Jorge Gutiérrez’s long-awaited Netflix animated show features a dazzling array of visual styles reminiscent of hand-drawn 2D, stop-motion and CG animation.
Jorge Gutiérrez’s long-awaited Netflix animated limited series “Maya and the Three”, about a rebellious Mesoamerican teenage princess battling the gods of the underworld, celebrates culture on an epic scale. Told in nine parts, it offers a dazzling array of visual styles evoking hand-drawn 2D, stop-motion and CG animations.
Indeed, “Maya and the Three” is the proof that the Mexican animator (“The Book of Life”, “El Tigre”) is at the top of his art. Then again, Gutiérrez is just getting started with what his wife and longtime collaborator Sandra Equihua calls the “Jorgeverse”.
“We’ve been in the industry for 21 years, just trying to make things,” Gutiérrez said. “I finally have the impression that we are trusted to do [what we want] in a way that reflects who we are. […] We are the same as 20 years ago. It’s not like we’re different in any way. It’s just that now we have more opportunities.
Fresh out of CalArts, the duo landed on the scene in 2007 with Nickelodeon’s multiple Emmy Award-winning series “El Tigre,” a tribute to Mexican culture Luchador wrapped in a family sitcom. Gutiérrez’s vibrant 2014 Golden Globe-nominated film “The Book of Life” took a spectacular dive into Día de los Muertos, receiving an Annie Award for character design.
However, “Maya and the Three” ultimately offered Gutiérrez the chance to experience animation in a way he hadn’t been allowed to before. This included playing with the framing and the aspect ratio to highlight the big moments: a technique he wanted to use on “The Book of Life”. The extension of the frame had become another tool in Gutiérrez’s arsenal, “just as we use music, sound and color to give the audience a little something extra, we use it too”, a- he added. “And I can never go back. Now I want to do this all the time.
Equihua and Gutiérrez shared the myriad of character designs, including a whole pantheon of gods, for “Maya and the Three”, with Equihua supporting children and female characters. “It’s been trial and error with Jorge since we started working together,” she said. “Through a series of steps, we understood that we had to work with each other’s strengths. And my strength is the women, the cute children … and Jorge, it’s more the men, the monsters, the big gnarled creatures.
The pair have incorporated “all back and forth,” Equihua said. “My design philosophy is less is more, whereas Jorge’s is more is better – as you can clearly see in the series – but this juxtaposition really helps each other’s characters in the game. development.”
The villain of “Maya and the Three” Lord Mictlan (Alfred Molina) is a perfect example of Gutiérrez’s excess. “Secretly when I saw him,” Equihua said, “I was like,“ I don’t know how this thing is going to move, ”but he believed in it from the start and we had a really good team to. help us out. And, thanks to Grayskull’s power, we figured it out, and it’s flawless.
It’s “a golden time” for people working in animation, according to Gutiérrez, who credits Netflix for giving creators a global platform to tell their stories. “What Netflix has done with people like us is they say, ‘Now you can do something genuine out of your culture, and that’s for the whole world. And we will support this vision. Earlier in our careers it was always, “Anything you do has to work for the United States and if it works outside of the United States, bonus.”
“Maya and the Three” picks up many talents from “The Book of Life”, including Zoe Saldaña as fiery Princess Maya and Diego Luna as Zatz, the handsome and magnetic prince of bats sent to bring back Maya in Hell on her 15th birthday. The sprawling voice cast also includes a host of stars such as Gael García Bernal, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Cheech Marin and the legendary Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”), as well as Gutiérrez and Equihua as parents of Maya, the king and queen of Teca.
Gutiérrez also reunited with “The Book of Life” production designer Paul Sullivan and Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (“Babel”, “Brokeback Mountain”) for “Maya and the Three”. Working with artists from around the world, the series’ animation was produced at the since-closed Tangent Animation Studios in Toronto and Winnipeg. The production team chose to use the open source software Blender to bring the project to life.
“I’m a CG technician,” said Gutiérrez, who had fallen in love with Tangent’s earlier work on the animated feature “Next Gen”. “I couldn’t believe they did this with Blender,” he said. “The team there was great. And, of course, when they started testing for ‘Maya’ I saw things that completely changed the way I approach things.
The remote distributed workflow enabled by Blender proved particularly useful during the pandemic lockdown. “When Covid hit, they were more than willing to work remotely and work from home,” Gutiérrez said. “My hat is forever and ever returned to the late Tangent Animation for creating this brilliant, brilliant piece of animation. “
“Maya and the Three” is available to stream on Netflix.