ANIMATION, PHILOSOPHY AND EDUCATION, WHEN THE ENTERTAINMENT BECOMES POETRY – INTERVIEW WHIT LAURA FIORI

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We have interviewed Laura Fiori, graphic designer and teacher at the “Nation School of Cinema” for what concerning 3D animation and visual effects.  A precursor of the animation in Italy who has faced all the problems and the difficulties  of approaching  this business at that time. RAI associate and graphic advisor for the TV show “L’albero azzurro” , co-founder of “Lanterna Magica”, one of the major european  companies of cartoons production.

Each one of her projects has got an educational background and it hides in itself a deep and philosophical meaning. Our interest in her works has been based on this characteristic of bringing the animation art on an higher level,  moving on just the childish connotation, and we asked her for some useful advices starting a career in this business.

Authors: Matteo Franchini, Marco Bevilacqua, Caterina Rosini, Elisa Vianelli

  1. Talking about your professional career, you lived in a period in which the animation technologies hadn’t been fully developed yet. How hard has it been to learn with just a few courses and the difficulty to find some proper material? How much of your knowledge come from the self-taught and the experimentation?

In 1984, I have been a co-founder of the “Lanterna Magica”, the first animation movies production company in Turin. At that time we still were used to work using the film and all the huge problems concerning it, like, as you can imagine: really high costs, if there was an issue in the video shootings we had to start again from the beginning, there was no possibility to have preview until the development of the film, etc…

When I found out about a computer (the first one was the Amiga-Commodore) which could realize pseudo-animations, I immediately bought one and I started learning how to use it. It hasn’t been easy for sure, but with some effort and with some help I improved my skills.

The following year, I attended some free courses for art directors organized by an advertisement company and I learnt using the firsts software. From then I started to pay attention to the developing process of hardware and software products concerning our business.

At the beginning of the 1989, I left the Lanterna Magica cause of different opinions with my colleagues, and I started working for the IED in Milan as Computer Graphics courses coordinator.

In the same time, I was working for RAI TV channels as well.

In 2002, I became a teacher in the CSC in Turin.

Summing up, in my opinion both proper courses and self-taught are really useful. The most important thing is to apply everything you learn on a concrete project.

  1. Considering “Trash Story”, in your opinion how much importance has the animation in the collective imaginary? How does it affect the spectator’s inspiration and education?

The animation has a huge influence on the audience, just think about how much you loved it when you were kids!

The animation “works” on the emotions, it brings to life fantastic worlds and characters. It allows us to deal with difficult topics using an indirect, but still effective, language.

All the socialist countries such as Russia, Hungary, Czech Republic and so on, have created national production studios to spread educational contents exploiting long animations videos.

Lanterna Magica developed many educational programs concerning for example alcohol and smoke issues, but suddenly these products are not used anymore in Italy.

  1. “Racconti Zen” are a set of animated stories coming from the zen philosophy. Why did you choose this topic? Do you follow this doctrine or you just thought it suited for this series?

This is a really good question! I have been practice meditation for many years and two passions have met during my life, my love for the art expression and the spirituality.

For ten years I have been member of a group inspired by the teaching of Gurdjieff, and since 2009, I am part of the Ethic Community in Città della Pieve.

Moreover I think that Zen Stories are perfectly suitable for a TV series.

  1. Considering “Racconti Zen” and focusing on “Una Parabola”. Watching it, we noticed that the characters are black silhouettes looking like a shadow play. Why did you choose this specific style?

Brief introduction: these videos of “Racconti Zen” were born has a kind of technological challenge because we have chosen to create them using the first Italian software for 2D animation called “Surf”, developed by an anonymous and brilliant programmer.

By the way the stylistic choice has been driven by two complementary elements:

1- The reference to the zen art and to the drawing technique called “sumi-e”

2- The need of dematerializing the characters giving a feeling of emptiness.

  1. We saw you worked with the production of the TV show “L’albero azzurro”, a show who definitely left something in our generation’s heart. What was your task there?

I was one of the first creators for what concerned the planning and the implementation of the show. I was in charge of finding suitable animations and planning the graphic drafts.

  1. Can you suggest us some books, both practical and theoretical, to learn and improve our graphic design skills?

I can suggest you some really interesting books, here’s a list:

History

Gianni Rondolino, “Storia del cinema di animazione”, Einaudi, Torino, 1975 e segg.

Language and Technique

Preston, Blair, “How to animate”, Tustin, W. Foster, 1989.

Williams, “The Animator’s Survival Kit”, Faber & Faber, London, 2001.

Tony White, “Il disegno animato”, Editiemme, Milano, 1987

Chris Patmore, “The complete animation course”, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003

  1. You teach in the “Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia” in Turin the courses of 3D animation. How do they diversify from other 3D animation courses? Is it possible to work in Italy in this business?

My teaching is spread on three years: in the first year we study the basic software such as Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects, by means of some assessments focused on specific topics.

During the second year we produce more complex footages simulating a real assignment from a customer, starting from the concept until the post-production.

In the last year I mostly follow as tutor some thesis projects concerning digital technologies.

Considering the second question, it is hard to give an answer. In Italy, there are many small studios but suddenly cause of the recession some of them has been shut down.

Usually after earning the degree, 50% of our students go working overseas. This is mostly caused by the lack of investments by the major studios. I personally fight to make the production work staying here in Italy, avoiding all our students to run away from the country after the degree.

  1. Your job is really dynamic and it changes a lot during the years. How can you always be updated? Do you follow some forums, websites or magazines?

I do all I can to keep myself well informed, but the best updates come from some festivals containing talks and conferences , and from “Cartoon Media” an European Institution concerning computer animation.

  1. Any possible future development of computer animation techniques? Which technologies are mostly used nowadays?

This question requires a complex answer. I will try to keep it simple, nowadays in computer animation some crucial topics are:

1- 3D pre-visualization techniques used for 2D set as well, software like ToonBoom for example.

2- Hybrid techniques that deal with the interaction between 2D and 3D. For instance 2D renderings starting from a 3D software.

3- 3D printers and robotics cinematic.

  1. Watching “Anime Semplici” we can see this “sketched” girl accomplishing a travel through the history of Catholicism which is brought to life animating some medieval paintings. How did you make it? Are they just compositing techniques or is there a classic animation part too?

It is a hybrid technique: animated drawing for “Rough” (the main character), locations are developed in 3D (not all of them), and digital cutout for other characters.

2D characters are imported in the 3D world mostly working on the alpha channel.

All the rest is a huge compositing work. I hope you liked it.

  1. In conclusion, we have seen in your future project the idea of making philosophy, animation and religion meeting all together. “Anime Semplici” is an example of this concept, how will you bring on this project? Have you got any other work in progress?

Well, I give you sneak news…..I would like to found a small production animation company focused on specific contents such as: philosophy, human behavior, psychology.

I think it is the right time to try it again (developing “Racconti Zen” for example). We have the skill and the talent to try it again.

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