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Conversations with Natalie Ruybal

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Ruybal.

Hi Natalie, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I fell in love with animation at a young age. Coming from a military family, I moved around a lot so having cartoons, no matter where I went, was always comforting to me. I grew up watching and drawing a lot of Japanese animation alongside American cartoons and I think a lot of that influenced the way I express my art and write my stories.

By the time my dad retired, we’d settled in San Diego and being so close to LA, I decided to seriously pursue animation as a career. Throughout high school, I spent a lot of time building my portfolio and idolized a lot of women shaping the industry at the time. People like Rebecca Sugar, Natasha Allegri, Seo Kim and Dana Terrace were some of my biggest heroes and inspirations.

Going to USC’s film school was a huge milestone for me. As a first-generation student from a low-income household, getting into university was big enough for me, but going to my dream school to study animation of all things was like winning the lottery. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Now that I’m fresh out of college, I’ll be running my thesis film, Dreamliner, through the short circuit but in the meantime, I’ve been working on a number of freelance projects to buff up my portfolio and get a foothold in the industry. Being young and green in the LA entertainment scene seems like the most stereotypical thing a twenty-something years old could be doing right now but I’m just excited and grateful that I get to say this is my life!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I’ve definitely had my ups and downs. I mean, who hasn’t? I think the hardest part was having faith in myself and in what I was pursuing. Although my family and friends have always been supportive, the pressures of school during my teenage years really wore down on my sense of self for a while.

My time in high school was great but honestly, it was one of the most stressful periods of my life. I attended a charter school for low income students where the aim was to get underprivileged youth to be the first in their families to go to college. It was a really tough curriculum for seven years and there was this unspoken pressure to follow more ‘successful’ career paths, typically toward the STEM fields, to break your family out of the cycle of poverty. I spent a lot of that time trying to impress my peers and teachers academically while juggling my passion for art. I often felt selfish for pursuing my dream, like I was letting everybody down and in order to make up for that, I had to be the perfect student. I spread myself really thin those final years of high school to the point where I had a severe mental breakdown right before I graduated.

I had spent years struggling to balance what I wanted and what I thought others wanted from me, but after that breakdown I realized that nothing is worth destroying my mental health over. Even though I still carry those expectations from my family and my peers, I’ve learned that having faith in myself is the best and most important thing I can do for me.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I’m currently a freelance animator working on various short film projects and doing commission work. My main focus is more toward storyboarding and I’m looking to get into the animation industry as a story artist. I’ve been told my work is an eclectic blend of heartwarming with a dark twist haha. My parents had a side business of renovating and reselling vintage furniture so I grew up around a lot of antiques and dusty trinkets. I think it really influenced my love for midcentury design and my leanings toward the peculiar in my art as well.

I’m proud of being a first-generation college graduate who came to pursue art. To be the first in my family to pave the way for my own future is not only a gift but one of my biggest accomplishments. It took a lot to know I’m on the right path but I can’t imagine pursuing anything else with as much heart as I put into animation.

I think what sets me apart from others is my perspective. I suppose everybody has a unique perspective but I appreciate that my mixed-race background and exposure to a variety of different cultures at a young age opened my eyes to all the ways I can tell a story. My family raised me on tales in Japanese, English, and Spanish and I think it’s special that I get to carry that with me wherever I go.

What matters most to you? Why?
What matters most to me is respect, in the sense that everything in life deserves it inherently and is one of the most important things you can give to others and yourself. I think taking the time to consider the value of something, whether that be a person’s existence or the mug you use everyday, is a very beautiful and precious thing. Everything starts with respect because it opens the avenues for gratitude, empathy and open-mindedness which is what connects you to the world.


  • Illustrations: $50 – $200 per piece depending on complexity and size
  • Animation/Storyboarding: $25/hr.

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