Rocío Ayuso

Spanish journalist Rocio Ayuso graduated from the Universidad del Pais Vasco (UPV) with a BA in Communications, Science, and Cinema before completing an MA in Journalism from Universidad Autónoma Madrid (UAM) and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Deusto (Spain). Ayuso has worked around the world as a journalist starting in Spain before heading to London and then Los Angeles where she worked for international news agency Agencia EFE and other outlets including Canal Plus TV, Hearst Publications, and Grupo Prisa. She currently writes for Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, and the online media, Audiovisual 451, covering art, entertainment, and the film industry. Ayuso has written two books: “La Guerra En Directo” about the first Gulf War, and “Bill Plympton, the Tireless Filmmaker” about the well-known American animator. In 2015, she was awarded the International Media Award by the ICG Publicist Association and has served on many film festival juries, including the Stuttgart Festival, Mumbai Arena Film Festival, and Festival de Series in Madrid.

  • Interviews

An Evening with Guillermo del Toro at the Annecy Festival

At the Annecy Festival, where the animation industry and those who dream of being part of it gathered last June, Guillermo del Toro’s presence is revered as that of a god.

The master from Guadalajara, winner of the Golden Globe both in live-action for directing The Shape of Water (2018) and in animation for his victory with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2023), was the one who made it possible for this edition of the foremost animated film event to focus on Mexico.

Del Toro’s presence in the French town was as brief as it was ubiquitous, with just 24 hours that seemed eternal, given his omnipresence in conferences, talks, signings and presentations – always ready to meet and have a conversation with everyone, even under the rain.

The filmmaker’s expertise extends not only to animation but to cinema in general because, as the creator of Pan’s Labyrinth (2007) always reminds us, animation is cinema. He appears to have boundless knowledge and is always eager to share it with anyone who asks.

That’s why we decided to share some excerpts from his master class that we attended in Annecy, held in a packed room where he was received and applauded as “the one and only.” The following are selected quotes.

On his beginnings in animation

When I was eight years old, I borrowed my father’s Super 8 camera and started what I thought was animation. But the camera wasn’t equipped for frame-by-frame shooting. It was terrible. I tried again in my adolescence with a better camera.

Then, I began teaching animation to students one year younger than me at the institute…From the start, I realized that others were great and I was not. I also realized that I hated animating, and what I loved was directing animation.

I had always thought I would be an animator but life happens while you make other plans and I couldn’t return to animation until Pan’s Labyrinth, when I started supervising and producing DreamWorks films like Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Rise of the Guardians (2012) and Puss in Boots (2011).

On his love for stop-motion

Because it (stop-motion) is the most beautiful of all animation techniques, the most intimate one that exists, with that connection between the animator and the model. In traditional animation, you’ll draw the keyframes but someone else will do the in-between drawings. In 3D, there’s a mouse and a computer between the human and the model.

Stop-motion is the closest to playing with your toys. As a child, I grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and wanted all those models that appeared in it. I still do. I always keep all the models from my films.

Besides, I hate perfection. I adore things that look handmade. I like stop-motion because it’s handmade, tangible, handcrafted cinema…All of us here are the weird ones. Our families think we’re good for nothing. And those of us who work in stop-motion are the worst.

We’re the violent lunatics of the asylum because it’s an art form that is too slow, painful and old-fashioned. I don’t believe art should be practical or rational. Art is the most unnecessary form for the material world but it’s the most necessary for the spiritual world. And stop-motion is my religion.

About his influences

My first god was King Kong. The second was Ray Harryhausen. The third was UPA (United Productions of America, an animation studio), especially its short film, The Tell-Tale Heart. Then came Disney, Miyazaki, and later, the Fleischer brothers, who made masterpieces like the Superman cartoons.

In stop-motion, you have George Pal with a series of shorts called Puppetoons, which I grew up with. In 1960s Mexico, where I grew up, Harryhausen was as important as Disney. The beginnings of the Toho studios, where Miyazaki and Takahata later worked, had a profound impact on me although, in a way, I already knew it. And, of course, they had done it.

I realized they were the guys I had grown up with and they had given emotional heft to series like Heidi or Marco. Animation, for me, is the purest form of art that exists and has been hijacked by a group of villains from whom we must rescue it.

