THE CINEMATIC ART OF ANIMATION
By: María Recinos
Úrsula Echeverría is a 32-year-old Guatemalan woman passionate about the art of animation, and recently won the prize for Best Central American Animated Film at the Ícaro Festival with her film “Mia and the Missing Rock (Mia y la Roca Perdida).” The movie tells the story of a girl who likes to play with her giant rock friend, who has lost his nose. Her mother wants her to clean her room, but the search for the rock nose seems more fun. Recently, we had the opportunity to interview this promising artist.
EntreMundos (EM): How did your career and love for design and creation begin?
Úrsula Echeverría: I initially studied graphic design at Galileo University in 2012. During that time, I danced professionally in the National Ballet of Guatemala, and right when I graduated from college, I was injured dancing, and decided to dedicate myself to design full-time. I realized that I wanted to get involved with animation, but I didn’t have the skills to do it, so I began to take classes and teach myself to use the program harmony. Basically, I taught myself and specialized in this line of work, and this is how I was able to make my first animation. I prepared my portfolio and applied for a master’s degree at the Institute of the Arts at the University of California, and I was accepted. So, I moved to California to study character animation.
EM: How did the idea of this project arise, and who helped you with it?
Úrsula: At CalArts every year there is a final test where you have the freedom to choose the theme, media, and design for your project. The only limit is the amount of time you have. Inspired by what children do, I thought it would be a great and inspiring idea to tell the story of my daughter, who sees the world with a lot of curiosity and has a unique way of talking and expressing herself. In general, she really likes open places, like the countryside, caves, and the sky, and this allowed me to explore different environments for the film. I decided to participate in the Ícaro Festival and won the prize for Best Animated Short Film in Central America.
EM: How did you feel upon being awarded the prize?
Úrsula: I didn’t expect it, it was a surprise. I’ve participated in other festivals around the world but have never won a prize. I remember that they sent me the invitation one day before the event and it was very far, so I wasn’t able to go. I received a call from a friend who told me “Úrsula…you won!” In that moment, I was in the park playing with my kids, and I felt like crying and telling someone about the emotion I was feeling. It was very moving, knowing that I had won a prize.
EM: What’s the message of Mia and the Missing Rock?
Úrsula: Children have the freedom to imagine anything. My daughter especially likes collecting sticks, rocks, and pinecones, and I always carry rocks in my pockets. The main idea of the plot is that children don’t have the limitations that adults sometimes have. Adults box themselves up in one thing or another, but children just imagine and play. Children are very curious to me because they have a distinct perspective on life, where they are interested in many things that adults just don’t see.
EM: What do you think about the state of animated film in Guatemala?
Úrsula: There isn’t an interest in animation. Some universities are trying to spark an interest in it, but very few students actually study it. Programs are long and students don’t really end up developing their skills. In California, you have to start at 8 a.m. and work until 10 p.m., which allows you to develop skills in the long term. In Guatemala, there are many people who have to work to be able to study, otherwise they are unable to get by. When one is involved in the world of art, they’re relaxed and have the opportunity to see the things that surround them and observe small details. The real skill of an artist is in seeing these beautiful details that others don’t see. Our country is a Third World country and I feel like it doesn’t really support the arts. Furthermore, artists don’t make a lot of money here. People don’t appreciate their work and criticize art. The few artists that there are have to find a way to make a living because their work is not valued. I feel that this is a cultural situation where people have to be educated about art. There should be many more art classes in schools to spark an interest. Art is everywhere, but we just don’t know it because our society doesn’t support the arts. If nobody teaches you as a child to appreciate art, maybe in the future society will have missed out on the next great cartoonist or filmmaker.
EM: What would you say to women like you, who want to follow their dreams in the world of art and design?
Úrsula: It’s hard to become an artist, but it’s very motivating being an example and inspiration to other women. Now that I’m in the United States, I miss a lot about Guatemala, but being far away has allowed me to see life in different ways. One realizes that our way of thinking is unique, and that being different isn’t a bad thing, since it helps us to be strong and value ourselves in diverse situations. But I want to say to women that nothing good in life comes easy, and that the good is worth everything it costs, because everything will be a product of your effort. It seems difficult and even impossible, but we all have different skills and we just have to appreciate them. We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. Sometimes we think that we aren’t good enough to do something, but the path to success is uncertain, so you never know until you try. If you really want to do something, doors will open and things will fall into place, but you have to have patience in order to succeed. Watch Úrsula’s film here: https://vimeo.com/ursulaecheverria/miaylarocaperdida
Cover photo: Scene from animation Mia and the Missing Rock.