Yet Another Name In Argentine Advertising Animation: Rodolfo Saénz Valiente

Rodolfo Saénz Valiente (1944-2006) was a cartoonist, animator, film director and teacher who was largely dedicated to advertising animation. Apart from his production in various animated techniques, he was one of the few producers/animators who systematized his knowledge as a professor in several careers related to the area of design and cinematography (some of them taught at the University of Buenos Aires).

Rodolfo Saenz Valiente

He also wrote an excellent book dedicated to the subject: Arte y técnica de la Animación (Editorial De la Flor, 2005). His son, the cartoonist and animator Juanungo (alias of Juan Saénz Valiente), published in 2023 his graphic novel El animador, based on his father’s life.

Rodolfo Saénz Valient at work

Rodolfo Saénz Valiente (or Rufo, as he was called) intermittently studied engineering and that explains his talent in the field of construction: the drilling machines and animation guides he built are still in operation, and in his old studio in the Palermo neighborhood there is still a gigantic animation stand, worthy of Dr. Frankenstein, which his son jealously preserves.

Animation Stand, by Saénz Valiente

At the age of 15, Rodolfo set up a photographic studio on his own, complete with laboratory and everything. From there he expanded his activities to commercial drawing and then to audiovisual production. Then he began to study “Audiovisual Experimentation” at the Di Tella Institute, while he started in graphic design; animated drawing was the next step.

Just as García Ferré’s purely advertising stage accounts for the 50-60’s generation, and Catu’s flourishes between the 70’s -90’s, Saénz Valiente, at the head of his production company Prisma, is a good summary of the “80’s generation”, which made the transition from traditional methods (our man was a devotee of the “do it yourself”) to the digital technologies of the early 2000’s.

Throughout his career as an animator, Saénz Valiente tried practically all techniques, achieving an important place in the market (“If you don’t know how to do it, call Saénz Valiente”). He did not always focus on commercials: he also produced documentaries and title sequences for feature films, as well as short films for TV with classical and puppet animation. His main contribution may have been in the field of teaching. Few are the Argentine animators of the last generations who did not pass through his hands. Those of us who did not, still use the knife to eat peas.

Buitoni:

Nesquick:

Sistema Previsonal Integrado:

Stop Motion:

El Economista:

Terrabusi:


Rodolfo and Juan Saénz Valiente.

Interview with Juan Saénz Valiente:

-Where does your father’s connection with animation come from? Did he have any links with comics, like you?

As a child, my father established a bond with the Pfeiffer’s, a French family upstairs. They had a lot of French-Belgian comics; not very popular by then in Buenos Aires. By the other hand, he started working as a photographer at 15. A friend got him a job to make an audiovisual for a company training course, which led him to be hired for other similar jobs. That’s how he ended up doing more than 500 illustrations for five audiovisuals. All of it showed some of that Franco-Belgian spirit that he had suckled from the Pfeiffer’s.
A little later, he began a career in Engineering, which he left and resumed several times. Thus photo and illustration merged with audiovisuals and later with graphic design, and this was followed by doing stands for exhibition pavilions and cinema. Moving in all these fields, he had made a few attempts at animated films. The click came when he discovered the National Film Board of Canada. Maybe Victor Iturralde (an icon of film teaching in Argentina) had something to do with it; he later became his assistant at the university. The paradox is that all the technical background that he had accumulated, exploded when he discovered the organic work of Mc Laren, the meticulousness of Jaques Drouin’s pinscreens, or René Jodoin’s work. In short, my father discovered that he could put all his research and passion for technics at the service of animation.

Animators usually enter the world of animation by drawing backgrounds or painting cels in a studio, and they end up animating. My father had a different approach. He started making title plates for commercials. That’s how he founded Prisma Audiovisual, and this led to animated titles, and finally cartoons. He then started with Cristina de Santis Producciones. The company stand out from the rest by using more experimental animation techniques. This allowed my father to experiment and propose new challenges to each client (including traditional cartoon). But his work in animation do not have a strong authorial style at first glance. His range of techniques and styles vary greatly from one work to another.


