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Swiss Army Knives: Betting on Yourself with Mauricio Abril

Brad Shelton

October, 2021
Written by Brad Shelton

Certain artists are good for certain things, but Mauricio Abril is good at just about everything. Do you need key art for a theme park? Storyboards for a show? Graphics for a themed environment? He’s the kind of artist we dream about in this industry: creative, skilled, adaptable, and eager to take on new challenges. More importantly, he also happens to be a thoughtful and generous human being (and a fun travel companion!) .

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mauricio to get re-acquainted, talk over old times and enjoy the new worlds that he’s been conquering since he left BRC.

How did you become an artist?

I loved drawing as a kid, but I gave it up when I was around ten years. I was a first-generation immigrant and my parents loved me, but they didn’t know how to support this passion of mine. I focused on science in school, but the love of art never left me. I was at a crossroads in my life after I graduated from college. Should I get a job, or go to Art Center? Art Center was very expensive, and I didn’t qualify for a scholarship. I made a big bet on myself. I was rejected by Art Center the first time I applied because I didn’t have a portfolio! I didn’t even know what that was. So I spent a year taking art classes by day, working at night, to create a portfolio. I was accepted the second time around and I’ve never looked back. It was tough, but I did it. I’m proud of that.

What was it like working at BRC?

My first impression of BRC was, “Am I sure I belong here?” They offered me an Art Director position and they seemed to think I knew what I was doing, so I decided to go with it and figure it out on the fly. The next thing I know I’m on a plane to Kiev for a project for Roshen Chocolates. And after the creative meeting a colleague said, “Now get to work.” Luckily I had my Art Center training, so I started breaking the experience down into storyboards. Everyone seemed to like those, and I was on my way.

What I loved about working about BRC was that it was all these friendly people who knew what they were doing. They hired great people and left them alone to do good work. This is especially true for you, Brad: I always loved working with you because it was a true collaboration. No micro-managing, just a fun, creative process. BRC is a place that encourages going beyond what is expected. Everyone on the team would build off the others and together we’d produce incredible work.

What have you been up to since leaving BRC? I give you full credit: you left without having another job. You took a big leap of faith.

Kind of like going to Art Center! I left BRC because I wanted to do a lot of different things. I’ve got a short time on Earth and I want to try all the dishes at the buffet. I’ve illustrated some children’s books for Simon and Schuster. I’ve worked for Dreamworks and Walt Disney Imagineering, and I’m currently working in TV animation as a painter. I feel like I was at BRC at a time when it was entering the ‘golden era’ the company is enjoying now. I feel luck to have been on the front end of that.

What did you learn while working at BRC?

What I got at BRC that I still use in my work is the discipline of putting story first. There’s so much that’s going on today in popular culture that’s just about creating Instagrammable moments, just giving people a chance to take their photo in front of a cartoon character. BRC starts and ends each project with story. It’s not just a buzzword, it’s the bedrock of everything that gets produced. I’m so lucky that BRC trained me to put the story at the center of what I do as a writer and illustrator.

So how do you see the world of entertainment evolving in the “New Roaring 20s”?

With all these streaming companies competing with cable networks, I think that the market for 2D consumable content will remain steady and probably grow. At the same time, I think that we’re social animals who have the need to be with one another and enjoy going on journeys together. There’s nothing quite like being at Disneyland and going on a ride with family and friends.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that some of the best, most memorable work in this decade will be done by my friend Mauricio. As much as I miss him at BRC, I’m happy that he’s able to use every bit of his vast talent to bring joy to so many. I consider myself lucky to get to experience his work.

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