In a world filled with millions of pixels, 24 images per second, we as an audience sometimes take for granted the incredible work that goes behind the creations of some of our favorite animated films. Jorge Ernesto Ruiz Cano, from Caracas, Venezuela, is one of the many Disney character animators that help bring our beloved animated worlds to life. In speaking with Jorge, you can see not only his passion for the work he creates, but how much of himself he pours into what he creates.
Having been a part of such films as Moana, Zootopia, Big Hero 6 and the Academy Award winning film Frozen, Jorge has begun to solidify himself as one of the top animators for not only Disney Animation Studios but throughout the animation world. His most recent work can be seen this weekend when Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters. But what makes Jorge’s success so special is that growing up in Venezuela the idea of becoming an animator was as far-fetched as you could get. Much of that being due to the language barrier that exists.
“Back in the day, if you think about it, all the roles, all the heroes, all the interviews, all the people you looked up to that created this craft. You couldn’t even pronounce their names, man.”
This is an all-too-familiar story that many minorities face. But it is one Jorge took on as more of a challenge than a hindrance. As opposed to taking on another career, Jorge, at the mere age of 10, knew what his passion was and went for it. While he knew animation was his passion, specifically Jorge wanted to work for Disney Animation. To get there however, Jorge relied on two factors: education and family.
Six years after discovering his calling, Jorge moved to South Florida where he studied media art and design. Later in life, he would earn his masters in Animation at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Then slowly but surely, Jorge began leaving his mark in animation working for Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Sky Studios, Electronic Arts, TellTale, and Activision. All of this success however came at a steep price financially for him and his family. But it was a price he and his family happily paid.
“You’re the average of the five people you hang out with. For example my mom, my dad, my brother, they were always supportive. Money-wise it was hard but a lot of times it’s the education they give you, like ‘dude, you can do it.’”
Acting as energetic and spontaneous as any animated character you may find. the most endearing quality Jorge possesses is how humble he is about his life and career. Like a spice rack, Jorge would be the first to tell you that he is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. But there is no denying the fingerprints Jorge leaves in each film he works on.
Take 2016’s Moana as an example. The character Maui, which was designed to have the likeness of Dwayne Johnson, also had a touch of Jorge within its characterization. How Maui walked or how his eyebrows would move were all designed by Jorge’s interpretation of Maui. Even in a scene in Moana, Jorge added Aladdin’s lamp in the film in a “blink or you’ll miss it” moment. Jorge continues to add bits of his own originality in his most recent project Ralph Breaks the Internet.
“If it’s Ralph, I’m not Ralph, but what can I bring to the table? How can I, through Ralph’s eyes, make original decisions, original ways to tell the story? It’s always Ralph, but the originality you bring are the experiences that are very unique to you.”
So while Jorge and countless other animators work within certain confines that match the director’s needs. Each animator finds ways to add pieces of themselves in these films, thus, in a way immortalizing their work for future generations to enjoy time and again.
“I’d watch a Disney film that my mom watched with my grandma when she was kid. How can you be watching that 60 years after? For me, it’s because it came from a place where they really cared about the stories they made and how they presented it.”
Jorge’s ingenuity has also now spilled over into uncharted waters, as he has ventured into virtual reality. Alongside other Disney animators Jorge helped create Disney Animations first ever VR short film, titled Cycles. Making its rounds through a variety of festivals, Cycles could very well be the future of animation.
So even with all the success Jorge has attained throughout his career. he would go as far as to admitting in our interview that a part of him still questions whether or not he can be an animator. But that thinking has far less to do with self doubt, and more to do with his underdog approach that has led him towards a career that is as expansive as the worlds he helps create.
“So what happened for me was that idea of me being that underdog, of me being like, ‘I have to work 600 million times harder.’ And it wasn’t easy but it wasn’t insanely hard either because I love it. It was my passion.”
Ralph Breaks the Internet opens in theaters on November 21.