-To what extent did he produce, direct or animate? He overlapped those duties?

As producer he was rather bad. In the case of Cristina De Santis Producciones, the production was in charge of De Santis (who came from Catú). Unlike Prisma Audiovisual, Cristina De Santis focused on animated films. In 1994 the company was dissolved. Then my father launched “Rodolfo Saenz Valiente Cine Animación”, focusing mainly on stop-motion.

In the case of traditional animation, he did layouts, directed and drew the main poses. He also used to do the backgrounds. Depending on the amount of work, he could animate. He always supervised everything and was in charge of filming; a very complex task. He usually stayed up all night and rushed with the cans to the development labs. In the case of stop-motion, he had a set designer, a director of photography, a doll modeler and a cameraman. Rufo made the structure of the dolls, calculated camera movements and animated (sometimes with an assistant if there was more than one doll). As most of the stop-motion animations he did were solo projects, the group and the tasks were quite stable.

Also, at the production level, he had fabricated his own animation stand. To do so, he had ordered the catalogs from the USA pretending to be interested in acquiring one. He had also made the crane for the stop-motion area.

Rufo model sheet, drawn by his son

-Did he work with free-lance animators?

Except for Cristina De Santis in production and a few some others, they were all freelancers, if I remember correctly. In traditional animation, many of them used to be the same: Alberto Grisolía and Carlos Coronel, with cel painter Graciela Geraci. There was also Harald Kimmich, a great cartoonist who did a little bit of everything and helped a lot in the animations that escaped the cartoon techniques.

The stop-motion staff was also permanent: Alberto Andreani as DP, Daniel Gihgliazza as set designer, Eduardo Piola in camera, Jonathan Rocotovich as animation assistant and Luciana Fernández modeling of the dolls.

Stop motion project by Rodolfo Saénz Valiente

-Unlike other directors, your father dedicated himself to teaching…

He loved to transmit knowledge. He also loved the public aspect of education. He recruited collaborators for his work from among his students. He was head of Animation in the Image and Sound Design dpt. at the University of Buenos Aires, a career he also created at the Avellaneda Institute of Cinematographic Art. Anyway, when the crisis of the mid 90s came and the production company was dissolved, he turned to teaching as a main task, also at private universities and workshops. Because he had experimented with many different techniques, his background was huge. Usually animation directors focus on a specific technique; but he was keen about any technique proposed by the student, really optimizing his work without imposing a “cartoon-like” school full of stylistic vices.

RSV at work

Once Cristina De Santis Producciones was dissolved, Rufo decided to turn to stop motion, with the idea of making a feature film that never materialized. The main reason was that he didn’t have a deadline. All the animation works he had always done were a battle between experimenting and delivering. The feature film project, in terms of animation footage made, never went beyond a test shot of a few seconds. But my father, in order to make it, acquired a lot of knowledge about dolls structure, modeling, camera, lighting and scenery.

Stop motion project by Rodolfo Saénz Valiente

This knowledge was poured into his notes. Which ended up being the animation manual that was later published, a big chunk of more than 650 pages that contains illustrations of a great variety of Argentine authors. He finished the book, but died before the publication. Animation books are usually made by an author who limits himself to cartoon, or stop motion, or CGI, but he tried to cover all techniques. The book has already sold out several editions and continues to train new generations of students in Argentina.

RSV’s book

-How did it influence you in your own work?

I limited myself to drawing. I never managed to develop neither skill nor passion for crafts that involved tools other than a pencil. However, he was also very present in terms of technique. Being me a cartoonist, I guess the Pfeiffer’s influenced my tendency towards the Franco-Belgian market, for which I usually work nowadays, in addition to having recently settled in France.

Although I made some attempts (guided by my father) in stop-motion, I focused on traditional animation. In any case, I always had in him a great drawing teacher. He did not impose a limiting style of drawing, offering a wide range of possibilities from the technical aspect. Perhaps he lacked something on the expressive side. But, at the same time, he opened for me an enormous variety of authors and techniques: from the traditional Frank and Ollie’s to Tex Avery, from the sand films of Caroline Leaf to Barry Purves.