While Cetati Studios has assembled a team of professionals with decades of experience in the animation field including Disney/Pixar veterans like Ken Mitchroney and Davy Feiten, they have also added some talented young guns. Animators Marcella Gonçalves and Maggie Alikpala are both 2019 graduates from California art schools and are now co-workers, friends and roommates.
Marcella Gonçalves is from the city of Brusque in Santa Catarina, Brazil and graduated in May from the California College of the Arts.
“After graduation, I searched for a job and I wasn’t getting too many call backs so I decided to go to Brazil to visit my family. The second I got to Brazil, (Cetati CEO) Brian Lovrin contacted me and said they were interested in adding an animator and rigger to their team,” Gonçalves said.
Rigging is the process by which drawings are given, for lack of a better analogy, a skeleton so they can then simulate natural motions when animated. The “bones” all have to be connected to ensure they move smoothly and correctly. Gonçalves has excelled in the process using the industry standard, the ToonBoom Harmony.
“I always liked drawing and painting, but never on the computer. I mainly used paper and traditional methods. Only in University did I get more into computer art—specifically animation and digital painting,” Gonçalves said. “I’ve almost abandoned traditional now because I really like using the computer. I think it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”
Before graduating in the states, Gonçalves earned a degree in Design Animation from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in her native country. She was hired by Brazilian company Belli Studios and worked on children’s cartoons that were shown internationally like “The Big Big Friend” and others that only aired in Brazil.
“One of my favorite projects was “Terra Prometida” (“Promised Land”). It was on Netflix a few years ago. It was a World War II documentary featuring real stories from real people that escaped from Germany and fled to Brazil during the war,” Gonçalves said. “There were lots of interviews with Jews who fled and it also covered Nazi war criminals who hid there because that happened too. I like when two things like that can mix. It’s history, but is told with art.”
Gonçalves cites the high cost of living in California as the biggest contrast with living in her home country, but has learned that people are people wherever you go. She dearly misses her super-smart rescue dog Sushi and even misses her family’s other dogs, golden retrievers Ozzie and Jimmy, who she describes as “silly and dumb.”
Unlike others on the creative side of the company, Gonçalves enjoyed math—partly due to the fact that her mother is a retired teacher.
“I think everybody likes math, they just don’t know it because the way we learn about it in school is just so boring. People who didn’t like math probably didn’t like memorizing formulas. You use math without thinking about it. Symmetry is math. When you draw, you apply that, but you just don’t think about it,” Gonçalves said.
In both her work in Brazil and at Cetati Studios, Gonçalves has been blessed to enjoy pleasant, supportive working relationships, which she feared might not be the case.
“I heard a lot of horror stories about working at studios. Things about competition and people undermining you and giving harsh feedback designed not to help you, but put you down. I have friends who’ve had that experience. But I’m grateful that nothing like that has ever happened to me,” Gonçalves said. “In Brazil we had a great team and Cetati has been really fun. The team is very positive. They give you feedback and encouragement. I became friends and roommates with Maggie.”
While she is still trying to find her unique artistic voice, Gonçalves is sure that one thing she wants to do with her talents is use them to create something that matters. Cetati Studios’ products fit snugly into that vision.
“I don’t think animation has to be just for entertainment. We are using it to teach and kids can learn while they are having fun which is much more natural. The earlier you can get people to love math or science—especially girls that are not pushed towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) studies like boys are—the better,” Gonçalves said.
While Maggie Alikpala tells everyone she is from Seattle, she is actually from a much smaller suburb of the state’s largest and best known city called Poulsbo, Washington.
“I just say Seattle because nobody knows where Poulsbo is.”
Alikpala’s artistic ability was discovered at a young age.
“When I was in first grade, we had an art competition for Earth Day and I won it for my grade and was awarded $50 which is a lot of money for a first grader. My dad was super into animation and my mom does pastels and music. I’ve always been around art.” Alikpala said. “Later my dad would buy these “how to draw” books on like the Simpsons or Family Guy and it was always interesting to see not only how to draw the character, but how to make them move. I sometimes felt like the pencil work was more beautiful than the finished animation.”
Early 2000’s Cartoon Network offerings as well as more classic cartoons like “The Flintstones” and the Charlie Brown specials inspired Alikpala. While she was always a doodler and can now see it was inevitable that she become an animator, a specific event turbocharged her drive to get into the industry.
“When “The Incredibles” DVD came out it had a behind-the-scenes feature with storyboards. There’s one storyboard where Elastigirl stretches out and reaches for the key to open the door and that wasn’t in the script at all. I thought ‘Omigod, I can help create something like that!’ Now I like storyboarding, but I like animating more,” Alikpala said.
One of the things that helped to sharpen her artistic abilities was intensive studies of the human body and how it looks when moving and at rest.
“Studying anatomy definitely helps take your animation to the next level because it makes it more believable and that’s what you are trying to do when you are animating is make them look semi-believable and/or entertaining,” Alikpala said. “Here at Cetati, I animate puppets. The rigs that Marcella makes are called puppets. Rigging is a lot of intensive labor, not that animation isn’t, but it takes a lot of technical ability.”
Another thing that helped with being able to visualize and recreate movement in a cartoon environment was being an athlete. Since she was a little girl, Alikpala has played soccer.
“When I was younger I started playing and got good at it. I wasn’t much of a runner, but I was good with my hands so I played goalkeeper,” Alikpala said. “I started playing on advanced teams and traveled to California, Oregon and Canada. I played at Bellevue College for a year and then transferred to the Academy of Art in 2015 and played the last three years there.”
The Academy of Art is the only NCAA D-II collegiate soccer team from an art school. For Alikpala it was the best of both worlds.
“Art is a niche in itself and soccer is still kind of a niche in the U.S. It’s still more prevalent along the coastlines than the Midwest. I’ve always wanted to do animation since I was little and being able to play soccer at an art school was amazing,” Alikpala said.
Now that she is living her dream, Alikpala also remains a fan of what inspired her in the first place.
“There really is no age limit for cartoons. My 4-year old nephew watches some of the same things that I used to watch and I still find them just as entertaining as I used to which is amazing to me. This medium can be shown to anybody and be entertaining,” Alikpala said.
Being a part of the Cetati team has been relatively stress-free for Alikpala.
“We are all working on something we want to make and are making it good for the kids. This doesn’t feel like work sometimes.”
To view Marcella Gonçalves’s website, please visit http://marcellagoncalves.weebly.com
To view Maggie Alikpala’s website, please visit https://www.maggiealikpalawilson.com/2d-animation