From the fundamentals of anatomical drawing to the potential of gaming – Glassworks Amsterdam’s art director explores his creative anima with Laura Swinton
For Hugo Rodriguez Rodriguez, creativity takes the form of a voracious, insatiable curiosity. Like a wildfire, it takes in everything – drawing, painting, animation, CG, motion design, concepting.
That spark ignited when Hugo was a child, growing up in Madrid. A hyperactive kid, drawing was the only thing that seemed to calm him down. And when he wanted to let rip with his friends, he’d make videos of them skateboarding and mess around with cables and connectors as they started to form teenage bands.
Of course, growing up in Madrid, it was perhaps inevitable that creativity would fuel. Hugo talks enthusiastically about Spain’s artistic heritage and Madrid’s wealth of world class galleries and museums. El Prado is a favourite of his, as is the museum devoted to the artist Joaquin Sorolla in the centre of the spirit. “It shows where the master of light developed his art,” says Hugo. ”It is truly inspiring.”
The thing is, while Hugo is skilled in cutting edge animation and CG technology, he’s also a creative who appreciates studying the classics and making sure the fundamentals are down. Indeed, anatomical and academic drawing is a long-standing passion of his. It was the chance to be taught by the artist Amaya Gurpide that drew him to New York. The experience had a profound impact on Hugo, far from home for the first time. But it also turns out that this experience with anatomical drawing has also proven a valuable foundation as an animator – and it’s something he recommends that any aspiring animator should consider brushing up these skills.
“We are movement and, once you start going into detail and forget about nudity, you find out we are organic mechanisms, full of emotions. You need to learn how the body works in order to be forced to embrace movement,” explains Hugo.
Indeed, Hugo reckons that in an oversaturated social media landscape, it can be worthwhile switching off and stepping away from the buzz. Instead, learning about the originals and pioneers can be just as invigorating. “These days we are overfed with visual information. I try not to look at too many things. Of course Pinterest and Instagram are always there and, from time to time, I go through some Vimeo channels and that’s already a lot of visual information if you really want to keep it fresh,” he says. “Fresh doesn’t mean new. I normally go back to the original stuff that inspired something, when that movement or technique was creating the core of the idea.”
Hugo’s career has been an interesting journey – not necessarily planned but certainly driven. At the age of 15, he was working with a local Spanish company, where he worked on subtitling DVD series and documentaries. It was then that he fell in love with the industry. In New York he developed his drawing and painting skills at The Grand Central Academy and Art Student League. Back in Spain, he launched his first art exhibition, ‘Daub’, and became a motion designer. He was then accepted onto ‘The Kennedys’ scheme at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, which marked a big shift in mindset. But as expansive as agency creative life was, Hugo just couldn’t let go of the joy of craft – which brought him to Glassworks Amsterdam, where he was able to combine the two as a Flame artist. He was recently transitioned to a new role as art director, concept artist and lead animator. “I always found it easier to do than to explain, being able to translate a thought into a visual language, and here at Glassworks we have the people and the tools to translate any idea.”
And it’s an exciting time to be in the world of animation – streaming platforms like Netflix are opening up opportunities for experimentation. Hugo’s ideas about animation and its potential are constantly evolving too.
“I think we all really enjoyed Love, Death and Robots coming with those diverse scripts and styles. I think style and taste is something that develops with time, as a kid you read the picture at once through basic shapes and colours, as adults we are able to read into the details easily as we have a bigger visual library. I didn’t like manga and anime, the way they simplify in order to economise, but the way they do this without losing the animation’s spirit now makes total sense to me. It is our responsibility as artists to take all that knowledge into our style.”
Beyond the work, Hugo feels strongly about the role that the industry can play in influencing consumer behaviour. He has the same philosophical tussles internally that many of us do about driving consumption, though he feels that the industry could do more to promote durable, sustainable products. He’s also excited that Glassworks has been accepted as a member of ACCESS:VFX, a global scheme devised to open up opportunities in VFX, gaming and animation through education, mentoring and recruitment. “We can play a small role with a big impact in creating a more equal and diverse VFX landscape, guiding new talents. That can make a change in the industry .”
Looking to the future, Hugo has found a surprising new creative passion. While he still regularly paints and draws, recently he’s been swapping the paintbrush for a gaming console. “I was never a gamer and that hasn’t changed, but I started playing some games to analyse them,” he says. “It is such a good media for storytelling and visual development, and technology is now able to literally put you in the game - that is something I’d love to experiment with.”
Overall, his journey has been somewhat organic – Hugo certainly didn’t start out with a rigid plan. But the different experiences and skills that he has cultivated over the years have put him in a fascinating position. His new role at Glassworks allows him to combine the fundamentals and the craft he loves with bigger ideas and a broad sweep of imagination.
“As an artist I guess we are always on the search for something that you can call style, but in order to find yours you need to test and fail constantly. You need to make beautiful mistakes happen as much as possible,” says Hugo.
“I studied traditional animation along with drawing, graphic design and 3D so I always knew how things were done, I’m always curious about learning something new. Graphic design took me into motion design, which carried me into animation and character design where you can really express yourself and give anima to your creations. So organically I got where I wanted without knowing where I was going.”