The ACR interview series has included several niche animation companies that can contribute their success in the business to finding their vertical. Totuma is another production company that found, and successfully exploited a niche market--the growing Latino market.
With a location in Florida, strong ties to Venezuela and surely a plethora of contacts Totuma has made a name for itself within the Latino-focused animation market. The studio's high-profile client list includes the Discovery Channel, Sony, and HBO. The company's success is partially due to focusing on projects that change their clients' language-based visual imaging into content for the Spanish-speaking market.
Totuma's Creative Director Hubert Reinfeld happily volunteered to speak with ACR and its readers about both his successful career and what decisions led Totuma to prosperity:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Broadcast design animation. Totuma's partners meet working together at the (In-house) graphic department of HBO in Latin America. Our job was to "adapt" the channels original graphics to the region (languages, time zones, different seasons, cultural country's differences, etc.). At the time (1999) there weren't many broadcast design animation companies offering services for these new TV cable channels around in the Latin-American region. We knew, as insiders, that there was a market necessity for such a company… So we quit our day jobs and Totuma was born.
The funny thing is that I'm not sure if animation "per se" is our main focus. We're interested in experiences, narrative, storytelling, design, communication… Animation is of course a wonderful medium to achieve some of the above, but in that sense whatever animation we do is trying to accomplish something else.
**Bill Pittard, CEO of Pittard Sullivan, describes broadcast design as "the decathlon of the graphic disciplines", a tough combination of design, filmmaking, writing, animation, information architecture, sound design and extremely short production schedules.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
a) to be completely mistaken as reality… actors will likely no longer be overpaid.
b) to be in the hands of everybody… When software becomes so intuitive and our children's "super_visual" generation takes over, they will probably start communicating with animations… Everybody will be a filmmaker / animator…
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
The best, for me at least, is the interdisciplinary aspect of creating animation. Yes, today you can do it by yourself alone at home; But i enjoy working with people with different backgrounds and abilities (clients included as often they are smart ones). That's also the complicated aspect of it, to find a happy--and successful--balance between all the parts.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
1. Being able to raise (at least a little tiny bit) the level of TV and graphic produced for Latin America.
2. Surviving the business for 15 years in such a complex, violent, and very rewarding region without degrading our work.
3. I'm pretty proud of our HBO jingle campaign "Sangre Latina" experiment we did.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Somebody with an urge to explore, discover, grow and learn. Somebody with a point of view. One of the most talented animators/designers we ever hired, arrived at the office knowing nothing about animation but with an illustration book and a couple of stop-motion tests done with a cheap picture camera.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
Sadly, we have been pretty underwhelmed with the level of students here in Miami. Part of the problem is that they start their careers with huge student debts and they're not willing to take any risk when they graduate (in my opinion, this is the time when they still should be able to afford to make MANY mistakes and start exploring their professional options). Most of the graduates want --or need-- to pay their debts as fast as they can but that -somehow, and again in my opinion- limits their growth options as professional from the start, being that their priority from the start is making money and not continuing learning.
We do most of the recruiting process from word of mouth, recommendations, friends in the industry, etc. I sometimes feel the urge to give classes, but not about software, about everything else…the next question will complete this idea...
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
OK, aspiring animators: don't learn -only- about software and filters and plug-ins. if you limit yourself to that, MICHEL GONDRY or KYLE COOPER, or SPIELBERG (or any director you may admire) will still make a far better movies/animations/experiences with a shitty iphone camera than you could with the most powerful tools. The industry is about having ideas.
And on a personal note, coffee + nice music makes the long nights seem almost fun. Remember that bringing idea to life takes time.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
At a time when we were used to animating mostly 30 or 45 second pieces for our clients, out of the blue one day SONY Entertainment Television hired us to produce a 30-minute episode for an animated TV series. We were a company of 6 and needed to transform overnight into a company of almost 40 people. It was a huge challenge for a bunch of designers/animators to become business people/managers, especially so quickly.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I studied graphic design and completed a short course on traditional animation. Then I worked making posters and print stuff and later switched to animation as a junior designer/animator for HBO LA (I consider this part of my education also). Eventually I became the art director for HBO's graphic department (a time I considered hugely critical to my learning) and then later quit and founded Totuma. I opened a facility here in Miami USA (thereby transforming learning to experience). To this day I am still learning as much as my brain can handle.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
After Effects is pretty standard among our projects, also MAYA, Final Cut, some Motion, 3D Max. After Effects is a good way to start, but try to understand animation first, do not learn just about Photoshop, try to learn photography.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
We ended up once producing almost 15 minutes of graphic animation (from scratch and in just in 4 days) for a Ricky Martin concert in México. I didn't sleep much in those 4 days and, very tired, ended up -on the 5th day- with a Digibeta, a hard drive and a couple of underwear in my backpack on a plane to México D.F. I arrived at the hotel where Ricky Martin and George Bush were staying, so it was very, very, very crazy -me looking like a hot mess didn't help either. That same day I had to correct some of our animations on an editing suite in Televisa at 4am on a very weird "D3" format. On day 6 I was at the concert with a badge that said "Ricky Martin's Crew - Access all areas" and was asked (nicely, and violently) by a bunch of crazy fans that demanded to visit Ricky backstage with my help!! On day 7 I came back home, slept for two days straight and later woke up realizing i don't even like Ricky Martin's music… a crazy week.
Has the trend of outsourcing animation overseas affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
We were formed at the start as an outsourcing / overseas company so nothing new for us there. It's easier and faster to work locally, but in this global world we live in nobody should limit themselves or their projects to local resources only. How we deal with this? Long mails, longer video chats, and the fastest internet connection you can afford for file sharing.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I don't know. I have felt an increasing need for programers (web, games, application, everybody seems to be needing a programer today). If those programers also understand animation, narrative, storytelling they'll be able to make extraordinary things.
The social media tools are making us write and read more than ever, we're -somehow- back to a mostly typographic form of communication. So, the next revolution should be visual, and animations should be a huge part of it.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.