Feature image: Quique Rivera is an award-winning Puerto Rican artist and stop-motion animator. Courtesy of Quique Rivera.
Quique Rivera Creates Life Through His Multidisciplinary Stop-Motion Art
Quique Rivera is an award-winning Puerto Rican artist and stop-motion animator who established Acho Studio in Puerto Rico. His multidisciplinary art of stop motion animation centered on Latin American identity is all about creating life. His detailed tiny puppets breathe and communicate life to the audience through vibrant colors and vivacious environments that take you to another world.
Quique Rivera is an award-winning Puerto Rican artist and stop-motion animator. When Rivera was growing up in Puerto Rico, he had no idea that later on, he’d devote his life to art and stop-motion animation. As a child, he was always drawing because it was something he enjoyed doing and was synonymous with fun. When he was in high school, he also played the saxophone, and for a while, he thought that would be his profession. Rivera has always been immersed in the art world, and when it was time to choose a field to study in college, he was a bit overwhelmed because he enjoyed many things.
“I liked many things. I felt that I liked so many things that I was not going to be able to be good in just one because I didn’t have one area to explore in-depth,” Rivera said. “So, I started taking sculpture, photography, and film courses [in college]. And I loved them. I’d make sculptures and then photograph them. I really liked taking care of the illumination, and I was very fond of that part.”
Those were the times when Rivera was a student at the University of Puerto Rico, where he obtained a BFA in Audiovisual Communication with a Minor in Sculpture. Taking photographs of his sculpture was just the beginning of his lifelong adventure of exploring stop-motion animation as a multidisciplinary art form. Rivera recalled when he showed the photographs to one of his film critic professors.
“He had the wisdom of telling me about a Czech animator named Jan Švankmajer. When I saw that man’s work, I was completely crazy about the possibilities,” Rivera said. “In Puerto Rico [stop motion animation] was not something you’d know about. I think there wasn’t anyone doing stop motion in that moment, and it was never a career I’d think about. I wouldn’t have even thought it was a possibility.”
Švankmajer’s “ Dimensions of Dialogue ” impacted Rivera so much that he started noticing the similarities between what he was doing and Švankmajer’s materials. They were using the same-colored clay; for Rivera, it seemed it was accessible art. That led him to teach himself how to do stop-motion art, and everything clicked.
He discovered an art form where he could integrate all of his artistic interests: music, editing, film, design, sculpture, and movement. It was the solution to his dilemma of not knowing what to do because he enjoyed many things.
When he dove deep into his exploration and experimentation with stop motion, he noticed he lacked the theoretical knowledge behind this art form. During that time, he had finished his short film “ Menuda Urbe,” the first film he sent to international film festivals. He used that piece to apply to graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), one of the best animation schools in the United States and the world
A Master’s Thesis With a Latin Grammy Nomination
Once he was admitted to the MFA in Experimental Animation program, Rivera ventured into an even more exciting and challenging project: his master’s thesis. His project was nothing more and nothing less than the music video for Calle 13 ’s “Así De Grandes Son Las Ideas” song. This piece landed Rivera a Latin Grammy nomination in the “Best Short Form Music Video” category.
“When I was starting my master’s, I thought about the possibility of doing a project. I loved Calle 13. I was a super fan and I knew René [Pérez Joglar] studied animation and loves art. I thought that since I was doing stop motion and not many people were doing it in Puerto Rico, he’d be interested in working on a music video with me,” Rivera said. “Through mutual friends, I somehow got in touch with him, and he was interested.”
That sparked a two-year-long collaboration where Rivera created an impeccable masterpiece. Rivera focused on creating profound details with the main character’s wrinkles and the environment around him. The amount of detail that the piece demanded was one of the main reasons Rivera pushed himself to the extreme by creating a phenomenal work of art that takes the audience to another world.
“I think my main goal was to see how far I could take the project. In that sense, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with an extremely detailed puppet. Each one of those old man’s wrinkles were done by hand, and I worked on everything by myself,” Rivera said, laughing. “I think it was a search for hypercomplexity.”
