As a lead animator working in Hollywood, Ernesto Bottger says he has to be an expert at the responsibilities he is trusted with, especially when overseeing the animation of an entire character. In “Free Birds,” Bottger, is assigned to the character Myles Standish (voiced by Colm Meaney), a hunter who is looking to bag the film’s two lead turkeys (voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson) for Thanksgiving dinner.
During our interview, Bottger, who is originally from Peru, talked about how the Thanksgiving holiday fits into the film’s narrative, and shares with us the kinds of cartoons he watched growing up in Lima.
As an animator, do you try to design the character around the actor or actress hired to voice the character?
Well, first of all, [actor] Colm Meaney’s voice is amazing, so we definitely wanted to build the character around the characteristics of [Colm’s] voice. Physically, the character was not based on [Colm], but his voice added a lot to the character. You design the character and then when you add the voice it just makes the character richer.
How much does the holiday of Thanksgiving play a part in the film?
The movie itself is not about Thanksgiving, but it just happens around that time. It’s definitely a family movie. I think it will even do well internationally for countries that don’t have Thanksgiving. In Peru, where I am from, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But this movie is more about finding yourself and finding something that is greater than you.
Growing up in Peru, were you able to see a lot of American-made cartoons? What would you watch?
Oh, yeah. I watched a lot of “Looney Tunes,” “Smurfs,” “The Flintstones.” Any cartoons you watched, I probably watched, too.
Was that when your love for animation started?
Well, I always liked to draw since I was little. As I grew up, I wanted to become an animator, but there wasn’t really an animation industry. So, I majored in film, television and advertising and worked in the advertising industry for four years. But then I realized I really wanted to pursue my goal as an animator.
Looking forward, what do you want out of the animation industry? Can you see yourself doing this for a while?
Oh, yeah. What I’m doing right now is a dream come true. I definitely want to continue working on films and keep growing as a professional.
Even though you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving yourself, what would you say you’re the most thankful for this year?
A lot of stuff. I have a baby, who is just going to turn two years old in November. And then, of course, being able to work on “Free Birds.”
I have a two year old, too, so I get to see a lot of cartoons. What does your two year old make you watch with him?
He was into movies for a while, but now he’s watching [the new animated series] “Batman.” That’s fine with me because I love that character. The look of the series is really dark, but he loves it.
You must be excited about him growing up and learning what daddy does for a living.
Yeah, I can’t wait to show him a movie and say, “Hey, your daddy worked on that.” It’s going to be awesome.