Dragon Master Nereida Soto comes from the beautiful city of Malaga in Andalucia. She has been a key player in our Dragon City art team for almost two years, bringing hundreds of fire-breathers to life with a passion that – as she explains in this interview – stems from a long-standing fascination with dragons.
We sat down with her and grilled her on what it takes to become a Dragon Master. Here’s what she told us…
Nere, how did you end up animating dragons for a living?
I’ve always loved drawing and sketching. My earliest memories involve pencils and crayons. As a little kid I loved doodling fantastical things – things that didn’t exist in the “real world,” but filled my imagination. And dragons have always been a part of that. I’ve loved imagining and designing dragons for as long as I can remember.
“I’ve stayed true to my vocation to do what I love for a living.”
So did you know from childhood that one day you would be an artist?
I think I always thought I would work in something related to art and drawing. When the other kids at school would race out to the playground to play football or run around, I used to stay behind with my pencils and my sketchpad. It’s always been my greatest passion.
Artists – born or made?
Born I think. In the sense that you are born with a talent or a kind of need to draw or sketch or create. But that’s not to say that an artist is born with all of their gifts and talents fully realized. For one thing you have to study – and study hard. I worked my way through a lot of courses, from traditional fine art to highly specialized courses in animation. When I realized that animation was what I really wanted to specialize in, I had to find courses in private centers, including a stint in Modena studying Flash, because it’s an area that was underserved at that time in my region.
And then there’s a lot of negativity at times from teachers and mentors. A lot of people told me not to pursue art as a career – that I wouldn’t be able to make a living doing what I loved. When Social Point contacted me to invite me to Barcelona, with an offer of animating dragons for a living, it was an awesome vindication of all my efforts and sticking to my guns.
Recently I bumped into one of my old school teachers in Malaga. When she asked me what I was doing, I told her that I had stayed true to my vocation and had found an awesome job in an awesome company making dragons fly! She was quite surprised!
Tell us more about your job.
I started at Social Point two years ago more or less. I was hired to animate the dragons before Dragon City was launched – so I have the privilege of being part of the Dragon City story before it became the huge hit it is today. Since I have been here I have collaborated on various different projects whenever the need has come up. However most of the time I work on Dragon City.
Focusing on one game – do you ever find it limiting?
No I don’t. For one thing the game is always changing and evolving, so that keeps it fresh and alive. And then within the game there are so many different dragons. There is literally a new dragon every day to work on and animate. In my job I have the freedom and space to invent new things and allow my own creativity to shape how I work.
Animators and artists – are they two different species?
I think they are very similar, to be honest. We are all artists. Your job as an animator is to breathe life into a character, which means you have to really get under the skin of that character and fully imagine their personality – what they like, how they think, what bugs them, what makes them happy, how they would move and breathe and act in real life. Obviously that’s not so easy when it comes to dragons. Happily for me, I love dragons, so I enjoy imagining them as living beings with fully developed personalities. (Laughs). And I love the challenge of animating a being that can fly or breathe fire.
Of all the dragons that you animate, do you have a favorite?
Good question. From a technical perspective I like the challenge of animating the Hades Dragon because he has to row a boat. He is also a rocking dragon in terms of his looks and his meanness. But I think my real favorite has to be Cerberus Dragon. He is totally rock ‘n’ roll and does some really funky stuff with his microphone and his guitar - he behaves like a Rock Star. I also have a bit of a soft spot for Steam Punk Dragon. (But don’t tell Cerberus).
Love is in the air. And the Steam. This little guy needs to learn some meeting decorum!
You work in a world inhabited by dragons. But what’s it like working in a team inhabited by other artists?
It’s reassuringly crazy. I think artists are a bit different from other people. My colleagues might disagree, but I really think we are big kids. We haven’t completely grown up and I’m not sure that we ever will. I love working in this team. I think we inspire each other with ideas – it’s always interesting to look at other people’s work. I think it drives creativity and collaboration.
Out there in the wider industry, who inspires you most?
That would have to be Disney. My mother used to show me Disney cartoons as a child, which is where my love of fantasy figures comes from. And they were the real pioneers in animation. But you can’t talk about animation without mentioning Pixar, and they are huge heroes of mine too.
What’s your personal style Nere? How would you define it?
Working in a place like Social Point you need to have a certain degree of flexibility, and be able to jump in if you are needed, in different projects. So that means you need to have the technical skills and the agility to deliver different styles and techniques. Personally, I am probably most at home in cartoons, which is the style closest to Dragon City. Cartoons give you the freedom to invent whatever you want and allow your imagination full rein.
You swapped Malaga for Barcelona. Good exchange?
I love Barcelona and I honestly think it’s a perfect place to live. It offers you all the stuff a big city can in terms of culture and creativity, without being so huge that you feel overwhelmed. Barcelona also has such a history of art and design that it’s paradise for an artist or someone interested in art.
Any advice for budding Dragon Makers thinking of a career in animation?
Well, it’s a hard career. There’s a lot of competition and you’re likely to come up against the attitude that I battled with: don’t study art, it’s not a real career. But I am doing what I most love doing in the world, and I do it for a living. So my advice is – don’t give up!
No dragons were harmed in the making of this photograph.
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