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Daily Inspiration: Meet Miguel Baltazar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Miguel Baltazar.

Hi Miguel, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Ever since I could first hold a pen, I drew. I grew up in a Mexican household with two loving and supportive parents. When my dad was growing up in Mexico, he drew when he could. But because he came from extreme poverty, he had to give up school and work to provide for his family. When I was little, I never knew why I liked drawing so much, but when I found that out about my dad, I know I had to carry out that passion. for him. That love of art carried through and developed year after year as my mom was ALWAYS cultivating that love for it by getting me colored pencils, paper, crayons, you name it. She also nurtured my love for film and entertainment by getting me VHS tapes of A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 1 and 2, and Aladdin (in Spanish). Being of Mexican descent, art was never really a thing my parents thought of as a valid career choice. My dad has worked at the same hospital near our house for over 40 years and he always assumed I’d get into the medical field. Well, boy did he make a BIG mistake when he decided to take my brother and I to see Spider-Man back in 2002. You know, the BEST Spider-Man.

And from watching that film, it changed my life forever…and for the better. I hope! And growing up, I was CONSTANTLY glued to the TV, growing up on classic Cartoon Network shows such as Ed, Edd, & Eddy, Teen Titans, Billy and Mandy. And yes, we’ll add Spongebob on there because you have to. From elementary to junior high, then to high school, I was always the artist in the group and also the shy, introverted, weird, awkward kid. It was my identity. It was in high school where my love of art really solidified itself as a career choice when I met my art teacher, Mrs. Moen, who broadened my horizons and made me believe that I could actually make a career out of art. The only problem I had was that I really didn’t know much about what I could do with my art. I wanted to become a film director, but my naivete prevented me from really doing the research and figuring out exactly how I was going to make this art thing work. I really didn’t have a mentor outside of my art teacher to really help me hone in my passion. I liked film and art, but aside from that, I was clueless.

Thankfully my mother, who is a living saint, helped me get off my butt to apply for schools and for FAFSA. I applied for schools and I ended up choosing Cal State Fullerton solely because of their Illustration program. I had no idea what the program would offer, but I knew what the word “Illustration” meant. And with that, I committed to going to Cal State Fullerton. So basically, even today, I felt like I stumbled into EXACTLY what I needed to do. Lucky me! Even in COLLEGE, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’ve been drawing all my life but I was never guided or mentored by anyone. I was always on my own and afraid to ask questions. My first two years of undergrad were typical, being the straight A student that I was back in high school, I only focused on my grades. I took mostly GEs and some art classes. By the end of my 3rd year of school, I felt I was really lost and didn’t know where to go with my art. I was taking my classes and passing them, but in the grander scheme of things, I wasn’t really preparing myself for the real world. I was still in that bubble of academia. I was lucky enough to land a graphic design/study abroad internship in the summer and was able to travel to Denmark where I had the most amazing time of my life and met some of the NICEST and most talented people there.

Being as clueless as I was when it came to the art industry as a whole, I didn’t realize that having a drawing tablet and making art digitally was a thing. I already had a laptop, thankfully, but I didn’t realize how far behind I was when I saw that everyone in the internship, as well as the Danish students we met, knew how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. I knew how to turn on my Mac. But really this was the first major milestone for me because I was able to learn SO MUCH from everybody and get a better idea of how the industry worked as a whole. I knew I needed to catch up because I was still stuck in the stone ages. Really, my path to where I’m at today STARTED in my 4th year of college. I had taken my internship and learned a little bit about Photoshop and Illustrator and how to use a dang Wacom tablet. I took a digital illustration course with a grad student who was actually my roommate back in Denmark, Nick Bockelman. This was the first TRUE first step in understanding more about the industry I wanted to get into. I loved filmmaking and writing scripts but I also loved drawing!

And it was in this class that I learned more about the visual development for animation and film. My passion and interest in knowing more ignited and I was just a sponge ready to absorb as much as I could! It was the first time in my life that I actually began to really take my art career seriously and really hit the books on how the whole industry worked. My 2nd semester, I took a class called Animation Preproduction with Mike Dietz, who is the greatest mentor and person ever. Most of my life, I had really been interested in doing Live-Action films and stuff like that but it was in this class where my life would change again. It was where I learned about Storyboarding. Again, I was a clueless, delusional, but passionate. And this class really set me on the right track and gave me the information I needed to really sit down and improve my art. Not just in the classroom but outside of it. I knew NOTHING, I MEAN NOTHING about animation, character design, cinematography, draftsmanship, film language, drawing principles, NOTHING! I knew how to draw but never truly critiqued myself and gave myself the tools to get better.

So coming into this class, I got my butt whooped. And not with a chance, of course. I crammed in EVERYTHING that I could about animation and storyboarding and once this class was over, I finally saw the path ahead of me. Coming into my fifth year, I was ready to just take on anything related to storyboarding. I had applied to internships at animation studios years prior but this year, I had landed an internship with DreamWorks Animation Television and my brain was firing on all cylinders. My last year of school was an insane crash course on the ins and outs of the animation industry. I went from being a noob to being the unofficial liaison for other students who wanted to know more about the industry. One thing about me that has carried on from what my parents taught me was that despite these opportunities I was getting and despite how fast I was improving in my craft, I ALWAYS, ALWAYS wanted to help others and get them on the right track. I wanted to be the mentor I never had to others because that’s just what I felt was right.

