Courtesy of Tonatiuh Grasa.

By Liliana Corona

Can you imagine what it would be like to take your talent to another country? Tonatiuh Grasa López’s persistence and interest in animation led him to one of this industry’s most developed cities, where he found a place to live his dream of bringing cartoon characters to life.

Tona, as he prefers to be called, works for Rainmaker Entertainment, an animation company based in Vancouver, Canada, where he’s been living for the past six years. He holds a digital art degree from Tec de Monterrey, State of Mexico campus, and now gives free rein to his greatest passion, which is the creation and development of animated characters.

Thanks to iLuma Fest, an animation, video game, and dubbing event hosted by Tec de Monterrey’s Puebla campus, Tona returned to Mexico to share his experience in the industry and help out with reviewing student portfolios. He also gave a workshop and met undergraduate students to share advice on how to succeed at university and at work.

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Tona shared the stage with other international animation talent and conceptual artists such as Tim Kaminski, Donglu Yu, Thomas Astruc, Michelle Lin, Angela Sung, Tommy Rojas, Jessica Ángeles, John Nevarez, and other talented professionals from the industry.

“Mexico’s changing now. When I graduated, there were almost no Mexicans working in the industry. Many people were working on more technical things like modelling, reeling, effects (that’s not to say effects aren’t artistic). These things require a little more knowledge of software, which is what they were teaching us at the Tec at the time,” he said in an interview with Tec Review.

To further his education and follow his creative passion, Tona Grasa traveled to Vancouver to enroll at Capilano University, where he studied commercial animation. Thus trained, he began to forge a career in that city, first working at a restaurant to pay the bills and then getting his first breaks at local studios.

Success stories aren’t a straight line of progress to the top. They’re full of ups and downs or self-doubt. Tona’s case was no exception, as he’d studied communication before studying digital art. He found his calling at a Tec-organized event that Capilano University members had been invited to.

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“They brought in Capilano when I was at the Tec. I met Don Perro (he’s a guy called ‘Don Perro’). That’s when the light bulb went on. I said, ‘I really like this. That’s what I want to do.’ So, I started asking him for advice and doing more of the things he recommended doing, but it wasn’t my plan to study abroad at the time,” said Tona.

Six years later, Tona Grasa replied to the call from his alma mater and shared his formula for surviving the industry with new generations of digital artists, namely, ask, listen, advice, humility, and opinion (PECHO in Spanish).

“Everyone does things at their own pace. Don’t try to rush,” said Tona, in an attempt to quell the doubts of students who’re about to graduate. “Adversities in this industry are almost always in your head. You put up mental blocks like, ‘What if I’m not good enough?’ he added.

However, it’s no secret that you have to work with discipline for success to find you. “There’s a lot of competition. You have to work very hard and try to stand out a bit so that people from the studios and companies notice you. Even if you’re really good, there’ll always be someone better than you. You have to keep working, be humble, accept advice, and listen to people you respect,” explained Tona Grasa when talking about his way of working.

Just like Tona Grasa, digital art students can forge their careers in other countries to experience the animation industry in depth, always bearing in mind that discipline at school and at work will open up tremendous opportunities for development.