University of Technology, Arts and Design


María Pareja: from studying Animation at U-tad to being Art Co-director at Wolfwalkers

María Pareja studied Animation at U-tad, and has been working at Cartoon Saloon for more than two years, as Junior Art Director and some different roles. She has worked closed with the directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.Recently. Our former student has been involved as art co-director at Wolfwalkers, the new feature film created by the great company nominated at Oscar Awards, and Annie Awards. In fact, our student recently has received an Annie Award for Best Production Design. This is what she had to say!

You’ve worked as a co-art director in WW. What do you feel having that position after finishing your degree so recently?

I’ve started in the project as a scene illustrator artist, we used to do final illustrations to define the style of the movie. We were 5  in the department and I was lucky to find in each artist illustrations what the directors liked and mix it all. That’s why when the department wrapped, my illustrations were the ones that represented better what they would like to achieve style wise. I think what worked well was the character integration on them. So after this they gave me the great opportunity to continue as production designer. So I feel very lucky and thankful.


Could you explain to us the role  you’ve had in the movie, what did you have to do?

As a production designer I’ve been working very close to the directors and supervisors. I’ve been doing style guides for the artists, mainly for backgrounds, to make sure the style was consistent through all the production.  As the background departments wrapped up,  I was helping the next ones, FX, COMP, making new concepts or references to explain specific designs. I’ve also done some location design and little color scripts for some sequences. I’ve also done some final line backgrounds and color backgrounds. Basically helping all the departments with any question related to style.


Could you talk to us about the movie?

Yes, over the whole production I’ve been working with the directors. I was going to all the reviews and taking notes to make references or designs for the artists and supervisors. At some point they were also asking me my opinion  and I was also able to give notes (always with their approval). For me has been an amazing learning process. I’ve educated my eye a lot. Both directors are lovely persons and they’ve helped me with anything I needed. Most of the time they listened to my opinions but at the end they are the directors and the final decision was theirs to make. But they let me kind of art direct a sequence and that was very exciting and scary at the same time haha. Being 2 directors sometimes was hard to find a point where they both were happy with everything, but it has been very easy to work with them. I wish all the directors were like that.


Could you tell us something about the process of design, as a production designer for the movie?

As you can see on the trailer on youtube, the movie has like 2 different styles, so we had to always find a balance between them. The best part was trying to bring the energy in every single thing, from the background to the character cleanup, to the color. Playing with watercolors textures and the colors. It has been a very fun experience to work in a traditional media and mix it with the digital part.


You’ve worked in different positions in Cartoon Saloon, which one enriched you more?

Both positions taught me a lot. Maybe the production designer, (also because it is the one I spent more time on), because I managed to learn from every department. I think what I’ve learnt the most is to listen and understand what directors want and translate it to what the artists need. To work in a team basically.


Do you know where you would like to work next, what’s your next step in animation?

Right now I’m art directing a short film for Green Peace with Cartoon Saloon. Here I’m doing what I love the most, concepts and designs. In the future I would like to keep digging about art direction, visual development etc. I don’t know, I like everything and I adapt almost to anything, so. What I would definitely like is to work on projects with positive messages about climate change or social topics related to genders etc.


Which one would be the most special project you’ve worked on and why?

Wolfwalkers are probably the only one I’ve worked on so far. But it will always have a special place in my heart not only because of the project, but also for the friends and amazing people that I’ve met in the process. For how much I’ve learned, and because it’s just pure magic.


How do you think U-tad helped you to get where you are right now. 

When I studied Animation in U-tad, everything was more focused on 3D animation, so there were a couple of teachers that helped me a lot with my drawing skills, but what helped the most was that I worked really hard in my free time. I spent the whole day drawing and trying to be better, and at the end it seems like it paid off so I’m pretty happy and proud.