And so by the end of my internship, I was offered a position as a Production Assistant on the show Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny. I graduated May 19th, 2018, a Saturday, and started my new job on May 21st, a Monday. I was over the moon (pun intended, deal with it) to get a job straight out of school and knew that I was going to have new challenges await me. I worked in production with some amazing people for over half a year. During this time, I was still dedicated to getting better at storyboarding and animation in general. I was taking online courses, watching tutorials, reading books, ALL of that while driving 3 hrs a day to and from work. I took numerous storyboard tests (the equivalent of an artist interview) and tried to get feedback from directors but sadly, I couldn’t get time with any of them because they were all so busy! But then I had the courage to approach a director that was rolling off of the Kung Fu Panda show, Dan Forgione, and I asked him if he could take a look at a storyboard I did back in school. I was nervous as hell, I sent him the link to my portfolio and met with him a couple of weeks later.

To my surprise, he told me what I never thought I would hear. “You are ready, my friend”. For the first time in my life, I felt artistically validated. Thankfully Dan was moving onto a new show, Boss Baby: Back in Business and actually recommended me for a Storyboard Revisionist position. I interviewed, thought I wasn’t going to get the job, and then I got it. I was able to transition from production into storyboards and started my new job on October 29th, 2018. I was on Boss Baby for well over a year and learned SO MUCH about film and animation and everything in between. I took a pretty long hiatus (for reasons I will explain later) in November and came back for another season of Boss Baby in February. The Corona Virus Pandemic hit shortly after in March and during this time, I tested for a show at Netflix Animation Studios and got the job. I chose to leave DreamWorks to pursue this opportunity at a new company and have been there ever since! I have been thankful to have worked with insanely talented people both at DreamWorks and Netflix and I have so incredibly blessed with supportive friends and family who have rooted for me since Day One.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
For the most part, no. I think that the journeys worth going on don’t have smooth roads. As a kid, I always struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem and that always affected me deeply. I developed this irrational phobia of asking people questions because I thought they would think I was stupid for asking. I felt like I’d rather just do things on my own. Most of the struggles I faced were mental struggles. Despite my parents supporting me in doing art, they never really thought of it as a true career path. I had people that I cared about deeply say that I shouldn’t go into art because I’m “better” than that. And also coming from Mexican culture, there was never a frame of reference for how the animation industry worked. It was solely viewed as a hobby and not as an actual lifestyle. And honestly, it hurt me sometimes when my parents saw me with all of my expensive art supplies and giving me worried looks.

And whenever I shared what I wanted to do with people, it was usually met with concerned looks and unenthusiastic responses. I totally understood where they were all coming from, but part of me really wished that they would’ve been more supportive. But I always saw it through an empathetic lens. In college, dealt with a lot of Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know why it would overtake me but I always thought I wasn’t good enough to get into college or let alone pursue what I wanted to pursue. I would always downplay my achievements for everybody because I felt like that was the right thing to do, to avoid coming off as cocky. But I realized down the line this was bad for me. I would also attribute my successes with luck and not persistence, making me feel less confident and enthusiastic about what I was doing. And when it came time for me graduating and getting my first job, I felt ashamed because I knew there were other people better than me and more deserving of the job. My self-doubts and anxieties always carried a burden on me when it came to what I did both professionally and personally.

As I was trying to scramble through my last year trying to make a storyboard portfolio, I had moments where I wanted to quit because I felt that I had wasted my four years doing nothing. And on top of my school work, I had to do my internship two days a week where it would require me to drive from Anaheim to Glendale everyday, which was about an hour and half drive, totaling three hours a day. So not only did I have to deal with my self-doubts, I had to deal with school and an internship at the same time. Oh, and graduating. That too. I was at times really overwhelmed with all of this because everything was happening to me at the same time. I was thankful that I didn’t need to worry about paying for school since my FAFSA took care of that, but really I was just being hit with a bunch of bricks at the same time. I felt like all of this would come crashing down because I wasn’t able to manage.

But thankfully, like any good story, these struggles were opportunities for me to really evaluate myself and challenge myself to adapt and overcome what I was dealing with. I slowly overcame my fear of asking questions and seeking help and looking back on the effort and work I put in to get these opportunities, I knew that I was more than capable of accomplishing my goals. As I was gradually dealing with my personal anxieties and self-doubts, I began to come across a new struggle which was maintaining my mental and physical health. Living in Anaheim and now having to commute to Glendale everyday, I began to feel the exhaustion setting in as I did my best to be active during the day at work but also trying to work on personal projects at home. When I got the Storyboard Revisionist job, that’s where my body and mind really started to decline. Because I had to get up so early to drive to work, I slept less. And because DreamWorks offered free breakfast and lunch and desserts, I ate more. And because I got home so late because of traffic, I didn’t exercise or give myself the chance to decompress. And for the first time ever, my body finally told me I needed to take a chill pill. I had reached my threshold and my body and mind needed a recharge.