That search for a hyper complex masterpiece entailed creating a character with silicon and clay. He created some molds and then built an interior skeleton with a joint to be able to open and close the mouth. Rivera did all of that to allow movement within the structure so that the character moves in a realistic manner.
The intense hyper complexity of the creation of this universe with a very detailed and amazing character, implied him dedicating a huge amount of time to generate an audiovisual experience. It took him two years to produce the five-minute video. It took him 70 days to film, nine months to fabricate everything, and four months to edit. As you can imagine, this particular project is a source of immense pride for Rivera, especially because he worked with Calle 13 and landed a Latin Grammy nomination.
“[The Latin Grammy nomination] is of immense pride. I’m very proud and even more that it was with René. I always admired his work so much and Calle 13’s work. It was very surreal. I was also very young. That was in 2014 and by then, I’d already been working two years with René,” Rivera said. “At that age, being able to accomplish a project that had that forum and recognition was super special for me.”
Stop Motion Animation With Latin American Identity
Rivera’s work with Calle 13 is one of the many masterpieces that speak about Latin America, whether it’s about Latin Americans creating art or telling a story through stop motion that is related to Latin American identity. His master’s thesis set the ground on a conceptual level of what Rivera wants to share with the world through huge and impactful platforms.
After he obtained his MFA, he worked for about seven or eight years with the creative production studio Open The Portal in Los Angeles. It was also in Los Angeles where Rivera founded his animation studio Acho Studio , which he formally established in Puerto Rico two years ago. He set up the island’s first stop-motion animation studio, which serves to honor his Latin American and Puerto Rican heritage.
“[Acho] is a Puerto Rican slang word. I think it comes from muchacho (young guy.) It’s a very Boricua word. Very Puerto Rican. When I founded the company, I was still in Los Angeles, and I wanted to honor my Puertorriqueñidad and Latinidad in the name, but at the same time for it to be universal,” Rivera said. “A name that didn’t mean anything to Americans. It worked. It was catchy. I’d say it was animation choice, and from there, the acho.”
The celebration of Rivera’s Puertorriqueñidad and Latinidad are present in various of his projects such as the stop motion animation for DC Comics’ “Blue Beetle” movie, Adult Swim’s bumper for “Rick and Morty,” and MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) collaboration with Cartuna reimagining Bad Bunny’s 2022 performance.
For “ Blue Beetle ,” which is DC Comics first live-action film to have a Latin American superhero lead, Rivera was tasked with creating a stop motion animation featuring the Chapulín Colorado or the Red Grasshopper. The Chapulín Colorado is a Mexican television show that featured actor Roberto Gómez Bolaños as its main character, Chespirito. The Mexican television show was a staple throughout Latin America, and for Rivera, it’s a source of pride to have animated this particular character for “Blue Beetle.”
“I grew up watching the Chapulín Colorado, and I loved it. I’ve had a lot of projects where I can speak about my Latinidad in forums that normally are reserved for whiter stories. It’s marvelous. And I feel a lot of pride. I take it with a lot of pride and responsibility,” Rivera said.
That responsibility was present when he created the stop motion animation for Adult Swim’s animated series “Rick and Morty,” which was an opportunity that came through from his friends from Open The Portal. He was given the possibility to create a bumper for the show.
Rivera took advantage of the chance to show the world about one of Puerto Rico’s legends during the Spanish conquest but told through Ricky and Morty’s characters. Rivera’s piece was based on the legend of Diego Salcedo, a Spanish conquistador who died on the island in 1511 at the hands of the Taíno Indians.
“The sequence I did for Rick and Morty is based on a legend where supposedly the Taíno Indians, who were natives of Puerto Rico, believed that the Spanish were gods when they came. The Spanish were obviously abusing the Taínos a lot,” Rivera explained. “So, they decided to drown this Spanish soldier named Diego Salcedo and wait around for three days to be sure he wouldn’t resurrect. Once they proved he was a mortal, they started rebelling on the island.”
