It didn’t take long for Carlos Baena to decide what he wanted to do with his life after he moved to the U.S. from Spain at the age of 18 in the early 90s. All he had to do was watch a couple of animated films.
“The first movie was ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and the second was ‘Toy Story,’” Baena, 35, told me during a phone interview. “It was then when I knew I at least wanted to try animation. Those two movies really hit me hard.”
Today, Baena isn’t simply trying to make a name for himself in the animated industry. He’s a major player working for one of the most well-respected production studios – Pixar Animation. To top it off, Baena’s career seems to have gone full circle. He is part of the animation department that created “Toy Story 3.”
Since joining Pixar in 2002, Baena has worked on the films “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Ratatouille” and “WALL-E.” In “Toy Story 3,” he helped to animate the character Buzz Lightyear during scenes when the space ranger is accidentally reset to Spanish mode.
During our interview, Baena talked about how “Toy Story 3” complements the entire franchise, what kinds of toys he still enjoys buying, and why the online animation school he co-founded, Animation Mentor, is important to aspiring animators.
How has your experience on “Toy Story 3” compared to other films you’ve worked on in the past?
This was one of the most gratifying experiences in my career. This is a beautiful film in so many ways. It has a great balance of adventure, emotion, and humor. I am very proud of the film. I can’t wait for people to see it.
How does “Toy Story 3” complement the franchise?
I think this one wraps up all three films in a beautiful way. There is a lot of attention to detail and character. It all comes together very nicely. I’ve already watched the movie five or six times and it still gets to me emotionally ever single time. I really think it is a powerful film.
I hear Buzz Lightyear speaks a little Spanish in this new film.
Yes, I had a chance to do a lot of Spanish stuff with that. It was an awesome opportunity – especially since I am from originally Spain – to put a little of my own culture into a character I have loved even before I knew I wanted to do animation.
“Toy Story” was groundbreaking in 1995 and Pixar continues to amaze audiences with every new film. Does it ever surprise you anymore what you can do as an animator as the technology advances?
Yeah, we’re at a point where we can basically make anything we want visually. But the thing I enjoy the most about “Toy Story 3” is that the director and the crew thought it was important that the visuals were in a world that still relates to “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.” Things look better, but they don’t look too realistic like “WALL-E.” We have all this technology but we didn’t want any particular effects to take you out of the “Toy Story” world.
Do you still have any of your old toys from when you were a kid?
Oh, yeah. I have a whole box of old “Star Wars” toys I grew up with. Now, I don’t have as many toys as I do collectables. I loved “The Terminator” growing up, so I have figures from that movie and some from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I like to have toys I know will last me for a very long time. I like to display them but if you have a lot of them it’s not fun cleaning all the dust.
You co-founded an online animation school called animationmentor.com. Tell me why it’s so important to start training the next generation of animators.
Well, my partners and I wanted to start an online school that would teach animation in a way we would have loved to have been taught if we went back to school now. It was important to me because to study animation and learn from the people I wanted to learn from I had to move to an entirely different county and culture. While it has been a great, it was also hard to leave my family. With the online school, students can learn from wherever they are and teachers can teach from wherever they live. All of a sudden, we’ve created an animation community from all over the world.