work in a 3D medium. The work still needs to be done, no matter what technique. So yes, it will be taking away some jobs, but it will be creating some others.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What’s the most important when it comes to animation movies: the visual component or the story?

Albert Lozano: I think the story is more important. And the visuals are at, sort of, the core of the story. But the story usually comes first. Of course, there are cases when you can adapt you story after the visuals. We’ve seen that with Inside Out. New ideas were coming when designing the characters but we had to let them out. Maybe too many good ideas. Maybe for another film. It’s the same thing with the storyboard or the script. We try a lot to stick to that, but there’s always room for improvement. Where the storyboard is kind of weak, there is always a chance for a better idea to come up with. You have to consider the acting, the charaterization, maybe in layout you might try new shot angles. Basically, it is just support work for making something better.

Ioana Sărăcilă: You also designed for video games. Is the process of creating a character or a world in video games different for the one of creating those in animation films?

Albert Lozano: That was early on; the first job that I ever got in this related field. I worked at a place called Mission Control, which doesn’t exist anymore. We were doing CD-Rom video games for Dreamworks at that time and I worked with Michael Giacchino, who was a part owner of the company then and Teddy Newton. I ended up working with Michael, a talented composer and musician and Teddy, a storyboard artist who was developing ideas at that place. I designed a few characters, but I was more concentrating on set design. I didn’t do full character design until I worked on Up. In video games you have to always create a richer environment because of the character’s freedom of movement and their wide range of choice. You have the setting of the story versus the live action. You can go outside and try to find the perfect place to tell your story. In animation we have to design it and dream it up, it doesn’t really exist. You can’t just go out there and film it! And that is why we are using books and try to find inspiration because we struggle to find the perfect set to serve the story. There is this thing in film called the forth wall that means you never get to see anything beyond the camera. It’s the director telling you where the camera goes, what to look at, where to pay attention to. In video games, you have complete control, you turn around and look in complete different directions, and when you give that power to the character, the forth wall is broken.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What is the feedback you usually get from children?

Albert Lozano: Well, with Inside Out, they were drawing the emotions. And they were not only drawing them, but even drawing ones that they weren’t in the movie but they feel that should have been. I was really excited about that because they were thinking about the movie idea. It is especially rewarding when it comes to children.

Ioana Sărăcilă: Have you ever thought of directing a movie yourself?

Albert Lozano: No! Never! No! I am not going say never, but at least right now, at this moment, I’m more interested in fine art, in making art outside of animation. It may happen if I am taking a break from the studio. I do have to say that I love the old school cartooning and if I had to make my own film, it will be a 2D film. Not in a very old sense but in a very contemporary one, with more traditional means that will take me back to where I started.

Ioana Sărăcilă: What are your hobbies?

Albert Lozano: Well, they change a lot. I was doing photography a while ago and then I stopped, and I just picked it up again. I also started posting on Instagram collages made on airplane. My friends actually started this trend. You know when you’re traveling a lot, you get bored so here’s what I do: I take a magazine, I start tearing it apart and then reassembling it and making new collages and new images out of it. It’s be creative on the plane. I’ve been exercising my creativity this way and also avoiding talking to the person next to me. I am also into making small art print recently.

Ioana Sărăcilă: Where is animation heading?

Albert Lozano: I have no idea but I have a notion that what Pixar does, over time, might end up needing a change. It has to find some faster ways of distribution like Netflix, for example, or the internet. I really hope that going to the movie theaters won’t die because I like the idea of them still existing. But more and more, it feels like people are going to watch movies on smaller devices like their phones or other gadgets. I feel like it’s important for a company like Pixar to adjust to that. I don’t know if it will. I think the future will look at the distribution means more and I am excited about that. We will see if the new will balance the old. A good art picture is a good art picture even if it’s made on a computer or on a sheet of paper. And where technology is going to have an effect is more with the distribution department.

Ioana Sărăcilă: Would you like to give any future advice for young animators?

Albert Lozano: I really encourage them to think about storytelling their design skills. I think it’s important to have traditional skills as well. Don’t forsake all the knowledge that’s been there! Take from that and also embrace the new as well.