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September 18, 2019

Beyond Borders

A storyboard artist strives and thrives in her adopted home.

Ramin Zahed
  • Brooks Stonestreet

Growing up in Mexico City, Lila Martinez never thought that she could pursue a job in animation.

It wasn't until she caught a TV documentary about Tex Avery that the idea entered her mind.

"I was a Disney fan all the way, but after watching that show, I decided that I wanted to work in this field," says the storyboard artist, who currently works in Los Angeles on the Fox TV Animation/TBS series American Dad. "I realized that animation was a real art form. I began to read all about the Nine Old Men, Disney's famous animators of the Golden Age, and learned everything I could about the classics."

After studying graphic arts in Mexico City, Martinez worked as a model to save enough to attend Vancouver Film School, which she hoped would open doors to jobs in the Mexican feature animation industry. It did, and in 2010, she cofounded an animation studio that did work for FXX and ad agency clients.

In 2013, she met producer Sandra Rabins (Shrek, DreamWorks Dragons) at an animation conference in Burbank. "When I first showed Sandy my work, she was very honest with me and told me I wasn't ready," Martinez relates. "I started to train with artists and practice my art every day."

A few months later, she took a storyboard test and passed with flying colors, which landed her on Chris Jenkins's 2018 Netflix movie, Duck Duck Goose. "It was a five-month job, which turned into a year and a half. I was very lucky because that led to positions at The Simpsons and American Dad."

Finding employment with the big studios can be challenging for applicants who lack green cards, Martinez says. "A lot of the studios may say they will hire you, but they don't want to deal with the paperwork. [They're reluctant] even if you tell them that you're willing to do all the work to take care of the work permit.

"I want everyone to celebrate that America is a country of immigrants, and that we are not 'the worst people.' We're artists who work hard to contribute and to achieve our dreams and earn a place in this beautiful country."

In today's anti-immigration climate, Martinez says she can't afford to make mistakes. "I need to constantly learn and improve my skills, which is a good thing. I feel very lucky to have met and worked with amazing directors and artists in Los Angeles. It's an exciting time to be in this field, because everyone seems to be interested in producing and creating animation."

And it's more than just a career — Martinez says animation is a lifestyle choice. "You truly have to love it. You have to study the craft and apply yourself with hard work. If you stop learning, you're taking a step backwards. Persevere, and your time will come."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2019

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