Today, Reel FX’s film The Book of Life opens in the United States, and the story of its 39-year-old director, Jorge Gutierrez, is also one worth telling. The film, one of the most authentic cultural statements yet seen in American feature animation, stands as a testament to the unconventional and uncompromising career path chosen by Gutierrez. In a piece written on LinkedIn entitled “The Book of My Life,” Gutierrez described his efforts to express his personal vision in an industry that often dictates to its artists what kind of animation to make:
I first dreamt of this ridiculous idea as I graduated from film school (CalArts). Drunk with ignorance and ambition, I jumped into the animation industry trying to convince people to make my Latino themed shows or movies. Everyone in film, television and their best friend told me NO. So many doors closed in my face that I started recognizing the scents of the wood. Oak was my favorite!
Every time someone told me there was no audience for Latino content it only motivated me to work even harder. I thank them now for fueling my fire. I realized I had to start small. So I worked on other people’s shows and labored over my own ideas at night and on the weekends. And I tried learning as much as I could from all the more experienced people around me. Eventually the NOs turned into MAYBEs. And eventually Sony picked up my first ever internet cartoon called “El Macho.” My wife Sandra and I worked on it like crazy but it eventually ended. But I was finally a web show creator.
After running down the list of his efforts to create his own work, Jorge concludes the piece by imploring artists to not let others tell them what to produce:
You see the pattern here? It all grew from staying the course. Of working as hard as I could and paying my dues. Never giving up on my dream but keeping my feet grounded in reality. All my professional work is Latino-themed content, even after everyone said it was impossible. From a Sony Web show to a Disney TV pilot to a Nickelodeon TV show to a Reel Fx/Fox Animated Feature.
And the secret? I always played from the heart. Always.
You see, you are the author of the book of your life. Don’t you ever let others write it for you. WRITE YOUR OWN STORY.
Coming from Jorge, a guy who’s had both a major animated TV series and feature film before the age of 40, that’s advice worth heeding.