What is your name and your current occupation?
I’m Stefano Marrone, freelance visual developer, animator and motion graphic artist. Currently I am heading to London, after working in Italy and Canada for a while.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve been an event photographer in clubs for 2 years in Milan, while studying for my Bachelor of Arts. Three to four times a week I used to start shooting picture of happy drunk people around 1am and keep going for another three hours. It was kind of fun, I met a lot of interesting, weird people, but the day after at university I always looked like a zombie.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My last short Flash film, “The Collector”, was a lot of fun during the design stage and I am really happy about how it looks. I love how the idea for the film itself developed from a quick sketch until I found the right design to be animated in Flash. I am also happy to have worked on a short film for amazing director Roy Hayter, “Alice in Wastland – The Flowers”, I was the director and designer for the opening titles sequence. The two people on my little crew where amazing professionals, a pleasure to work with them.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve been interested in storytelling since I was 7 or 8, I guess. The mechanics of how a story works, and what are the tools to tell it, had been always more fascinating to me that the final product itself. I remember looking for character sketches or cover layouts at the end of comic books before reading the issue and falling in love with all the meta-narrations -stories about stories- I could find. “The Never Ending Story”, Shulz’s “Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life” (amazing book, a must have! ), “The Baron of Munchausen”, Nelil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, etc. And of course I was a kid during the Disney Renaissance in the 90’s, so I enjoyed a lot of cool films like The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, etc. as well as amazing Dreamworks stuff like The Road to Eldorado and The Prince of Egypt. Mix these things together and animation naturally came by as a way to put my hands on everything that fascinated me, with animation you can pretty much tell every possible story with no limits at all.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am Italian, from a city called Andria in the south-east of the country, I moved to Milan when I was 19 to study Media Design at NABA (New Academy of Fine Arts). During university I was lucky enough to know a couple of guys who ended up working in big advertising agencies and knew I could video edit and realize motion graphics. Thanks to them I started with little freelance jobs (really badly paid) which eventually led me to other possibilities. Letting people in agencies know that animation was what I really wanted to do, I was able to push my assignments in that direction, whenever possible.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Being a freelance is fun because it gives you a range of different work experiences, so I don’t really have a typical day. When working in agencies, I used to get there at 9am, take a look at the work done the previous day with the art director and go back home to fix it or jump to the next thing to do and so on until the end of the contract. When working directly with a client, instead, I try to have as much regular timing as I can, from 9am to late night, depending on the deadline. It’s a roller coaster but I like it, I get bored easily.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Working in team is great! Ideas travelling from each other’s mind and transforming in something way more interesting then previously thought. It’s also amazing how the same idea can have so many different and cool interpretations, depending who’s working on it. Some words or sketches you trow randomly become seeds that flourish in unexpected ways, always raising the final quality of the project higher.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Working in team sucks! Sometimes you deal with people with no passion at all or that just want to finish the job in a fast, soulless way, without any effort to make something remarkable. Getting the right chemistry in a team is a rare and precious event, but also very bad teams have something to give or to teach you. And there are the deadlines of course, necessary evil and nightmare of all creative job.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’ve been working hard for one year to get the extra money to afford a cintiq 21″ in 2010: it is worth every cent of it! I am fond of paper in the pre-production stage – doodles on napkins are priceless- but when it comes to save time and problems with digitalizing stuff, working paperless is the best way to go. It takes a while to find your own comfort zone but it pays back in terms of speed and, more important, fixes and reworks (for commercial works this is a huge part of the deal). As for software, whatever works for the project and the budget is fine, they are just tools and I believe in being flexible about it. My last short film is done completely paperless with Toon Boom (Stroyboard Pro and Harmony), but the project I am working on right now is made mainly in Flash and After Effects. I don’t exclude in the future the integration of some CGI elements in my work either. The film is the goal; the rest -softwares, tools, etc.- is just a way to get there. And, of course, I always bring a sketchbook and a pencil with me, a technology that never gets obsolete.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The up and downs of freelancing, especially the moments when you know that you cannot miss and opportunity and you end up with a work overload. I think this happens a lot since I am at the beginning of my career, hopefully in the future I’ll have more choice.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Not that many yet, but I was lucky enough to have Marv Newland as a teacher in VFS and Michel Fuzellier in NABA.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Last Christmas I was kind of desperate because I had a bad case of epicondylitis and ulnar neuropathy together , both at the right arm. I practically couldn’t make a fist without feeling pain, drawing was almost impossible and the clean-up stage on paper of the short film I was working on would have wasted my tendons permanently. I have to thanks Wacom for inventing the cintiq, the only way I can animate without all the pressure required for paper cleanup.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I am directing -and animating a part of- a music video with two former VFS classmates and amazing animators, Carolina Gonzales and Sarah Xu. It’s a lot of fun, especially because the band and the marketing department left us a lot of room to play with crazy ideas. The topic of the song is anxiety and claustrophobia, so we have to come out with all sort of visual insights on how to convey this concept, it’s great!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I love working naked: test my markers on sketchbooks with high volume music just my birthday suite and so on. But the more I go on in my life, the more occasions to be completely free are rare. I am shy too, so to be comfortable in this situation I have to be all alone; it is kind of difficult when you share an apartment in a big city like Milan, Vancouver or London where I’ve been living the last 5 years.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yes: before even starting a career in animation make your own researches about the process of animation itself. Disney’s DVD bonus material and “behind the scenes” documentaries where everything seems super-easy is not enough to understand the amount of work and commitment you need to be a good animator (I still think that I am too lazy for this business sometimes). I have seen a quite lot of people with naive dreams dropping the ball in the middle of a school course or a project. The result is amazing but it requires a lot of elbow grease to get there.