On the current evolution of animation

Each generation of animators is pushing the medium further. Many, many have fallen to pave the way for those who come next so they can continue pushing and keeping this medium alive. It seems like an impossible struggle but if each one of us pushes, even if it hurts and pushes harder and it hurts more, then you’re doing it right.

And we can send a bunch of Trojan horses filled with good things into the world of animation. I have a scholarship for Mexican animators studying at the Gobelins School (French animation school). And every year, when I review the applications, I wonder why the feature films I see are not as good as the short films produced by any of the schools. The answer is that the industry is the one in control and destroys initiative.

On artificial intelligence

When people tell me they are afraid of artificial intelligence, I tell them not to fear any form of intelligence. Fear stupidity. All types of intelligence are artificial; stupidity is natural. We are the natural product of stupidity and that is the real enemy.

We must fight against stupidity by not accepting defeat without a fight. Animation is for the untamed spirits, those who say “f*** you” to the world they were presented with as children. Never stop saying “f*** you” to the world. Say it until you cry.

I adore monsters because they are a “f*** you” with a body. Monsters are things that should not exist but they have their own beauty in their imperfections. Nurturing that is very important to me.

On his animation style

It’s something we discussed with Rodrigo Blaas in Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia. Let’s make unnecessary movements. In animation, all movements are very effective when reality is full of unnecessary gestures.

Let’s animate without being efficient because that way, we animate reality. That’s one. Don’t cut to a shot with a character speaking. Cut to the character listening. Animation often falls into the trap of cutting from one character speaking to another character speaking.

Or worse, from one speaking to another raising an eyebrow. It’s more important to see the characters think, where nothing happens except seeing them think.

Why aren’t there characters in animation with knee pain like me? Everyone in animation moves like in a sitcom and nobody moves like that in real life. In animation, a character’s movement is the most important information. Those are the things I pay attention to.

Another rule of my animation is tone. When I see something like The Red Turtle (2016), I fall to my knees and cry. Or when I saw My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Miyazaki does something that only great artists know how to do – he presents you with a beauty that never existed and will never exist. The impossibility of the beauty they present is unattainable in the real world.

The grass at Studio Ghibli, their clouds, they have never existed and will never exist. The innocence of children or the purity of their emotions. You cry not only because of their beauty but also because of their impossibility; it is painfully beautiful.

Another rule is to cut to moments that have nothing to do with what is happening. End the narration with drops of water on a stone or a tadpole in the river. That is life.

Having said that, animation that moves like a sitcom is necessary to entertain children. You have to have all kinds of animation; you can’t think that every film has to be like (Andrei) Tarkovsky’s. But some should be. What I’m saying is, we can have more flavors.

On his future

I am working on projects in both mediums. Among them, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant that I hope to do in stop-motion and take what we have done in Pinocchio to another level.

I believe you can make a dramatic adult fantasy film in stop-motion. As I often say, a melodrama in the style of Robert Benton that moves people. In fact, what animation has is that it injects emotion into your veins.

We are very skeptical when it comes to actors but animation transports us and touches us directly in our emotions in a way no other medium can.

I would also like to make a couple more live-action films, not many, and then focus solely on animation. But that’s the plan, and my plans never work out… I make live-action films with fear, the ones that scare me and make me think, how the hell am I going to do that? And I do it.

With animation, it’s a deep pleasure. I swim in animation; I feel like an orca, a gigantic marine creature. Free Willy del Toro.

On how he stays grounded

Because I’m fat. Putting on my socks in the morning requires the Kama Sutra of socks…And for everyone to know, I still get told “No.” In the past two months, five of my projects were rejected. That never goes away.

Making movies is like eating a shit sandwich. There’s always shit, with more or less bread but there’s always that Nutella moment. It’s a collective creation that requires so much money and time and that’s inevitable, even good.

It’s tough and it’s going to be hard. You’ll be rejected and you’ll despair. Everyone’s career seems wonderful from the outside but it’s all an illusion. It’s like Facebook. Nothing is as happy as it seems.

The same goes for a career. Look at mine as an example. In the 30 years I’ve been active, there were at least 16 or 17 years in which I didn’t do anything. For half of my career, I couldn’t do anything. I’ve made 12 films but I’ve written 44 scripts.

The balance between productivity and effort will always remain frustratingly imbalanced. And you’ll always encounter assholes…But I have faith in that art book with your movies, (fill it) with the stories you want to tell, the stories you all carry within you.

Translated by Mario Amaya