And despite all of that, I wanted to do more. I still wanted to work on stuff, I still was willing to put myself with that because not doing anything meant being unproductive. So that’s when I decided that I was ok with taking a three months hiatus after a year of being on Boss Baby. I didn’t realize it until after but without that hiatus, I would’ve really got sick. And that’s something that a lot of artists have to deal with. Looking at a screen all day and using repetitive motions on our hands and arms take its toll if we don’t take care of ourselves. All of this that I was dealing with, the fact that I had reached my goal, the goal I have wanted for a long time, left me worse off than I was before. Thinking that really put me in a mental slump as I was trying to recuperate during my hiatus. I really had to reevaluate how I worked and how I was going to be able to keep working while not burning out so fast. This was a major wake up call and I knew I had to find a way to not let my cynicism and mental state keep me from wanting to pursue this career further. I started exercising and stretching more, eating better, taking care of myself. All of this, I knew I had to do in order to feel better down the line.

Thankfully I kept up with this routine and with just being able to rest and sleep more, I gradually got better. Also, being able to work on my own stuff and selling my work at conventions helped me ignite that passion and hunger that I had for storyboarding and art. Thankfully when I came back after my hiatus, I decided to take the train and with the rest that I had, I felt better than ever and ready to tackle what was ahead of me. And then…the pandemic started. But thankfully, I had time to rest, exercise, and become more ergonomic, that I haven’t felt burnt out and I still am willing to push myself (reasonably of course) and keep my passion and energy for art at a healthy level. I still deal with these struggles on the daily, but because I’ve been in the industry long enough, I have those thoughts less and less. The point is, struggle is good. Just make sure you actually learn from it.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Professionally, I work as a Storyboard Revisionist at Netflix Animation Studios. I work closely with the Episodic Directors to help revise and modify the storyboards that the Storyboard Artists did for a particular episode. My future goal is to become a Storyboard Artist, where I can actually go over the script with the director and do the storyboards from scratch. But right now, I am very happy with where I’m at because I can work closely with the directors and learn a lot from them. The job is one of the easier ones, in my opinion, because sometimes there might not be an assignment for me right away and that gives me some time to rest and prepare for my next assignment. This is pretty much what I have done since I got promoted to Revisionist back at DreamWorks in 2018. Sometimes, in between those free moments that I have at work, I focus on my personal art, which mainly consists of storyboards, character designs, fan art, and Mexican people.

As a Mexican American in animation, I’ve really tried to focus my art more on my culture because I feel I have an obligation to show Mexican Culture in an honest and fair light. Most recently, I made a storyboard called Pan Dulce, where it shows an introverted guy name Manny bond with the girl that he likes through Pan Dulce. Honestly, I’m still trying to make more of this art because I know it’s lacking in my work, but I have so many ideas for future projects that I’m not worried. Most recently, during the pandemic, I decided to start my own YouTube channel, where I focus primarily on storyboard tutorials and industry advice. The channel is still fairly new and small but has grown gradually in the six months that I had it. My goal was to make high-quality tutorials and videos at NO COST to anyone. Anybody can look up my channel and watch those videos without having to pay for it. As I’ve said before, I want to give back to the artist community in some way because I know I really struggled trying to find any information on storyboarding and how the industry worked. In the short time that I’ve made videos, I’ve been really blessed to received comments from other aspiring artists and that keeps me going.

This pandemic has negatively affected a lot of us during this year and I just wanted to do something good and make videos to hopefully inspire artists and get them to make cool art. I am always inspired by other artists and creators when they take time out of their lives to make content and art that moves us. And if I can find a way to impact somebody in the smallest way, then I’m fulfilled. I recently became a volunteer for the non-profit organization, Rise Up Animation, where we offer free portfolio feedback and mentorship to BIPOC artists wanting to break into the animation industry. I’ve only done it for a short while, but I’ve really enjoyed meeting new artists who share that same passion as me. It’s been really rewarding getting to see them feel energized and passionate about making their own projects. I am always learning something new from them.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I feel like I can answer this briefly since I didn’t really grow up in LA and haven’t really visited too much. Sorry, Angelenos. What I like the most about LA is the diversity and the melting pot of cultures that exist in LA through the food, art, architecture, and most importantly, the people. I loved visiting La Pacita Olvera and that experience really stood out to me as one of my favorite moments in LA because I love Mexican culture and I was super happy to see a place dedicated to that. Oh, and the food. Can’t forget about that LA food. The one thing that I absolutely, positively, whole-heartedly dislike about LA is the traffic. I do NOT like driving in LA. Period.

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Miguel Baltazar(Pete Nguyen for photo of myself selling my art at the Groundbreaking Pop Up Expo) Miguel Baltazar (Lauren Fan for the photo of myself at the KFP: Paws of Destiny Premiere Party)

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