Animator and Illustrator from the land Down Under. Does his best work in his sleep and can jump over a park bench.

LocationMelbourne, Australia
DateJuly 12, 2018
The meetup

After a month traveling around Australia with a camper van, I arrived in Melbourne to meet Marco. He welcomed me into his studio, showed me some of his works and, then we went in a cafe to do the interview. 

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When I was about 6 or 7, I made my first animation on film.
Chapter 01
About the designer

Hey Marco, thanks for welcoming us into your studio. Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what led you into design?

My name is Marco, I'm 41 years old. I've been drawing stuff all my life. I grew up in a really creative family. My dad’s a photographer and graphic designer he worked in animation for a while which is actually what inspired me to follow this path. My mom’s a super talented fine artist. She taught me how to draw and paint. That both inspired me a lot in life. Neither of them have ever been 9 to 5 working type people so I’ve never really felt drawn to that "regular" sort of work. In school all I wanted was to be an artist. When I was about 6 or 7, I made my first animation on ‘Super 8’ film using some Lego bricks. I guess that was the beginning of my passion for animation. I focused a lot on drawing and art in High school and once I graduated in 94’ I realized that there were no animation courses here in Melbourne. So I went off to Rome to study animation at the ‘International School of Comics’. After a year I finished the course in the fundamentals of animation and at the end of the course my teacher offered me a job in his animation studio where I worked for a while as a 2D animator. Then in 96’ I came back to Australia where I got a job with Viskatoons animation studio. I worked there for about a year and then I was offered another job at Planet X Studios where I ran the 2D animation department. I was there for just over two years, but then one day the building burned down in a huge fire. But to be honest it was actually a blessing because if I’d continued down that career path I would have been a 9 to 5 person for sure! The studio then closed down and so I was forced out on the street where I had to learn to survive on my own. I was 24 then and that's when I started freelancing… in 2001.

Interesting story. Let's talk about freelance for a while. Where are your job inquiries coming from? 

All of my jobs now pretty much come from word of mouth. I've got a good name here in Australia and generally I don't really have to go looking for work. Right now I've got the next 3 months booked up with projects but there are times where I don't have work. 

When I was about 6 or 7, I made my first animation on ‘Super 8’ film using someLego bricks.

What do you do when you don't have work? 

I work on my folio and I update my website.

Marco Palmieri 2017 Showreel

What is interesting with you is that you have a lot of experience compared to the other Esperanto interviewees so I wanted to know what changed since 1996 when you started? 

Back then, I only knew how to draw on paper. I didn't know how to use a computer so I first worked in a studio that was only drawing. We used animation disks on light boxes. Drawing each frame on a separate piece of paper and seeing the animation by flicking the sheets with our fingers on the animation disks. It was a real art form just like the old days of Disney. No one does animation like that anymore. It’s a shame. The industry has changed so much and over the years I’ve just had to adapt to survive. By learning computer animation and mastering software like Maya, Photoshop, Illustrator, After effects and Flash. They’ve really become like a pencil to me now. Just the tools of the trade really.  My experience has also taught me how to deal with problems better. What use to freak me out in my 20's doesn't freak me out at all now. That confidence comes from years of working and also from general life experience too. When you’ve got two kids, nothing seems like it could hurt you.


Some sketches by Marco

You said that a 9 to 5 job was not for you so... what does a typical day look like? 

It still ends up being around 9 to 5 but if I don't have work on or if I’ve finished a job or if I just feel like going for a walk, I can. What I don’t like about a 9 to 5 is that when there’s work you have to be there to do it, which is understandable, but when there’s no work, there’s still the stress of having to be there at the office.  And then when there’s extra work you have to be there longer hours to get the work done! So there’s never a time for a break! What I love about freelance is that I work really hard to get the work done, but when the job’s over no one’s checking on me. The client just wants the work done, so as long as I supply the work on time, everyone’s happy. I was actually finding it very stressful to be at work when there was nothing on because the days would go really slowly and I felt a bit useless.

What use to freak me out in my 20's doesn't freak me out at all now.

What are the cons of this freelancing life? 

One obvious con will be the income not being consistent. But that being said, when I've got work, I earn more money per hour than in a full time animation job. So that compensates for the quiet times. Although since having kids it’s become more stressful because of the added bills and responsibility for the future. If you're in a full time job with a steady income you can plan and budget which is much harder when you're freelancing. So it means that as a freelancer you need to create a much bigger buffer of cash which can be challenging.  

I don't know much about how a project works in animation. Could you tell us a bit about the work process from the client reaching out to the final delivery? 

Every job’s different. It depends if I’m working with a client directly or with an ad agency or if I'm doing the work with a studio. I do all three. I work directly with animation studios who hire me on an hourly basis just to help out with the animation. They’ll just call me and say ‘Hey Marco we need you to animate this character for a TV commercial’.
There are other jobs that are much more involved where an ad agency will call me up and say ‘Marco we’ve got a concept, can you flesh it out for us’. Like this project I'm currently working on now. 


