In the field of animation for the last eighteen years, Cinzia Angelini has worked as an animator in productions involving traditional as well as computer animation. Her work on features ranges from films “Balto” (Amblimation), “Prince of Egypt”, “Eldorado”, “Spirit” and “Sinbad” (Dreamworks), to “Spider-man 2” (“Best Visual Effects” Oscar Winner, 2004) and “Open Season” (Sony Imageworks), “Meet the Robinsons” and “Bolt” (Walt Disney Animation Studios).
Her work also includes the DVD specials “How to Train your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda2”, as well as the “Despicable Me” Universal Theme Park project for Duncan Studio.
Cinzia is currently a story artist at Illumination Entertainment.
Bijan Tehrani: Could you tell me a little bit about your Italian background?
Cinzia Angelini: I was born and lived in Milan but enjoyed spending week ends and summers in Trento, where my parents are from. I always wanted to be a graphic designer and only by chance did I move into animation. Once I completed my studies in both design and animation, it was clear to me what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an animator. After working in Milano for a year, I left Italy and joined Amblimation, Spielberg’s animation studio in London. I’ve worked abroad ever since.
BT: Is there any influence of Italian animators in your work?
CA: I’ve always loved Bruno Bozzetto’s work that he did in the ‘70’s, the feature films, like West and Soda and Vip, mio fratello superuomo. Those projects were the peak of Italian animation to me. Apart from that, I watched the old Disney classics and was deeply influenced by those great animators. When I started twenty years ago, most of the animation features were produced at Disney.
BT: Did you start as a traditional animator or with digital animation?
CA: I started as a traditional animator, and did that for quite a few years. After leaving Italy, I divided my time between London and Munich, until I got had the opportunity to join DreamWorks in 1997. I was on all of their traditionally animated films until “Spirit”, at which point they introduced me to Maya and moved me into CG animation. It was the perfect time to learn CG. Animating both traditionally and with the computer on “Spirit” and “Sinbad”, I sometimes animated characters with both techniques, within the same scene, quite an interesting experience. After Dreamworks, I moved on to Sony Imageworks, where I worked exclusively as a CG animator on productions like Spider-man 2 and Open Season. Eventually I landed in Disney Animation, where I worked on Bolt and other features, also digitally. Just a few years ago I found myself going back to being a traditional animator for Dreamworks DVD specials, at Duncan Studios. Returning to 2D after 10 years of computer was hard, but really rewarding!
BT: Which one do you prefer, traditional animation or CG animation, which one is more interesting to you?
CA: This is a difficult question. I like them both, if well executed. Traditional animation is an amazing technique and can express characters in such an amazing way, computer animation. On the other hand, is very powerful in its own right, and allows the camera to move with more freedom. What fascinates me about traditional animation is that the animator starts with a blank piece of paper and creates everything that ends up on the screen. With computer animation, it feels more like a shared experience, since the animator starts with a model that is ready to be manipulated. Unfortunately, most Studios have moved away from traditional animation these past years, for different reasons. I wish more traditional features made it to the big screen. It’s an art form that not only deserves to live on, but also be preserved. Loosing that would be such a shame.
BT: What do you think about the animated feature films that are being created outside the United States, like Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis?
CA: I loved those films, especially Persepolis. What I admire most about them is that they dare to take on important, even difficult topics. That kind of edge is something that’s hard to find here in the States. Often animation and in particular, animation for features films, is perceived as comic. Box office is the most important part of the industry of course, but I believe, I hope, a balance can be found by pushing the boundaries of this beautiful medium just enough. Why not touch upon sensitive, even delicate topics once in awhile. I hope studio executives will realize that it’s possible to produce many different types of animation, for a wide variety of markets. The overseas market seems to have a different approach than ours, and tends to consider animation a fair medium for a variety of social expression. We see the fabulous results with the release of great films like Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir.
When it comes to filmmaking, the U.S. has vastly greater resources than most countries. Wouldn’t it be great if the large animation studios would put aside $15 to $20 million to explore, and produce independent animated features? Those might even surprise them at the box office!
BT: I think even economically it makes sense because when you look at the sales numbers for both Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis. We know that a film needs to gross about 3x what it cost to make in order to break eve, in that sense a film that cost 200 million dollars has to make 600 million dollars to break even.
CA: Exactly! My dream is actually to find a studio or a group of investors willing to invest that kind of money and give it a shot. Nowadays you can produce an animated feature film working remotely with incredibly talented artists from all over the world. Costs can be kept low and one CAN come up with a quality film, if the right people are involved. There’s an imbalance between artistic and business decisions. I suppose that balancing act has always existed. But as technology develops ever more quickly, we can hope that imbalance will improve dramatically in the near future. Just look where we are now with desktop filmmaking and digital photography – all fantasy just two decades ago. Independent animators are generating incredible work, and getting noticed.
BT: Tell us a little bit about your own project.
CA: Mila is a volunteer-based project, produced by Ibiscus Media in association with Pixel Cartoon and the Art Institute/Hollywood. It’s a CG animated short that presents the most tragic collateral damage of War – civilians, as its theme. Though often overlooked and rarely mentioned by the media, civilians are the first to be hit, and the last to be remembered. It’s inspired by true stories that my mother and grandmother told me growing up. “Mila” is a little girl caught in the middle of War. I chose WWII as background because it’s such an important moment in human history. Unfortunately, Mila’s experience is the reality for kids living the similar conflicts around the world today. And that’s the point. This is a film that will not only move the audience, but also leave it uplifted with hope and a positive message.
Thankfully, we’re not alone in bringing this story to the big screen. The Mila team is made up of three core groups – one here in L.A., another in the U.K. and a third in Italy. Professional artists in Canada, France, Belgium, Spain, India, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa and Australia also contribute their efforts in a variety of ways. In total, we’ve grown to a crew of about one hundred and forty people – a remarkable group working towards this common goal. The Trentino Film Commission has approved a seed grant, which will be applied to the substantial costs of rendering at Pixel Cartoon in Trento. The quest for investors and other resources (via product placement, for example) is ongoing. We hope to attract additional benefactors as our production efforts continue to build. Historically, capital attracts additional capital. As more funding becomes available, we will be able to complete the film that much sooner. In the meantime, we forge ahead, undaunted and inspired.
BT: One of things that we lack here in the United States is financial support for projects like yours. In Europe there are some government funds that support independent projects but here in the states there are no funds to support experimental animation.
CA: Germany, France and Canada have great programs, but here you’re basically on your own – especially in this economy. It’s unfortunate, because there are so many talented artists who could produce amazing films.
BT: Are you planning your own feature film?
CA: Eventually, yes. I’ve started with a short film, and hope that “Mila” will help me show the world what I can do. These last few years I’ve moved more into the process of story. I love to come up with feature ideas and character development. The challenge, as always, is getting these ideas up on the big screen. But that’s a challenge I’ve already taken on, and love. As cliché as it sounds, the important thing is to never give up, and always remember the team. Without the team, there is no film.