I started my own business creating original content for the entertainment & animation industry - ask me anything!

Katia Grifols
Jan 17, 2018

In a world of sequels, fanart and spin-offs, it's hard not to follow the trend. But what happens when your passion is to create raw original stories? Well, we thought we were gonna bomb and we still went for it.. and so far it’s been an uphill path, but 2 years in, we're still on it! So I am happy to share tips, experiences or advice to all those ones who are very passionate about storytelling and original stories!

My name is Katia Grifols, and you can learn more about me in my AMAfeed profile or on my site... but in short, I'm a published comic artist from Barcelona, Spain. After achieving a comic degree in Spain (and a long, winding path), I eventually ended up at Art Center in Pasadena, CA. While getting my MFA in Entertainment Arts there, I interned as a character designer at Dreamworks, freelanced for companies like Mattel and Aerial Contrivance Studio among others, and ending up at Disney Consumer Products. I found out that big studios weren't the place for me-- so I decided to strike out on my own, shoot for the stars- and start my own business!

Now, I am the mastermind at Glow in the Dark Concept Studio, located right in the heart of the animation industry in sunny Burbank, CA. We develop original content for the entertainment industry!

A little bit about my studio; at Glow in the Dark, we focus on fresh, character-driven stories for today's audiences, ones that catch our attention and drag us in to learn more. We create, find, or collaborate until we have a slate of great, unique concepts that we love, and then we bring them forward and develop each one into a complete pitch package that we then take on the road to market to networks & studios both big and small. It can take months of diligent work, care, and an excruciating willingness to kill your darlings for the sake of a better story, but wrapping up our first slate has been invigorating us to roll right into new projects!

Currently, our 2017 and upcoming 2018 slates are primarily animated shows and features, with the bulk of them aimed towards children 6-11, alongside preschool and older teen shows. One of our freshly-wrapped 2017 projects, Scream'Inn, was a top finalist in the MIA Animation Festival Pitch competition.

We don't just create our content from in-house; we reach out to great, talented creators from all over the world to work together and build the shows we want to see! From there, we focus on making them succeed, both in terms of impactful storytelling and what can often feel like the opposite: commercial marketability.

In addition to content creation, we also do commissioned concept & character design and story work, as well as educational outreach - panels, mentoring, and (starting this year), short courses in-studio on topics like comic-craft and pitching. 

As a small business, we all do a little bit of everything, everyday! If we don't know how to do something, we get our hands dirty and figure it out. Every day's a little different than the one before. It's a rollercoaster, but like the best rides... once it's over, all you want is to get back on! I'm the ringmaster of our crazy creative circus... and you can ask me anything!

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How young were you when you realized you had a gift for drawing?

Jan 16, 4:24AM EST1

I never thought as of it as a gift, more like... It was my only skill!

See, as a kid I was kind of bad at everything kids are usually good at; I had 0 skills in Math, or any academics because I have dyslexia, I was kind of terrible at gymnastics and I had to draw to listen in class... Like if I was not drawing, I could not focus at all on what was being told to me in class.

I read a lot too, and earlier the books I started to read had no drawings anymore... So I just draw them pictures! I also read a lot of comics and did my own comics of the comics I was reading! I don’t think those activities were considered a “gift” when i was growing up… I think was more seen like a distraction! So I always had the power of being distracted and getting in trouble… and I developed a skill and a work ethic I guess, haha!

Then one day I decided since I kind of sucked at everything else, I had to succeed as an artist!

Jan 23, 9:11PM EST0

What are your goals and future plans for Glow in the Dark Concept Studios?

Jan 15, 10:01PM EST1

Woohh… what aren't my goals would be easier, I would say!! I love being ambitious, haha! But I am very realistic.. So, one step at the time!

It would be awesome to set some of our stories out for the public to enjoy, honestly! (Not sure if that counts as a goal, since it involves third parties to actually make the show happen, but... it would be great!).

And for us… keeping the ship sailing and finding new exciting stories to tell, meeting more people that we can work with, maybe helping some others to get their stories out… and above all, to keep going!

Jan 23, 9:14PM EST0

What has been your most rewarding project in your professional career? Why?