Playing card's design

These are little cards that are gonna get printed and each one of these is an illustration that I've had to invent. They basically gave me the words and I had to come up with images to represent them. The brief was to be a little bit wacky. For example, for the ‘embrace emotion’ card I’ve just drawn someone hugging a big heart. 
And then there'll be times where a client will just hand me a script and I have to interpret it into an animation. Other times I might get a call to just refine an illustration. Maybe the character's already been designed by someone a while ago but the client’s not quite happy so they need to me adjust it, that sort of thing. Every single job is different. 

I see a lot of different things in your portfolio. How will you describe your own style?

I think that I don't have a set style. I like to think that I bring life to something. I don't draw things in a rigid way. I always try and make things feel like they're alive. Usually the client’s already got a style in mind and if that’s the case I have to embrace that style and give it my own twist. Honestly my power’s to be able to draw in a lot of different styles. I don’t want to be locked down to only one style. I’d get bored of that. Take someone like Jon Burgerman for example, he's an illustrator who's really well known for his distinct doodle style of drawing. People go to him for that style. 
People don't come to me for my style. They come to me because I’m versatile and I can meet the brief really well…and I'm fast.

So you will always embrace the style and then add your touch? 

Yeah, pretty much. I tend to lean towards cartoony more than serious. I'm not a serious or rigid person. I don't like rigid things. I think my skill is bringing things to life. I really believe that it comes from my understanding and love for animation. 


Petbarn Rebrand


Petbarn Rebrand

We have some typical feedbacks like “make the logo bigger” for example. What would be the main feedback that you get? A feedback that you receive often and that is a bit annoying?

Some clients don’t not know what they like until they see it. They’ll just ask me to change random stuff until they see something they like. I think that's probably the most frustrating thing. But to be honest usually the feedback I get is pretty good because there's often an art director in between me and the client.


Busy Bees' design process

This is an example of a job that was most frustrating for me. These were little bee characters that I drew for a child care centre in the UK who needed a new mascot design. They wanted to see six different approaches. So I did six quite different approaches. My favorite was one cartoony, sweet and simple. And then they took it to research, which is probably the thing I hate the most. Showing normal people something that’s in the middle of being designed and asking them to decide which way it should go. Arghhh! They’re most likely going by things that they’re used to seeing and so they end up pushing the design into a more mainstream direction, which ends up killing it. I had to change the design so much that to me it doesn't have the same energy of my initial designs. The bee went from cute and unique, to totally generic. 

Do you usually price by project or hourly? 

If it’s an animation studio, they’ll hire me for a certain number of days and I'll try to get as much work done as I can in that time. Sometimes they’ll keep me on for longer and I’ll get paid for the extra hours. For other things like character design, it's usually a fixed amount.  So then it’s up to me to do the work in a time frame that still makes it profitable. If it takes me longer because I misjudged the amount of work then I’ll take the hit.


Hidden Park's character design

Can you tell us about the project that you are most proud of?

The job that I'm most proud of is a little character called Ollie that I designed for Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in Australia. Optus approached M&C Saatchi in Sydney to create a little mascot to represent the company and they called me to do it. They wanted a really simple little character that had to be yellow. I think I must have supplied hundreds of poses of Ollie which they used online, in print, on bags and heaps of other stuff. I also animated all their TV commercials that included Ollie. It was really fun! This little guy was everywhere for two years. Everybody knows him here in Australia. I couldn't drive out into the city without seeing him somewhere. That's definitely the one I'm most proud of, and in terms of exposure, it’s been the biggest for me. 


Optus' sketches


Optus' branding in the wild

I'm also pretty proud of the TV commercial I did for Office Works with XYZ Studios. I did all the character animation in this. It was also a really fun job. I’d say it’s one of the jobs I've enjoyed the most in terms of animation. The characters were really well designed and rigged. All done in Maya and the rendering with V Ray. The result’s beautiful. It's been featured a lot. 

TV spot for Officeworks

Where do you find your inspiration? 

I think in today's world, it's so easy to find inspiration because you can just jump on Pinterest. For example, if I've got to draw a polar bear, I go online and I can see what other people do when they draw polar bears. It's pretty hard to come up with it completely on your own so you’re looking at inspiration all the time. The same way that people before computers would just grab a magazine, or flip through an illustration book. So you’re always gonna be influenced by other illustrators or animators. Then it's up to you to filter what you like and what's gonna make your design unique. I find that process really fun because it's challenging to not make something look like someone else’s work if you are starting from that inspiration. That’s kinda the problem with Pinterest though, everything's becoming very homogenized so I have to try and find what I can add that's unique. That's why I love sketching because when I sketch thumbnails I find that that's the purest point in the design. It's like when I learned to draw portraits, the one thing you don't do is start drawing the detail of an eye or nose before you do the whole face. When you do a thumbnail you can't go into detail, you have to do a small drawing and it limits what you can do so you break it down to basic essential of what that character is. To me that’s where the life of the character is. And then slowly it dies. That's how I sort of see it. Same goes for animation. I've always loved rough animation but every time it gets cleaned up and colored and refined, it loses something, it loses its life. It becomes polished, but something dies in it. There's a lot of life in sketches and it's a challenge not to kill it when you refine them. 

