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Emanuele grew up in the 80s in a small town in the Italian Alps with a dream of once becoming a paleontologist. The path would lead him elsewhere and starting out as a kid building spaceships in LEGO, he always found himself drawn towards design and being creative, and graduated in 2008 from The University of Milan with a degree in Audio-Visual Communications.

After that he started out working in video- and post production and tried himself out as freelance after about 3 years as full-timer. The first year led to hardships in a very saturated industry, but as fate would have it this eventually opened the doors into the self-taught world of illustration and animation.
Today he works as freelance motion designer from his home in Como, Italy, and have been freelancing for about 5 years with people from all over the world.

A firm believer in hard dedicated work and the importance of personal projects, we asked him to share some of his experiences with us..

Today there is a huge amount of quality learning material available online for everyone with a computer and internet connection to dive into. This means that there is a steady growth in number of self-taught artists and the necessity of going to university and getting a design degree is not a requirement for starting out as a motion designer.

Q: What is your design background and how did you get into design and animation?
This is going to seem absurd, but the truth is that I don’t have any design background. Luckily, I’ve always been interested in creativity in all its forms from music to photography and videos. I think having these things as hobbies has helped me develop a good aesthetic sense, grown my creativity and given me some technical experience as well that have been naturally integrated into my current work, partially compensating for the fact that my studies were not strictly connected to design.

I had to expand other aspects to get where I am now in this job and I must say the role of Youtube tutorials was fundamental for me to learn both the usage of software and illustration/animation and theoretical concepts that I had never had anything to do with until 5 years ago.
But the real breakthrough for me was understanding that I could make a living out of this and not just do it as a hobby. Coming from a very small town that doesn’t offer any kind of professional outlet/opportunity in the creative industry, it was hard for me to envision a future career out of my favourite past time. The internet played a huge part. It allowed me access to new experiences and realities that would not have been available to me otherwise and have put me in contact with new clients from all over the world.

The real breakthrough for me was understanding that I could make a living out of this and not just do it as a hobby

Q: Do you have any rituals or certain things that you like to do, to help set yourself up for work and get into your creative flow?
I don’t have any rituals per se but I’ve come to realise that having a break, even a short one really makes a difference in the creative process. It allows me to just stop and re-elaborate my ideas. Having lived until very recently in the so called “Italian lake district” a walk in the woods right in the middle of the work day was standard practice. I’ve recently moved to a bigger city and so I limit myself to walking in circles in my garden. My neighbours probably think I’m crazy, but for me it still works.

The majority of the work you have done up until now can mainly be characterised by an illustrated 2d style which is occasionally complemented by 3d with a flat look. Your use and understanding of colours always seems very considered and somewhat minimalistic, and you often like to bring in some texture into the mix. You have developed a sharp eye for animation and timing, and hardly ever use any cuts but instead craft smooth and elegant transitions that make the pieces flow nicely.

Q: How did you develop your skills and style? Have you always been particularly drawn towards this 2D style, and see this as your personal style or trademark?
The development of my style was a rather natural progression. Throughout the years, I’ve tried to do a bit of everything from 2D to 3D to cell animation to determine where my strength lies. Yes, perhaps transitions are a bit of a hallmark for me; I confess I do dedicate a lot of my time to it even if recently I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the over-all functionality of the video in a global sense rather than to technicalities that are an end in itself.

As far as developing my skills, I tend to use my personal projects as a sort of testing grounds for certain aspects until I feel I have mastered those skills. Recently, for example, I’ve been trying to deepen character animation, which is an extremely complicated process but which can be a huge added value for a video.
Let’s say I try not to stop moving in general, creative research is fundamental in this job. I usually publish a video only when I feel I have something truly new to offer in comparison to what I’ve done in the past. I’m not a fan of endless portfolios full of similar projects.

Q: How do you get inspired creatively? Are there any particular sources you get inspired from – like music, traveling, the outdoors, books, other artists’ work, movies, architecture, cultures, space, etc.?
I am undoubtedly inspired by other artists’ work, particularly those that excel in technical skills or style. For every project I do, I always try to raise the bar, and looking at high quality work is a fundamental stimulus to push myself to do the best I can.
As for the rest, I think every artist draws from their creative references – wether consciously or not. In my case I usually gravitate towards the nerd culture and science fiction films I used to watch as a child.

You are now freelancing from your home in northern Italy which I imagine gives you a lot of freedom, but must also require a lot of self discipline and time management to make it work.

Q: How do you find it being your own boss and taking care of the business side of things like managing clients, contracts, invoices etc. – while still leaving enough time and energy for executing on the highest level?
Being my own boss and managing myself can be amazing at times – at others it can be a darn mess!
Luckily contracts and billing doesn’t take up too much of my time. I work on it at night while I’m watching TV or some other non-stressful moment. Dealing with clients is surely much more laborious.

I’ve thought about opening a small studio and having some people work for me more than once but for the moment I think I’m just where I need to be. It’s an ideal situation. I like having a human relationship with my clients, beyond the professional one. Having direct contact helps me to better understand their needs and to create something that satisfies those needs and is at the same time aesthetically pleasing.

Never stop having fun and save a little space for your personal projects.