Rivera alluded to that legend through his colorful masterpiece reimagining Puerto Rican history. Rick and Morty, portrayed as 3D sculptures, are set in a beautiful luscious green forest while Rick is drowned in the river, making a clear reference to Diego Salcedo.
This is not the only piece where Rivera makes clear references to Puerto Rico. The masterpiece he created in collaboration with Cartuna for MTV's VMAs is set in the present context. Puerto Rico is celebrated through his portrayal of Bad Bunny, making history on a global level.
“With the Bad Bunny video, it’s a thing about patriotic pride. The proposal I made for MTV is based on Bad Bunny’s speech when he won the Artist of the Year award at the 2022 VMAs. He’s the first non-English speaking person to win that award in the history of the awards,” Rivera said. “I used what he said in his speech as a metaphor.”
Bad Bunny talked about how he became one of the world’s greatest artists without changing his country, language, and slang in his speech. He’d represent Puerto Rico around the world, and Rivera took that as inspiration by setting Bad Bunny literally placing a flag on the world. He portrayed that visual metaphor while artistically representing the VMA Moon Man trophy.
While showcasing Bad Bunny’s grandiosity in a fun way, Rivera also included the Puerto Rican singer’s heart, which is a staple from his album “Un Verano Sin Ti.” Rivera created a funny character who is Bad Bunny’s sidekick, accompanying him throughout his journey of success to reach a point where he places Puerto Rico’s flag on the world.
“I worked on the animatic and storyboard with a great friend named Yamil Medina. We were brainstorming. I had the idea that Bad Bunny should go through all these images and finish at the beach with the heart from Un Verano Sin Ti,” Rivera said. “But my friend had the idea of the heart being his sidekick, and I thought it was great. It was also that the heart accompanied him through all this process to get to the top of the world within the music industry.”
Animating Life At The Top of The World
On a similar note, Rivera has been able to get to the top of the world in different industries with his multidisciplinary art of stop-motion animation. One of those industries is the film and media industry, where he’s created pieces for Marvel’s “ Wanda Vision ” television show and Netflix’s series “ Big Mouth .”
For “Wanda Vision,” he was instructed to create an “ad” where a shark gives a boy on an abandoned island yogurt. He proposed the budget for the piece, and then six months went by. Rivera heard nothing back, so he thought that the project didn’t come through. But another six months went by, and they reached out to him again. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was asked to do the job immediately.
“Little by little, I started, and they gave me a bit of information. I later on found out that it was for Marvel, but I didn’t quite understand how it fit in,” Rivera recalled. “That was an incredible experience. Very surreal from beginning to end, and then seeing it as part of the show. It was also my first big project with a reach like that one. Something I would’ve never imagined as a child.”
The opportunity came through Titmouse , which is an animation studio based in Los Angeles. Right when Rivera was finishing his piece for “Wanda Vision” for Titmouse, the animation studio offered him the possibility of creating another art piece for “Big Mouth.” There, he was tasked with animating one of their characters, Lola Skumpy, for the Christmas special episode in season five.
Stills from Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” where Quique Rivera animated Lola Skumpy for its Christmas special episode on season five. Courtesy of Quique Rivera.
“I loved it. I obviously worked closely with Big Mouth’s production team. I think that was the first time I made a translation of a 2D character to the three dimensions, and I loved it,” Rivera said. “It’s very special because it feels more alive and real. When the characters are drawn, they’re there, but when you see a real puppet that’s alive speaking, it suddenly makes them feel more real. It’s like: ah, wait. Lola really exists.”
@nickkroll Behind the scenes of Big Mouth w/ stop motion animator Quique Rivera #bigmouth #stopmotionanimation ♬ original sound - Nick Kroll
Rivera’s multidisciplinary art of stop motion animation centered on Latin American identity is all about creating life. His detailed tiny puppets breathe and communicate life to the audience through vibrant colors and vivacious environments that take you to another world.
“There’s something really gratifying in creating art in general. I remember quite well the first time I made a sculpture. It was a very gratifying sensation,” Rivera said. “It’s like this realization that I can create objects. I feel that I was subconsciously trying to create life without even noticing.”
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