Friday, March 13, 2015

Women in Animation: Monica Brujenes

In the Fall of 2013, I met this vibrant young lady from Wisconsin through an e-mail that she sent to ASIFA/Central--inquiring about membership in our organization. With the core group of our members living in Michigan, she quickly became another one of our far-flung members. But Monica hasn't let distance separate her from being a part of the animation community. One of those rare individuals who immediately asks 'what can I do to help', Monica pounced on the chance to help make ASIFA a better organization--notably by volunteering to work on the recently relaunched ASIFA Magazine. During her interview, my expectations were immediately exceeded as I encountered someone with a wealth of experiences that you wouldn't expect to hear from someone so young. The interview only took thirty minutes, but before it was over, I was left wishing for more time to hear just one more story. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we'll see her make the trek across Lake Michigan and show up at a future Animator's Retreat so everyone at ASIFA/Central can experience her enthusiasm for animation first hand.

Kicking off 2015's interviews, it's a pleasure to introduce Monica Brujenes.

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Monica Brujenes
Q: What is your current job description?

A: Freelance artist and owner of my own company (Subarashii Studio).

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?

A: Not very long. Only since about 2012, that's when I graduated with my Masters Degree. And that's when I started freelancing as an animator. Before that, I was already freelancing, but just for graphic design and illustration work. I studied in Japan in 2006 as an exchange student and I worked on my first short film when I was there doing that. So yeah, I've been animating throughout college, that's when I started animating. But, I didn't start taking on paid work until after I graduated.

Q: Did you know that you wanted to be an animator when you were in Japan?

A: Yeah. Like ever since High School. That's when I decided I wanted to be an animator and I started looking into the different jobs in animation and trying to find out how I could learn animation. So yeah, I of course grew up watching cartoons and never stopped watching cartoons. Growing up I was surrounded by American cartoons but I always kind of was interested, if I ever found out about cartoons in different countries I'd get really excited about that. I didn't learn about anime until High School and it was through friends--they told me about Sailor Moon, a starting anime for a lot of us.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?

A: I've done everything. Mostly I've been working on small projects where I get to be the one woman show, essentially. I've done a couple commercials. For the one, I did for the small business 'Event Stagers'. She was a wedding and special event stager (providing the design, set up and decorating of special events), she had a rough idea what she wanted the commercial to communicate. But I essentially wrote up a little storyboard and then went through the whole process of boarding it and animating it for her.  I even added the sound too and I realized that I really don't like doing that at all! I realized how difficult it is adding the sound and trying to get professional quality, so I think that, moving forward, I'm going to try to get more help in that aspect of it. I've read a couple books on sound design, but it's just one of those things, when you're doing everything yourself it gets to be a bit much. And after doing that for a few projects, I'm thinking "yeah, next time it'd be nice to have some help with that aspect cause it's one of my weaker areas." I'm better at the pre-production and animating definitely.

Q: What made you choose animation as a major course of study?

A: It was a slow build up. I can't remember a defining moment other than I remember at one point I started asking my mom questions about how animation is made, like all of a sudden I got really curious, like 'I know that they draw it but how? How do they get that many drawings and how do they make it look smooth?' And so, yeah, there was a point where I was just... 'I really wanted to know how it was done' and I made up my mind that I was going to figure it out. So, yeah, I would say It's just a passion, I just love cartoons and always have.

When I studied in Japan, I met a lot of Japanese artists there who didn't like the Japanese art but were fascinated with Disney and Pixar. So they were really interested in what I was doing, which was pretty cool. They would say that my style is very American and looks like Disney and then I'd come back home and my friends back here in America would say "oh your style looks very Japanese." I always thought that was kind of funny.

Q: Have you worked for studios or as an independent?

A: For animation it's always been independent so far. I would like to work for a studio at some point, but it just hasn't happened yet. I did have an internship with Wildstorm comics when I was doing my undergrad. It wasn't animation it was with comics, but that was a really good experience. I was in the production department so they were responsible for all the prepress production, everything that goes into putting the books together, like compiling the artwork with the lettering files, sometimes putting together the inks and colors, eventually you get all the elements and put it into a book. And then, at the time, they also had their CMX Comics which was their Manga division. And so I helped do some of the work for that--kind of converting the books from Japanese to American. We had to scan in the Japanese pages, clean them up, delete the Japanese text so the English text could be put in, and in a few rare cases, edit the artwork to make it age-appropriate for the target audience 'cause you know values are different in Japan. I remember there was this one that I worked on that I think was called 'King of Cards' and one of the characters was topless, so I had to draw a bra on her and make it look like it fit in with the Manga style, stuff like that.

Q: Are you doing more personal work right now?

