Natasha Villegas
To say the last few years have been challenging for 20-year-old Natasha Villegas would be an understatement. Her life was turned upside down in 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island she'd called home her entire life. Displaced, she and her family moved to the Bronx and struggled with homelessness for two years. Although times were tough, Villegas remained hopeful and returned to the drawing board to sketch out new plans for her future.
"I always liked to draw, but I stopped for a while after my grandfather died," she shared. "But then when I couldn't enter the Navy, I thought, you know what, I might as well give college a shot." 
Villegas enrolled in Hostos' Digital Design & Animation program in 2019, where she reignited her passions for Illustration of woman with light brown hair.drawing and semi-realistic illustration. She also developed a newfound appreciation for 3D animation. "I love it, and I want to continue working on it," she said, noting the process can be repetitive, arduous, and, honestly, draining. But Villegas, whose previous experience had primarily focused on creating 2D illustrations on paper, understands she must step outside of her comfort zone to grow as an artist.
It can take Villegas a few days, weeks, or months to complete a project, depending on the undertaking, but she welcomes the opportunity to challenge herself, learn new techniques, and apply them to projects big and small. By Spring 2020, she was part of an animation team that worked on a music video for singer-songwriter Matt Dobkin. The dedication and talent she demonstrated throughout the life of the project caught Andrew London's attention, a lecturer in Hostos' Media Design unit. 
"I couldn't help noticing how much time she spent in the Hostos Media Design Lab working on this project," he recalled. "She practically lived there. The following semester, I got to know her better when she attended my Concepts in Animation and Intro to Sound Design classes. Just a couple weeks into the semester, I was blown away by how creative, funny, and personal her artwork was."
Villegas began to look to London as a mentor, and she credits his support and generosity with helping her remain motivated, especially over the last year. As CUNY shifted to a remote-learning model in response to the pandemic in 2020, Villegas worried she would not be able to access the technology necessary to complete her schoolwork. Fortunately, London was able to lend a helping hand. Upon learning of her dilemma, he gave her his iMac with Adobe Creative Cloud preinstalled on it. 
Thanks to London's generosity, Villegas remained in the program and has continued to soar. In Fall 2020, she interned for TED-Ed as an assistant pre-production artist. During that time, she helped curate visual assets and direct part of a video about the Merriam-Webster dictionary's origin and evolution. And, influenced by her love of fantasy literature and video games, she created an animated short titled "Angel" for the Digital Design & Animation department's “Quarantined: Films Made During the Pandemic” showcase in late 2020. Inspired by a quote from the 1995 film "The Prophecy," Villegas imagined what an angel could look like and used Procreate, Premiere Pro, Illustrator, and After Effects to bring her vision to life.
"I saw the quote on Instagram, and I could just imagine the whole thing," she explained. "I saw that and thought, 'Oh, I have to play with this idea of what an angel really is, or how angels are usually portrayed. Mostly, they are portrayed as these holy, humanoid beings with wings, and they're beautiful and elegant. But what if they had seven eyes and three heads or are huge?"
The project took Villegas approximately two months to complete, as she was learning how to use Illustrator as she went along, but the end result was worth it. The short earned her praise from instructors and peers and was featured during the Spring 2021 All College Meeting in February.  
Illustration of half a woman's face. Dark brown hair, green eyes."Natasha is truly special," said London of his mentee. "Her artwork and writing have a unique perspective that is both satirical and vulnerable. Students, teachers, and industry people love working with her. She is mature, responsible, and a team player. I think she has the potential to become a very successful animator.​"
Now settled in Brooklyn and looking forward to graduating later this year, Villegas is glad she returned to her creative roots and is proud of how much she's grown and accomplished, even when the going got tough. She urges anyone going through a difficult time to keep pushing forward. "Do not give up, even if life sucks for a while," she said. "Things definitely get better, as long as you keep trying." 
Looking ahead, Villegas is making plans to go on to earn a bachelor's in animation and hopes to ultimately become a video game designer or work at Weta Workshop, a concept design and manufacturing facility in New Zealand, as an in-house digital artist.
We wish her the best of luck.