Jan 15, 10:54AM EST1

I don’t know….! It might sound abstract, but I really enjoy trying a lot of things and especially the challenge of working on things I am not necessarily that comfortable doing… I kind of like to learn I guess! But what I can say is that I feel very lucky, now, to be able to choose projects that make me very excited!

I have a very soft spot for my personal comics and another very soft spot for the work I did at Disney, Mattel and Dreamworks because I love fairies, superheroes and Dragons... And TOYS!!!  And I kind of always also wanted to work on something big :) That is checked off my list now! And well... I loved developing our project, Scream’Inn! I am excited it got a lot of attention, and it’s always an awesome feeling to see that people like what you do!

Jan 23, 9:07PM EST0

Who were your favorite comic book heroes back then?

Jan 15, 7:25AM EST1

Well I grew up in a small town near Barcelona, so I feel maybe my influences were a bit restricted to “what was translated” or “what was available”, though I grew up to realize I actually got very lucky with my comics education! We grew up with TONS of Japanese influences in Spain (believe it or not!) so Anime and Manga have always been the biggest of my influences: Studio Ghibli, Akira, Evangelion, Akira Toriyama, CLAMP, Cowboy Bebop..  An endlessly long list!

But I also had a lot of European influences, old ones like Asterix, Tintin, Spriou, Smurfs... To newer ones like Skydoll, blacksad, End, anything from Guillaume Bianco… and a lot of independent graphic novels like Jillian Tamaki, Kiriko Nananan, Jeffrey Brown…  And of course the classics like X-men, Batman and Spiderman!

I think more than answering your question about heroes… I think I deviated to universes, haha! I am sorry!

Jan 23, 9:03PM EST0

Can you tell us more about your business Glow in the Dark Concept Studios? How long have you conceptualize this whole thing?

Jan 15, 6:06AM EST0

Hello!

Sure, thing! Well I've always been a big fan of creating new stories... And get overexcited when somebody told me new things they were working on their free time. I always kind of wondered... Man, those ideas are good... Why aren’t they out yet?!

So little by little I think those seeds started to grow and become more solid thoughts. Then I was at a point of my life where I couldn’t pretend these thoughts didn’t exist! I am very opinionated and I have a lot of energy.. So I thought I might as well try it.. Or I will regret it for sure!

Then I spent a whole year trying to understand how business works and what I had to do to have one... And not destroy it the first year or become bankrupt…! That was very hard and I think I just learned the very tip of the iceberg… so I am kind of excited to see what’s next! So I would say from having just random delirious thoughts of opening my own studio till actually doing it it might have been 2 years, while 1 was all just learning and reading and doing business plans... (remember, I am an artist... I never EVER thought that would have to be a thing for me...) so I really had to stop my life, focus, and really learn about it!

Jan 22, 2:57PM EST0

I really admire your ability to identify the idea and develop and challenge yourself to come out focused. By the way, how do you deal with procrastination in your life?

Jan 24, 7:23AM EST0

What is your advice for someone looking to break into the Comic Art and Animation Industry?

Jan 14, 10:04PM EST1

I would say learning how to draw is very important (at least, if you're looking for an art-related position)… but having a sense of culture and something to say is equally important! You see, you need to know how to draw (and the software programs, like photoshop for example..) to be able to have steady jobs, but you need culture to be able to bring some new ideas to the table and be able to know what people in your team is talking about. Being able to recognize current shows and old shows, books, movies, designers, cultural references… all of those play a very important role when you try to come up with something new and exciting... Or when you are trying not to do what everybody is doing!

Then, having an opinion is a handy tool as well. And not only be able to articulate if you like it or not... But how you can improve it and why! That is what actually makes a show move forward! As well, being able to recognize when you are wrong makes a more solid team… and makes you more likeable to work with! See, it might be all about cartoons, fiction and fantasy... But you need to be able to be a team player too, because at the end of the day all these big (or small!) productions are a team effort!

Last edited @ Jan 22, 2:54PM EST.
Jan 22, 2:53PM EST0
Show all 3 replies

As for the other three projects in development, do you have a separate team working on each of them and how long does it take to finish them?

Jan 14, 3:32PM EST0

Yes, every project has a different team. Especially for the ones that are collaborations, since the collaborators are always unique to their project.  So it varies; anywhere from 2-6 people. And their roles vary as well depending on their expertise. I would say a project takes between 8months to a year to be solid, and a few extra months to polish and be ready to be pitched arround. It really depends on the nature of the story, the availability of the team to work/meet about it and the format (if its for a movie, for TV, a game…). Once the story is solid is fairly easy to change the format… but till the story is solid we can’t really do any of it! So we just have to keep working until the story is great!