A: Yeah, at the moment actually I have been working on some ideas for animated TV shows and I'm just getting ready this weekend--I'm leaving to go to Kidscreen in Miami. There's this big industry conference so I'm going to take my ideas and pitch them and get some feedback. One is the preschool show called 'Penguin and Peep' and the other one I've been working on is called 'Moosebear' and that one is for ages six to eight. So I'm just excited for that.

Subarashii Studio
Q: So Subarishii is what you're going down there with?

A: Yeah, it's just the name of my company. I've been in the process of figuring out where I want to go with it and definitely at the moment, I'm using it for pre-production work and content development.  Or, how to attain my goals because I've always had in the back of my head: "oh it would be great to have my own animation studio/production studio." Subarishii means 'wonderful' or 'splendid' in Japanese so I though it fit with my art style which is very cute and happy.

Q: Can you talk about your reasons for starting Subarashii? As a content developer, are you trying to work outside of the established studio system to bring your creations to life? Or did you have the side idea of 'if this doesn't work out I can go to alternate funding sources like KickStarter or IndieGogo"?

A: It's been a process of me trying to figure out how to do... what exactly I want to do.

Penguin & Peep!
The ideas I'm working on now, like Penguin and Peep, I originally had thought about just going ahead and animating it doing shorts and putting them up on YouTube and getting it out there and seeing what would happen.

If you go to the conventions you can talk to them and share your ideas, so I decided before I just jump the gun and spend the time animating--'cause animating obviously takes a long time to do it well--that I would get some feelers out there and see what kind of response I get from the ideas and go from there to see what the next step is; whether or not someone is interested in helping me with funding or distribution or helping co-produce my shows or if not, then maybe I take a step back and do think about KickStarter or, you know, plugging away on something on my own.

Q: You're currently doing magazine editing work for ASIFA International, you're a member of ASIFA/Central, and you've started your own local life drawing club. How important do you think it is for animators to participate in organizations or start their own if none locally are available?

A: I was trying it out [Eau Claire Artist's Drawing Night], I haven't been doing it so far yet this year because I didn't get quite the response I was hoping for. I suppose it has to be done on an individual basis if you're into that thing, I personally think it's important for me because I've always felt that anytime I could get connected with other artists and be encouraged to practice more and have opportunities to practice drawing and talking more about animation has just made me a better and better artist. So I see the value in it definitely.

My Moosebear
Q: Given that the industry is now so heavily integrated with computer technology, how important do you think it is (if at all) for students of animation to learn classical techniques and non-computer animation styles: stop-motion, drawing, sand animation, painting, etc.?

A: I think it's really important actually to at least start out having a foundation in some kind of more tactile medium because it's just going to make you that much better when you go into the computer and work digitally. One of my instructors at the Academy of Art University said "do everything as if by hand." Meaning that even when you are working in the computer, put that same care and attention to detail and thought into what you're doing in the computer as you would if you were working in another medium by hand. So I think that using the computer does affect your thought process  a little bit differently, it's kind of hard to explain.

Q: Do you think there's sort of a detachment?

A: I'm not even sure what it is, I just know that when you work by hand, sometimes--at least for me--that's the best way to learn. Even just drawing by hand on real paper is different for me than when I draw with the stylus in the computer. Sometimes it's just quicker to get the idea out on paper than through that screen. But yeah, I definitely think it makes you a better artist. Anytime you can work with real media, it gives you that foundation so that you know how the real materials work and then when you go into the computer and you try to simulate a more hand-drawn look, you're able to do that.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?

A: I'm not sure if there's a really big obstacle for women more so than men at the moment. I feel like we have pretty good opportunities and I don't know of anybody at least in my classes or from my generation that's really come up with any strong opposition. I would say the biggest obstacle is the same obstacle that anybody has getting into animation--it's just a hard field to get in to. The hard part is developing your talent and breaking in.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?

A: I would say "practice, practice, practice!" "Don't give up" and "find a good mentor"--which of course if it was my daughter, it would be "me" (just kidding!). I would say the most important thing is practice... and never forget to keep it fun too, because animation is a fun business.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?

A: Again, I would say the most important thing is to develop their talent. Take classes in drawing or sculpture. Another thing would be to introduce them to other artists. My dad, when I was a little girl, he took me to the San Diego Comic Con cause we lived in San Diego at the time. And I remember going to Don Bluth's booth and getting to meet him in person and he was really nice to me and encouraged me and said something like 'oh you're into animation, oh that's so great.' I was kind of like awestruck as a little girl going to Comic Con and seeing how there are real artists, they make cartoons! And that kept me going, so I would say encourage them go to the conventions and meet professionals who are doing what you want to do and just keep working on improving your art.

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Monica's work can be viewed on her company website "Subarashii Studio" at and her professional website at She has uploaded her demo reel onto Vimeo.

The images and animations used in this blog entry are copyright Monica Brujenes and used with her permission.