Summer Drummer
Summer Drummer

For many the thought of going freelance for the first time can be intimidating and a bit scary as there are many aspects to take into consideration like all of a sudden losing a steady pay-check or having to make sure to land the jobs yourself etc.

Q: Was going freelance always part of your plan and was the transition easy for you to make?
As I already mentioned my path to getting to where I am now has been anything but conventional and in a lot of ways unexpected, even for me. So, I’m going to say no – being a freelance motion designer was not part of my original plan. After getting my degree, I started working as a video editor in Milan, roughly 2 hours away from where I live.

After about 3 years of working there, I felt that I had gotten all I could from that experience. I started to understand that going freelance would give me the chance to work on different kinds of projects and keep me stimulated. So I quit and started offering my services as a freelance video editor. This was a losing bet for me. I found myself in a saturated market with fierce competition from professionals much better known and with more experience than I. As a result of that I was practically unemployed for a long stretch. It’s funny though, this failure was a changing point in my career. I used the time to get more experience with After Effects and challenge myself for the first time in my life with illustration and slowly but surely I started getting my first little jobs.

It wasn’t an easy passage and my advice to anyone considering taking the plunge would be to allow yourself at least a year before counting on a steady income. I would also say that in my opinion, it was worth it. The satisfaction, opportunity and freedom that come from working this way really is priceless.

Q: If you had to give 3 tips or things to be mindful of to someone who is considering taking the leap into freelancing, what would those advices be?
My first suggestion, as obvious as it may appear, would be to create a quality product. The internet works on the merit system: it’s not important if you just showed up in this world and have little experience. If you produce excellent work you will distinguish yourself from the masses and get noticed by art directors who can commission you some work. Sometimes just the right idea is enough. Look at my video, “Proof that we are soul mates” – it was an excellent launch pad that helped me get my first few important commissions.

1. Create a quality product.

My second piece of advice is a consequence of the first: Use your time wisely to promote your work. A high quality website is fundamental. I also think that social networking is a great way to keep people who would follow you informed and up to date. You can post work in progress, experiments or even stuff created ad hoc. What is important is that you don’t become a spammer or get involved in a losing battle to have some people “like” your page.

2. Promote your work.

3. My last piece of advice, probably the most important one, is to never stop having fun and to save a little space for your personal projects. I think that they are precious moments of growth for every creative person which permits us to experiment in complete freedom without worrying about deadlines or other limits that are rightly a part of working with a paying customer.

3. Have fun and do personal projects.

The proof that we are soulmates
The proof that we are soulmates

Q: If you had to fast forward 5 years, do you imagine yourself doing the same thing you are doing now – or do you have other challenges and dreams that you would like to pursue and take a stab at?
This is really a difficult question! Video has become a fundamental instrument of any device by now, so I think demand for this work will continue to grow. Everything connected to the internet changes extremely quickly, so who works in this field, myself included, must adapt to the changing needs of the market. As far my personal goals I hope I’ll be able to continue to enjoy my work and my life exactly like I’m doing now and to continue to collaborate with clients on interesting jobs.

Q: Do you have any preferred tools or online platforms you go to for inspiration and managing your ideas?
Ice Cream Hater and Wine after Coffee in my opinion gather the best regarding animation. They are the two sites that I go to most frequently to keep an eye on the ball and see what’s new and to get inspired. There are some good things at Behance as well but they tend to be more towards illustration rather than animation.

Pinterest is fabulous for organising ideas. Usually at the beginning of a project I create a private mood board where I can gather images or video that for whatever reason I think could be a good starting point for the video that I’m about to create. At that point I try to merge all these inputs to come up with a unique style that truly adds value to the video.

You have just come back from a break and enjoyed a bit of holiday but I imagine you are also eager to get back to your desk and start crunching those pixels again. So thank you for letting us take up some of your time to answer these questions and sharing some of your thoughts and experiences.

Q: On a final note, what would be your best advice to someone who wishes to explore animation and motion design, or just starting out in the industry?
The only thing I would say is to experiment with different animation styles and techniques: It’s the only way to understand where your strength lies and what comes to you naturally, what’s fun for you to do and what you’re best at. When you’ve understood what your strong suit is, invest all of your energy to constantly improve in that specific field of animation and never stop experimenting.

Here you can find out more about Emanuele and his work:
Twitter: @ema_colombo
Instagram: @ema_colombo
Behance: emanuelecolombo
Vimeo: emanuelecolombo

Summer is coming
Summer is coming

Thanks again to Emanuele for letting us pick his brain and gain a little insight to his life as a freelance motion designer. Make sure to check out Emanuele’s work and keep an eye out for more juicy animation in the near future!

We hope you enjoyed this very first motion artist feature. Please feel free to share your thoughts on it with us – we would be more than happy to hear from you.

Thank you – and stay tuned for more!

Leave a comment

  • lukaskus

    Emanuele is the best :)

  • Pedro Ramos

    Emanuele is a true source of inspiration and his work is amazing. Great interview and keep ’em coming!

    • Daniel Højlund

      Happy you enjoyed the interview! We hope to be able to make more features like these in the future.

  • Great article!

  • Lucas Espin

    Need more interviews like this.

    • Daniel Højlund

      We are planning to do some more features in the future. Glad you liked it!