Many students can think back to their childhood and recall how they answered the question of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Memories of wishful firefighters, singers and presidents may come to mind, but not everybody can stay true to their response.
Cal State Fullerton alumnus Juan Pablo Bugarin started drawing at four years old and eventually learned that he could turn it into a career as an animator.
“In high school and college I was positive I wasn’t going to get a job in animation, but I’m going to go for it anyways, so I thought the fact that I got an internship could change everything,” Bugarin said.
His mother, Josefina Cid, remembers him sitting close to the television at a young age drawing the cartoons he was watching.
Bugarin’s childhood aspirations have begun to manifest, as he has worked at DreamWorks Animation for a little over three years, but his road to working in animation has not always been steady.
Bugarin said he drifted away from illustrating after graduating high school. For five years, he found himself pursuing a different form of artistic expression: playing guitar for an indie rock band.
After a long hiatus from drawing, Bugarin decided it was time to go back to chasing his dreams of becoming a visual development artist.
At age 22, he enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College with the intention of transferring to CSUF to pursue a bachelor’s degree in animation.
His sister, Karina Laibach, said his motivation to land a job at DreamWorks Animation is what drove him to achieve his goals.
“I knew since we were young that animation was his biggest passion, so it was a proud moment when he decided to go back to school to pursue what we always thought was his main passion,” Laibach said.
She said Bugarin was always a shy person, so she was shocked to see see him do things like stay after class to talk to professors.
“I came in super, super shy, and I needed to get out of that before I graduated or applied to internships. I just tried to do things that forced me to talk to big groups and get out of my shell as much as possible,” Bugarin said.
Shortly after transferring to CSUF, Bugarin contacted the Daily Titan about working as an illustrator. For three semesters, he illustrated alongside editors as a freelancer developing artwork to complement writer’s stories.
Along with working for CSUF’s newspaper, he became vice chair for the Arts Inter-Club Council and the representative for the Pencil Mileage Club, a group of illustrators and animators at CSUF. He was also the events coordinator for the Student Leadership Institute and an orientation leader for new students.
Through his extracurricular activities, he gained the confidence that would help him land an internship and later launch his professional career, but his journey to attain a starting position as an animator wasn’t as direct.
As his resume grew, so did his eagerness to land an internship and make connections in the animation industry.
From the start of his junior year, Bugarin made it a priority to apply to at least 10 internships each semester. Application after application went by with no luck, worsening Bugarin’s uncertainty of his future.
When senior year approached, the rejections pushed him to start thinking of pursuing a plan B, which was to get his master’s degree in art history and become a teacher. However, Bugarin’s patience paid off at the end of his senior year when he received a call from DreamWorks Animation to set up an interview.
“It was my first time driving onto (DreamWorks’) lot, and I was fanboying and trying to stay calm,” Bugarin said.
Shortly after the interview, Bugarin got the call he was waiting for with an offer to become part of the production team for a movie called “B.O.O.” Unfortunately, the opportunity took a distressing turn when news came of the project’s cancellation.
Although the supervisor did not guarantee him a new position, Bugarin was offered an internship with the developers of “Kung Fu Panda 3” the very next day.
After the initial internship was over, Bugarin looked for other ways to stay with the company. He pushed back a class in order to remain a student and to continue growing his relationships within the company.
He contacted the internship coordinator at DreamWorks Animation and was interviewed to intern alongside the television studio The Hub, a department of technical artists.
His persistence paid off and he was offered a job as a technical director with DreamWorks Animation television while he was still a student.
Bugarin said he would drive from Covina to Fullerton in the morning, go to class, then drive to Glendale and stay late at DreamWorks to make up for the hours missed in class.
Fellow animator and friend Jeffrey Valencia, who illustrates for the Daily Wire, said it helped that Bugarin was very passionate about executing whatever job position he was going to get.
“When he went into DreamWorks, he already loved the company to begin with. He really did his research. Just knowing all the details really makes you think this guy really wants the position. He’s fully engaged,” Valencia said.
Since landing the first job, Bugarin has moved up in the company from a technical position to an asset coordinator, but he doesn’t want to stop here.
Bugarin hopes to move into a position as a designer within the next year and learn as much as possible from other designers and art directors.
“My way of getting an internship was, ‘I’m going to do a ton of extracurricular activities and show initiative and that I’m hard working,’” Bugarin said. “Try to do as much as you can but keep things that make you excited.”