Enrique Gato

The father of Tad

08/19/2022 · By Roberto C. Rascón
Enrique Gato, creator of Tad, the Lost Explorer

On the 26th of August, Tad, the Lost Explorer is back on the big screen with his third instalment: 'The Curse of the Mummy'. This is an exciting new adventure, almost like the one experienced by his creator, Enrique Gato, since he brought him to life back in 2004. A few weeks before the film’s première, and in the middle of a promotional whirlwind, we meet him to look back on the trajectory of a character that changed the animation industry in Spain for good.

Spanish animation wouldn’t be the same without Tad, the Lost Explorer. Nor without his creator: Enrique Gato (Valladolid, 1977). For the première of Tad, the Lost Explorer and The Curse of the Mummy, we meet him at Lightbox Academy, a space he confesses he opened out of “sheer necessity”. “When we made the first film, we really struggled to get it off the ground —he admits—. We couldn’t find profiles that fit because there was hardly any industry back then. It was a tough time for us, and we created the academy to avoid it happening again.” Since then, thousands of youngsters have been through his classrooms, swelling the ranks of the animation industry.

Enrique would’ve loved to have a place like Lightbox Academy when he started out in the world of animation. “I used to tell my father —he recalls— that I wanted to work in animation films, but it was really hard to explain how to get there, because even I didn’t have a clue.” Now, there are many animation schools throughout Spain, as well as mirrors in which to look at yourself: from Enrique himself to Alberto Mielgo —winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2022 for The Windshield Wiper or Sergio Pablos —director of Klaus, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2019—.

“In Spain, there was no industry in which to prove that talent for animation existed. Everyone went to the US”

Both Alberto and Sergio had to travel far away to develop their full potential, something that Enrique almost did too. “In Spain, there was no industry in which to prove that talent for animation existed. Everyone went to the UK, the US, Australia... Alberto and Sergio had to go abroad to make the type and level of animation they wanted. The good thing —he celebrates— is that they’ve both been able to come home and work from here, and, to me, that’s success.” Because the change, which Enrique has experienced first-hand, has been monumental: “There are more and more and bigger projects, which is the most important thing, because they allow people to stay here.”

Tad, the Lost Explorer grows up
Enrique stayed, and one of the reasons was his friend Tad. In 2004, Tad, the Lost Explorer made his public debut in a short with the same name, and it was flooded with recognition, including the Goya Award for Best Animated Short Film. Enrique remembers it fondly: “I pulled out some sketches I’d drawn of Tad ages ago and Nicolas Matji [the saga’s producer] loved the character. He said to me: “I’ll try to fund a short film and we’ll see what happens.” And it was great, because we just had fun, there was no pressure. When it was finished, it went through hundreds of festivals and won tons of awards.”

The success of Tad’s first short film made Enrique start to dream about someday making a feature-length film with his character. And that day came... On the 31st of August 2012, Tad, the Lost Explorer came to the big screen and was an instant success, becoming the third biggest blockbuster that year —only surpassed by The Impossible and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2—. This recognition extended to the Goya Awards, where it received three for Best Animated Film, Best New Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Five years later, Tad the Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas ratified its Goya Award for Best Animated Film. Will Tad the Lost Explorer and The Curse of the Mummy do the same?

“It’s really hard to know which are the ingredients that attract the audience and make a character like Tad work”

But what’s Tad’s secret to success? His creator replies: “It’s really hard to know which are the ingredients that attract the audience and make a character like Tad work. But I think it’s precisely because he’s just a regular guy.” When we ask Enrique if he shares anything in common with his creation, he reflects: “One of Tad’s traits is perseverance. He doesn’t care about having to face the same problem fifty times until he solves it and, although we do it differently, him through stubbornness and I more rationally, yes, I do believe that I’ve always given Tad this trait.”

If there’s one thing you need to get an animation film off the ground it’s perseverance, as Enrique himself admits: “It’s really hard to make one in less than three years. Really, really tough. The standard is three to four years, although I know of cases that have taken five, six, seven years... It’s a really arduous process.” We ask him to delve deeper into that process and he continues: “In an animation film, we make a storyboard for everything, from start to finish, for a very simple reason: you can’t get confused. The greatest handicap of directing animation is that there’s no footage recorded during a shoot, which is why you need really thorough planning, to make sure that everything you develop ends up on screen.” And he concludes: “When you see the closing credits, all the people you’ve brought together, there’s easily 300, 400, 500 people, depending on the project.”

Talent can be built
Young Enrique spent hours flicking through comic books like Mort & Phil and, especially, Superlópez, a project he yearned for and cared for a very long time. Even at the beginning, back in 2003, he made a short film about the character. He also remembers being glued to the screen, dazzled by the magic exuded by films by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, or Robert Zemeckis. How much did those comics and films shape Enrique’s talent? “In the end, talent —he explains— is associated to a skill, an ability, but for me the secret ingredient is if you’re capable of moving people with what you’re doing.”

“One of the things we always tell our students is: don’t worry if you don’t have innate talent, it can be built”

Regarding if talent is born or made, he has a clear opinion: “We’re at an animation school, and one of the things we always tell our students is: don’t worry if you don’t have innate talent, it can be built. You have to be careful because many people who don’t feel like they have a natural gift wrongly give up on the idea that they have that talent.” That’s why he encourages anyone who feels curious about animation to try it because “today it’s easier than ever to try it and decide if it’s for you or not.” And, he adds, more pragmatically: “It’s a sector where an extraordinary thing happens: there is practically no unemployment.” The animation industry needs you, says the father of Tad, the Lost Explorer.