Jan 22, 2:51PM EST0

Can you give us a little detail about Scream'Inn? Who created the storyboard and how long did it take to finish the whole project?

Jan 14, 12:24PM EST0

Sure! So Scream’inn is one of the very first projects we started to work on. It was my first “fully in-house” concept, since we did everything at the studio: from the very rough idea, to the characters, and background designs, so on and so forth.  The project was always in a pitch format so it never had storyboards in the beginning. It did have a “story time line” and a “character arc time line” as well as a plot possibilities for a movie and 3 TV seasons. It wasn’t till we applied for a short format pitch opportunity that we decided to create a Storyboard for it- given, it was only 3 minutes. I created the boards and both Maureen (who works in the studio with me) and I worked on the script for it. Scream’Inn is still in development since we got some very interesting notes and a possible movie adaptation, so so far it’s been 8 months... And I think it won’t be done as a solid project at least till 6 more months ahead!

Jan 22, 2:49PM EST0

What has been your favorite project to date?

Jan 13, 11:29PM EST0

Hello! All the projects I develop are already somehow favorites! I know it might sound vague, but I really get excited about them. I might have a special spot for the ones I collaborate on, because it is very exciting to work on other people’s ideas and make it a shared project! Because I never can predict what that will be! Plus I love working with people so it’s always super fun to have several heads in on a meeting :)

Jan 22, 2:46PM EST0

Why do comics, cartoons and animated movies still appeal to both young and old audiences?

Jan 13, 8:54PM EST1

Because we are all entertained by stories!

We all love when people tell us stuff and we all can recognize when something is fun, or sad, or makes you want to eat the world! And we all get inspired from them! If the story is good it doesn’t matter if it’s a cartoon, a famous actor or your neighbour telling it, you listen!

Jan 16, 9:25PM EST0

In the artist’s perspective, is there a difference to the comic industry then and now? And how does it affect your work?

Jan 13, 5:13PM EST1

Hello!

Well.. I can’t really speak certainly about then... Because I was a kid, and haven’t been in the industry that long (sort of, at least; my first comic was published in 2008 or so). I have to say too that the comic industry is very different in each country as well.. So that is a big factor. Maybe the biggest thing, if I had to point to something, it would be the variety. I feel also comics were a product before, so we're filling a demand a bit (like movies today), while now with the internet it seems we are more open to styles and topics because we can literally search/publish whatever we want and we are not limited to whatever they have on the store.

Jan 16, 9:24PM EST0

How did you develop your own comic art style? Was there a particular artist that inspired you?

Jan 13, 3:19PM EST1

I never thought I had a style.. I just drew how I poorly could. I liked other people's work and I admire it, but I never stressed or obsessed on comparing them with me, I just worked on getting better. Time also played hard on me… so to do comics I had to be fast! So I developed a style that was solid enough but quick... So I could speed up!

But of course I have heroes, like everybody! I loved Akira Toriyama (grew up with so much dragon ball... I can’t even start!), Same with Naoko Takeouchi (Sailor Moon), Clamp (Cardcaptor Sakura), Herge (Tintin), Uderzo (Asterix), among others! When I was a bit older I discover Jeffrey Brown’s comic books and I decided one day I wanted also to tell my life, like him!

Last edited @ Jan 16, 9:27PM EST.
Jan 16, 9:27PM EST0

What was the best part in working for big companies such as Dreamworks, Mattel, Aerial Contrivance Studio and Disney? What about the downside?

Jan 13, 2:15PM EST1

Whithout a doubt, the people!! Those places have the best artists in the world, the best everything! So it is super inspiring to meet them and be able to work with them!

The downside, to me, is the structure. Companies work because they have a very solid pipeline where everybody does one thing only, they are the best at that one thing... but is just one thing.

I found for me that I could do more than one... And maybe I was not good at limiting myself, so I found it personally frustrating. So once I learned from that experience… I was able to create Glow in the Dark, where I get to lure very talented and inspiring people around... And I can successfully multitask!