Lego Star Wars

I have a weird question, do you still draw for fun?

That is a good question. Well, imagine you’re Lewis Hamilton, the F1 driver, you love racing and you're doing that for your living. People are telling you to drive in this way or that way. After he finish his driving, does Hamilton go jump in a car and go on a racetrack to drive his own way. He’s probably too tired and exhausted.

There's a lot of life in sketches and it's a challenge not to kill it when you refine them. 

That's how I feel after I draw, I feel like my creativity is sapped and the last thing I want to do is draw. I'll do something else like go for a bike ride or jump in the sea or something that's completely different. I do of course love drawing for me. 

You have a lot of experience but I'm sure you're still learning so how do you keep learning and growing?

I do a lot of tutorials especially for After Effects. Usually when a job comes in and the client asks to do something and shows me a reference, then I know that there's a way of doing it and even though I might not know how to do it, I'll just jump on youtube and hope someone’s done a tutorial video to explain how to do it. I’ll generally say I can do anything and then I'll find a way to do it. 

Everything that is you is an overlap of someone else's design and something that you put in and what crosses over is where the magic is.

You have a lot of experience but I'm sure you're still learning so how do you keep learning and growing?

I do a lot of tutorials especially for After Effects. Usually when a job comes in and the client asks to do something and shows me a reference, then I know that there's a way of doing it and even though I might not know how to do it, I'll just jump on youtube and hope someone’s done a tutorial video to explain how to do it. I’ll generally say I can do anything and then I'll find a way to do it. 


Character design's process : Sketching


Character design's process : 3D render

So what is the best advice you ever received? 

Hard question. I think.. the best advice I've been given was that nothing is original and don't expect too much from yourself in that sense. I went through a phase where I was doing a lot of art and I was struggling to find what was unique about me. The one thing that resonated with me was that everything that is you is an overlap of someone else's design and something that you put in and what crosses over is where the magic is. Since I learned that I just don't put as much pressure on myself to try to make something that's completely unique. Nothing is completely unique, everything borrows from something. Steve Jobs put’s it perfectly “Good artists copy, great artists steal” 


Great Ocean Road, Australia - © Robin Noguier

Chapter 02
The design industry in Australia

How will you describe the education system in Australia? You said that you had to move to Rome to study what you really wanted to study.

It's much better now. When I was first looking for a course in animation, all the courses then required industry experience to get accepted, and to get industry experience you needed to have done a course, so I was really stuck and ended up going to Rome to study. But there's a lot of ways you can learn nowadays. There are schools of course here in Melbourne now that teach 2D or 3D animation. I don't know which courses are the best because I'm not in that world but definitely there's way more and every single university is going to have an animation course of some kind. When I was looking to learn there was nothing so that's definitely an improvement. There's a lot you can learn online too. If I was gonna learn  animation now from the beginning I would just do Animation Mentor which is basically an online course by the guys who have animated for Pixar and DreamWorks. And why would you not learn from them?

Would you advise someone who is just starting to go to school or to try to learn online?

I think that’s a personal choice. It can depend on your skill level and how much talent you have. I can tell straight away if someone can draw. If you can't draw then you need to go in a part of the industry that can handle someone who can't draw, like 3D. If you want to get into anime, which is all drawn and you don't know how to draw you gotta learn to draw. Just because you like something, it doesn't mean you're going to be good at it. I think it just depends on the person. I think the type of course is more important than whether it’s online or in a school.

Just because you like something, it doesn't mean you're going to be good at it.

What is your advice for someone that is really just starting?

I would say definitely doing a course is not going to hurt you. But if you're already pretty good because in high school you drew a lot, you've been putting things up online, you've got good feedback then there's nothing to say that you shouldn't try to get an internship. I worked in an animation studio when I first came to Melbourne. To get that job I knocked on their door and I showed them my showreel and ask if I could work for them for free. The boss saw my showreel, he loved it and he said that they didn't have a position for me but I could come and work for 50 bucks a week for three months. For me, 50 bucks was better than nothing so that sounded good. I did that and at the end of the three months, he offered me a full-time job. 


Marco working in his studio

How would you describe the design industry in Australia? 

It's hard to tell because when I'm working with agencies I don't see too many other creatives that are doing what I do. When I get to an animation studio I usually meet someone I’ve worked with in another animation studio so there’s a good sense of community in the animation industry here. In Illustration though, I would say it's probably more competitive because why would someone who can do an illustration help another illustrator to get the job instead of him. I think that in that sense there's less camaraderie, but in the animation industry everyone has to work together to get the animation done as a group project. There's anywhere from 10 to 100 people on an animation project but with illustration it’s way more competitive because usually it’s only one person. But one thing’s for sure, budgets are generally going down and life is costing more. 

What are the main agencies or people that you really look up to? 

In terms of animation, Buck studio and Giant Ant are amazing. The work they do is phenomenal and I would love to work with them. I've been working with XYZ studios since 2004 and I really love that studio as well.


Reach out to Marco

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Final boarding call

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