CHICAGO — A single frame of Donalisa Gomez's animation reveals a glimpse of her storytelling world. In the center, a soft face emerges wide-eyed against a frenzy of black lines. In her capstone project, this main character is alone, and he's falling deeply into depression. Gomez drew him frame by frame through a journey of lost identity, in a parable about the perils of body image in the age of social media. This isn't a Saturday morning cartoon.
“I would like to be a part of changing people’s ideas about what animation’s capable of, what the industry is for,” said Gomez. “Because a lot of people simply see it as cartoons, kids’ stuff or purely entertainment. But there are so many possibilities that animation can communicate to other people. For example, mine would be learning. I use art and animation and visuals to learn.”
For Gomez, drawing has always been about more than fun. It’s how she creates meaning and interprets life. As a student in DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media, Gomez has combined her skills as an artist with her love of Japanese culture. She plans to turn both into a career. Gomez will graduate this June with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in animation.
Drawing to learn
When Gomez was growing up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, her father recognized that her doodles were exceptional. “He noticed that at a young age I really liked cartoons and really liked drawing. So he bought my first art supplies – I had a whole setup in my room,” she said.
At times, Gomez said she struggled with traditional assignments in school. Her dad would ask her teachers to give her more visual projects, and she would thrive. “He really worked with my skills,” she said.
Her dad’s taste in foreign films also rubbed off on her, and she soon became interested in Japanese animation — anime. “I kinda just got hooked on it, and it followed me through school. I started taking language classes and dreaming of being an animator in Japan.”
Those dreams followed Gomez to college. She chose DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media because it allowed her to stick with her language studies while also delving into animation. Gomez minored in studio art, and her animation degree has a concentration in cinema, with a focus in traditional 2-D animation and stop motion.
“I really like stop motion because you can tell any type of story, but then the way of doing it is like telling a story, too. Following how the character moves, like in claymation, can also be a part of your story. I usually follow topics on the character actually changing as a person, so with that I like to change the medium, as well.”
Mastering animation technology encouraged Gomez to expand her repertoire, as she moved between drawing on the page to using computers to color and animate. In turn, she found that DePaul’s faculty were supportive of her ideas. “I like that CDM professors are pretty open minded as to what the students want to pursue individually. They don’t try and tell you, ‘You have to make movies like this; you have to have stories or scripts like this; it has to be a certain way.’ At CDM, there is no formula. You control what you produce. Like your own baby, almost.”
Dreaming of Japan
A university-led trip to Japan helped widen Gomez’s perspective on her studies. During the two-week program, CDM Japan, she and fellow students toured gaming and animation companies through three cities major cities, including Tokyo, and participated in an “animation jam” session with students of Trident University in Nagoya. They also visited the cultural sites in Kyoto and even learned Japanese dance. “Going there just really affirmed what I want to do, and it made me happy that I’ve made a good choice with my degree.”
After graduation, Gomez will realize a dream she’s had since childhood. She will be moving to Japan to immerse herself in the culture, teach English and build on her portfolio. She plans to use a visual approach to teach her students, drawing on her own experience from childhood. She jokes that her father might follow her across the ocean, he is so thrilled for her next chapter. “As my biggest supporter throughout my life, making him proud is the best reward I could ask for, and my success is a chance to show my appreciation for all he's done for me. With this, I am happy to reach farther into a bright future.”
As she grows as an artist, Gomez hopes that her animation will help change conversations and tell important stories. “I really use my art to open up, and to tell my story using someone else.”
“It’s almost like how actors become their character. And they use that like their mask, playing out their character for a while to get away from themselves. I animate a character living through what I’m living through, hopefully trying to come to a solution.”
Kristin Claes Mathews