Jan 16, 9:29PM EST0

What does it take to get to where you are now?

Jan 13, 12:15PM EST1

A very strong will! Hehe!!! I feel you have to be very very determined to be an artist and never give up if you want to make it. It also takes tons of mistakes, insecurities and hard work!

Jan 16, 9:29PM EST0

What tools or software do you use?

Jan 13, 5:52AM EST1

For art, I use Photoshop like 100% of the time, haha! Then we use Word or Pages for written documents,  Slack or Google Drive to share folders, Outlook for emails and calendars, Skype or Google Hangouts for online meetings and.... Shelves upon shelves of books for research!

Jan 16, 9:31PM EST0

About your educational outreach you mentioned about starting short courses like comic-craft and pitching, is it possible for you to do online as well to reach out to a lot more interested participants?

Jan 13, 4:48AM EST1

Yeah sure! We live in the internet era, and a lot of schools are online nowadays. At the end of the day the only thing you need for a successful course is to have people interested. So if that means we do it online so we can help more people... Online it is!

Jan 16, 9:32PM EST0

How do you make children's films, cartoons or comics speak to grown-ups too?

Jan 13, 1:54AM EST1

I feel that, grownup or not... We all are, since the beginning of the time, fascinated by stories. It doesn’t need to be complicated, like when your friend tells you the most mundane thing; just because it happened to your friend, you are invested inmediately. The key for me is to create characters that you want to “be friends with” so you get invested in their stories. I think that is how you get adults as well, because what happen to the characters is relatable, and so their feelings. And their story is entertaining and touching... And that’s all it needs, really!

Jan 16, 9:34PM EST0

Hi Katia!  I wanted to ask how would you go about trying to get recognition in starting a business and making your mark as an artist?  Also, when coming up with an idea, how do you flesh it out more, and make your characters relateable and likeable?

Jan 13, 12:02AM EST1

Hey there, Jacqueline!

More than getting recognition.. I worry about creating a good product (story) really! I think that is my biggest worry! And once the story is good I am certain somebody will recognize it.

Answering the second question, I tend to pull from my own life experiences/acquaintances when I write stories and characters. I find it very helpful to base the characters on people you know, at least at first, and then expand on that! Same of stories, not exactly on what happened, but more how you felt about it and how people felt about it. I find that bringing in real life always make it more alive!

Thanks for asking!!

Jan 16, 9:36PM EST0

What other marketing strategies do you use to promote your work?

Jan 12, 8:31PM EST1

We find very useful for us to go to conventions and festivals, aside from utilizing the usual social networks like Instagram, facebook, twitter and tumblr. We always save a bit of the budget for events, given that conventions are expensive. We have a calendar with the dates of all the ones of our interest and we mark at the end of the year the ones we will go the following year. At the time we evaluate if it’s worth it to keep going to the current ones, given the contacts we made, or if it's better to try to expand and actually attend to to the ones we haven’t been yet. We try to do 3-4 every year, with 2 recurrent local ones and 1-2 (depending on the expenses) that are in another state or country.

Having that in mind, we research the ones we decided to go, and we try to participate in all the events that apply to us so we can meet people. We always carry promotional materials adequate to the convention, as well as business cards. We keep close journals/records of the event, so we can really evaluate its usefulness at the end of the year!

I hope that answered your question! Thanks for your time!

Jan 16, 9:43PM EST0

Can you describe to us what your average day is like in your studio?

Jan 12, 12:03PM EST1

I love this question! Because since the day the doors opened, I haven’t come with a solid answer.. and that is because our days at the studio are everything but predictable! Of course we have the calendar with priorities and things we have to do, but we always have to accommodate and improvise among exciting tasks that might just appear…! Like new clients, schedule changes, last minute meetings or events… But for the days that chaos does not govern us.. We have a peaceful creative day! Research, reading, drawing, coffees and meetings with collaborators are part of the fun tasks we enjoy at the studio! A lot of watching and analyzing existing shows, a lot of writing and rewriting (and rewriting) and more of drawing and redrawing.

When we are in pitching season (which keeps getting longer and longer), we also have studio trips and a lot of nerve wracking meetings, but they always end being a great experience! I hope that gives you an idea of our “unpredictable” days at the studio! Thanks for your interest!

Jan 16, 9:39PM EST0
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