An interview with ASIFA Central 2016 Honoree: Monica Bruenjes

Fall of 2013, I met this vibrant young lady from Wisconsin through an e-mail that she sent to ASIFA/Central–inquiring about membership in our organization. With the core group of our members living in Michigan, she quickly became another one of our far-flung members. But Monica hasn’t let distance separate her from being a part of the animation community. One of those rare individuals who immediately asks ‘what can I do to help’, Monica pounced on the chance to help make ASIFA a better organization–notably by volunteering to work on the recently relaunched ASIFA Magazine. During her interview, my expectations were immediately exceeded as I encountered someone with a wealth of experiences that you wouldn’t expect to hear from someone so young. The interview only took thirty minutes, but before it was over, I was left wishing for more time to hear just one more story. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we’ll see her make the trek across Lake Michigan and show up at a future Animator’s Retreat so everyone at ASIFA/Central can experience her enthusiasm for animation first hand.

In recognition of all of her hard work on the digital and print versions of the ASIFA International Magazine, Monica was awarded a one-year honorary International membership to ASIFA Central shortly before the ASIFA Central Animator’s Retreat.

Monica Bruenjes Image copyright Monica Bruenjes

Monica Bruenjes
Image copyright Monica Bruenjes

Q: What is your current job description?

A: Freelance artist and owner of my own company (Subarashii Studio –

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?

A: Not very long. Only since about 2012, that’s when I graduated with my Masters Degree. And that’s when I started freelancing as an animator. Before that, I was already freelancing, but just for graphic design and illustration work. I studied in Japan in 2006 as an exchange student and I worked on my first short film when I was there doing that. So yeah, I’ve been animating throughout college, that’s when I started animating. But, I didn’t start taking on paid work until after I graduated..

Q: Did you know that you wanted to be an animator when you were in Japan?

A: Yeah. Like ever since High School. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an animator and I started looking into the different jobs in animation and trying to find out how I could learn animation. So yeah, I of course grew up watching cartoons and never stopped watching cartoons. Growing up I was surrounded by American cartoons but I always kind of was interested, if I ever found out about cartoons in different countries I’d get really excited about that. I didn’t learn about anime until High School and it was through friends–they told me about Sailor Moon, a starting anime for a lot of us.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?

A: I’ve done everything. Mostly I’ve been working on small projects where I get to be the one woman show, essentially. I’ve done a couple commercials. For the one, I did for the small business ‘Event Stagers’. She was a wedding and special event stager (providing the design, set up and decorating of special events), she had a rough idea what she wanted the commercial to communicate. But I essentially wrote up a little storyboard and then went through the whole process of boarding it and animating it for her.  I even added the sound too and I realized that I really don’t like doing that at all! I realized how difficult it is adding the sound and trying to get professional quality, so I think that, moving forward, I’m going to try to get more help in that aspect of it. I’ve read a couple books on sound design, but it’s just one of those things, when you’re doing everything yourself it gets to be a bit much. And after doing that for a few projects, I’m thinking “yeah, next time it’d be nice to have some help with that aspect cause it’s one of my weaker areas.” I’m better at the pre-production and animating definitely.

Q: What made you choose animation as a major course of study?

A: It was a slow build up. I can’t remember a defining moment other than I remember at one point I started asking my mom questions about how animation is made, like all of a sudden I got really curious, like ‘I know that they draw it but how? How do they get that many drawings and how do they make it look smooth?’ And so, yeah, there was a point where I was just… ‘I really wanted to know how it was done’ and I made up my mind that I was going to figure it out. So, yeah, I would say It’s just a passion, I just love cartoons and always have. When I studied in Japan, I met a lot of Japanese artists there who didn’t like the Japanese art but were fascinated with Disney and Pixar. So they were really interested in what I was doing, which was pretty cool. They would say that my style is very American and looks like Disney and then I’d come back home and my friends back here in America would say “oh your style looks very Japanese.” I always thought that was kind of funny.

My Moosebear Image copyright Monica Bruenjes

My Moosebear
Image copyright Monica Bruenjes

Q: You’re currently doing magazine editing work for ASIFA International, you’re a member of ASIFA/Central, and you’ve started your own local life drawing club. How important do you think it is for animators to participate in organizations or start their own if none locally are available?

A: I was trying it out [Eau Claire Artist’s Drawing Night], I haven’t been doing it so far yet this year because I didn’t get quite the response I was hoping for. I suppose it has to be done on an individual basis if you’re into that thing, I personally think it’s important for me because I’ve always felt that anytime I could get connected with other artists and be encouraged to practice more and have opportunities to practice drawing and talking more about animation has just made me a better and better artist. So I see the value in it definitely.

Q: Given that the industry is now so heavily integrated with computer technology, how important do you think it is (if at all) for students of animation to learn classical techniques and non-computer animation styles: stop-motion, drawing, sand animation, painting, etc.?

A: I think it’s really important actually to at least start out having a foundation in some kind of more tactile medium because it’s just going to make you that much better when you go into the computer and work digitally. One of my instructors at the Academy of Art University said “do everything as if by hand.” Meaning that even when you are working in the computer, put that same care and attention to detail and thought into what you’re doing in the computer as you would if you were working in another medium by hand. So I think that using the computer does affect your thought process a little bit differently, it’s kind of hard to explain.

Q: Do you think there’s sort of a detachment?

A: I’m not even sure what it is, I just know that when you work by hand, sometimes–at least for me–that’s the best way to learn. Even just drawing by hand on real paper is different for me than when I draw with the stylus in the computer. Sometimes it’s just quicker to get the idea out on paper than through that screen. But yeah, I definitely think it makes you a better artist. Anytime you can work with real media, it gives you that foundation so that you know how the real materials work and then when you go into the computer and you try to simulate a more hand-drawn look, you’re able to do that.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?

A: I would say “practice, practice, practice!” “Don’t give up” and “find a good mentor”–which of course if it was my daughter, it would be “me” (just kidding!). I would say the most important thing is practice… and never forget to keep it fun too, because animation is a fun business.

Monica’s full interview was a part of Smudge Animation’s yearly interviews with women animators and can be read at: