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Love 'Ice Age' Movies? Meet A Group of Talented Latino Animators

Meet a group of Latinos behind the lovable "Ice Age: Collision Course" characters. They share tips about their fascinating careers.

GREENWICH, Connecticut — The "Ice Age" movies have delighted young and old and garnered millions of fans around the world. It turns out a talented group of Hispanics are a key part to the creation of the lovable characters that fans have come to love.

"Ice Age: Collision Course," released this summer, garnered $403.4M at the box office. In this latest installment, Scrat and other beloved characters must save the world from an oncoming meteor strike. The movie will be available on DVD and BluRay on Tuesday, October 11th, and we got a chance to visit some of the movie's creators.

Blue Sky Studios, responsible for the beloved 14-year-old “Ice Age” franchise as well as “Rio” and “Epic,” churns out its films from its headquarters in a beautifully manicured corporate office park in Greenwich, Connecticut.

That’s where we met Lluis Llobera and Elena Ortego, two animators originally from Spain. We also got a chance to speak to Antelmo Villarreal, a senior assembly technical director and Roberto Calvo, the film’s CG supervisor, both U.S. Latinos.

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The group gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the almost four-year-long process to take the film from concept art to the final product. It’s such a laborious process that just three seconds of film take an animator an entire 40-hour work week.

Lluis Llobera, originally from the Catalonian region of Spain, always dreamed of becoming an animator; he began drawing from early childhood. Llobera began learning computer animation on his own in his native Spain, then worked in Scotland, before coming to the United States, which he considers the mecca of animation. He’s worked at Blue Sky Studios for some nine years and in that time has animated characters in most of the “Ice Age” films, as well as “Horton Hears A Who,” and “Rio,” among others.

For “Ice Age: Collision Course,” Llobera worked on a number of characters, including Sid, Diego and Manny. It’s a very painstaking process, but Llobera said it’s always exciting. “It’s very creative, I never tired of it, every scene presents a new challenge,” Llobera said.

“In computer animation, you have to be very meticulous," said Llobero. "You start animating the characters, but then you even end up animating their right eyebrow.”

Elena Ortego, an animator from Spain’s Basque Country, was the lead animator for Brooke, Sid’s love interest. Unlike Llobera, Ortego did not draw as a child and assured us she can’t even draw with pencil and paper.

As surprising as it may seem to moviegoers, it's not a necessary skill to enter 3D computer animation, according to the film’s animators. Ortego began her career in her native Spain, then in France and subsequently came to the United States to work at Blue Sky Studios. She describes coming to Blue Sky Studios as “being called to play soccer for a division one team.”

Ortego is very creative—in her spare time she creates all kinds of handicrafts— and she gestures in front of a mirror and records herself acting to already recorded lines of dialogue, to figure out how a character should move in a way that’s not run-of-the-mill.

Ortego will record herself acting out the same scene over and over for some two hours just to find inspiration to animate 30 seconds of film. Initially, Ortego said she was embarrassed of sharing her behind-the-scenes acting videos with bosses, but now it’s become a key part of her animation process.

Unlike Llobera and Ortego, Antelmo Villarreal, of Mexican descent, was born in the United States and his work is more on the technical side of the filmmaking process.

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“They hand me this concept art sheet, I bring it to life in 3D and then I pass it off to lighting and animation for the final product,” said Villareal about his work in “Ice Age: Collision Course.” Villarreal said he does this by bringing together different elements made by other animation departments to create the 360-degree world the “Ice Age” characters inhabit.

Before scenes make it to the film's directors, the work of different departments all goes through a computer graphics supervisor.

Roberto Calvo, a twenty-year veteran of the animation industry, was the sole CG supervisor for “Ice Age: Collision Course.” His job is to ensure--in a technical capacity-- that the director’s vision comes to life.

His path to animated films was somewhat untraditional as he studied computer science and first entered an animation studio fixing computers. Afterward, Calvo began to write computer code necessary to build the software needed for animated films. It was then that he began to work in the creation of animated films themselves. What he loves the best about his field is that it’s a marriage of technical and creative talents.

Llobera, Ortego, Villrreal and Calvo all love their field and welcome more Hispanic talent — whether immigrant or U.S. born — to enter animation.

Villarreal’s advice to young Latinos with dreams of entering the animation industry is simple, but impactful: “First, dream big, then school, and lots and lots of work.” He said aspiring animators need to have big dreams and aspirations as well as obtain a four-year education, and then just work tirelessly in mastering their craft.

Blue Sky Studios, a division of 20th Century Fox, employs some 500 staffers; close to one hundred are animators.

Edgar Zúñiga Jr. is a producer based in Noticias Telemundo's New York bureau for the network's national-evening newscast, "Noticiero Telemundo." Telemundo is a division of NBCUniversal. Video: Reporting by Rebeka Smyth, Photography and Editing by Elias Salas.

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