Cetati Studios’ Animation Director Danny Ochoa, who grew up in Southern California, has been drawing as far back as he can remember.
“My earliest memory is being planted in front of the television set at like 5 years old and watching stuff like “The Flintstones” and Looney Tunes. Back in those days, in-between programs KCLA used to show how cartoons were made in the Hanna-Barbera plant. There would be animators sitting at a tables animating Fred Flintstone and other characters. I remember thinking as a kid that there was no doubt in my mind that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.”
The old Looney Tunes cartoons were the ones that really captivated and inspired Ochoa. He loved the work of animators like Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and others, but Bob Clampett, who created classic characters like Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird and Porky Pig—really drew him in.
“Yes, I was that kid reading the credits before the cartoon, that’s the kind of kid I was.”
Ochoa wanted to attend the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles County because of their excellent job placement program, but wasn’t accepted and had to settle for his second choice, the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where he majored in illustration and 2D Animation.
“I’m really glad I went that route because I had never been to San Francisco before and attending that school made me fall in love with the Bay Area. It’s beautiful up here and I’ve been a resident on and off for the last 20 years.”
Just like in numerous other industries, the days when artists and animators worked at the same place for 40 years like say, Disney or Warner Bros., are long gone. Opportunities spring up and animators go where the work is. Since he graduated from college in 2004, Ochoa has worked for The Julia Group, Bento Box Entertainment LLC, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, Echo Bridge Pictures LLC, and FOX Animation Domination High Definition among others. The duties he performed including being lead director, animator, graphic designer and working as lead animator on the YouTube series “The Guzman Show.”
“Living in and around Los Angeles for the last 10 years sometimes you can work at a studio for two months then be unemployed for five months. Sometimes that’s because shows you work on are seasonal and are only on certain parts of the year. Now, artists can get lucky and work on a job that goes on for years, but, even then, when it wraps, you’re back to square one.”
The uniqueness of Cetati Studio’s products—useful, rigorous math instruction married to engaging, second-to-none animation— was a major selling point for Ochoa to want to be involved.
“I’ve seen examples of other apps on the market, but none of the animation comes close to what we’re doing. That makes me feel good about the project. Not only do I animate, I oversee what everyone else is doing. If they have questions about what a character’s motivation is for a scene, I give them insight. I assign the scenes and wear many hats. Also, if there is a new design that has to be done quickly, I have to do that on the fly as well—I do many things in a day.”
A collaborative spirit is encouraged and cultivated at Cetati Studios and it helps that many members of the staff worked together on past projects.
“We inspire each other. For example, I used to work with Supervising Director Ken Mitchroney many years ago on “The Guzman Show” and he was the storyboarder and I was the animator, but there was so much as an artist that I learned from Ken. I always felt that he’s a mentor–always showing me something I didn’t know. That’s the great thing about working here– we have each other to inspire and help each other out.”
When asked if he was a good math student, Ochoa’s answer reflects that of a number of the staff on the artistic side of the company.
“Uh, that’s a big fat no! I was the average C student. In school I was constantly doodling and having teachers tell me I would never amount to anything as long I kept it up. I’ve played the games and the programs that we make here at Cetati Studios and, boy howdy, it’s a lot of fun and engaging and I know a lot of kids will benefit from it. I wish we had had something like it when I was in school.”
Making music is Ochoa’s number one obsession outside of animation and when he was a teenager he was the singer and lead guitarist for a punk rock band called Trepanation. His musical influences are “the old stuff which I call the good stuff”—specifically The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and more. He is a huge Led Zeppelin fan and Jimmy Page is his six-string inspiration.
“It’s so funny because in LA all my friends are animators, but in the Bay Area all of my friends are musicians.”
Whether creating music or art, Ochoa has the ability to see or hear what he wants to express fully-formed in his head before picking up his guitar or a pencil.
Even a cursory glance at Ochoa’s work on Instagram or Tumblr reveals the scope of artistic talent he possesses. There are flawless Looney Tunes drawings, rich, detailed sketches of famous folks he admires like Buster Keaton and Janis Joplin, and numerous other wonderful, weird and whimsical creations that flowed from his imagination. They truly have to be seen and not read about to be appreciated. While he has cartoons, comic strips, sketches and paintings, there are also several examples of his first and lasting artistic love.
“Animation is my favorite because there’s no bounds to what you can do. It’s probably the most collaborative art form and there is so many different aspects of art going into it as well. Drawing, filmmaking, storyboarding, acting, music—I’ve been fascinated by it since I was a kid.”
Ochoa’s work as the Animation Director at Cetati Studios is fulfilling artistically and he has to pinch himself that he gets paid for doing what he loves to do.
“If I had to say anything to aspiring artists or animators, it’s to never lose focus. Don’t lose sight of your dreams and be persistent and you can do what you love for a living. This is a great company and I count my blessings that I get to be a part of this.”