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With professional-level tools accessible to anyone, what makes an animator stand out?

The Animation Jury President explains why the best animators are the ones who can bring surrealism and emotion into their work

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Fabiano Broki is an Animation Director based in São Paulo, Brazil. He’s a Creative Director at animation studio Lobo.cx where he focuses on character design, 2D cel animation and motion design. He also teaches Direction for Animation, Art Direction and Motion Design at Escola Britânica de Artes Criativas (EBAC). Broki is a hands-on multidisciplinary creative and equally enjoys leading teams of digital artists and working on solo projects. Here, as told to D&AD, the Animation Jury President explains how animators can stand out in the age of technology where drawing skills are no longer the deciding factor of what makes a great animator.

When I first started my career in animation, our field looked very different from how it is today. There used to be these bustling studios, packed with animators all working with pen and paper. We’d meet each other in corridors and discuss our art, and the best sketch artists were usually also the best animators. Today, most of the animators I know work on their computers, and use cutting edge drawing tools that have changed the way we used to work significantly. In the past, for example, you had a lead animator doing the keyframes (the main drawings) and assistant animators doing the in-betweens (the intermediary frames that create the illusion of movement in animation). Everything was first drawn on paper and then photographed. Today, 2D and 3D tools allow an animator to do the entire process by themselves, faster and with more ease. Social media has made it easy to share work in seconds, creating amazing new platforms for emerging talent. Teams all over the world can also work together with ease by exchanging files and giving feedback online.

We now also live in a world where lots of people can draw with all the traditional tools embedded in apps like Animate, Photoshop and After Effects. I had to learn how to sketch on paper before I started animating, but not all my students need to do this. Motion Design can let them start by learning graphic design and use that as the jumping off point for their animation projects. Learning to draw still helps a lot, but it’s important to know how to translate an idea into movement that creates a memorable moment. This is now a field where experimentation is arguably as important as artistic and technical talent — where creators are transitioning from pixels to voxels, and trying their hand at AR and VR Animation.

“This is now a field where experimentation is arguably as important as artistic and technical talent”

It’s bittersweet, because the camaraderie we used to have in those old animation studios is gone, but technology has also lowered the barrier to entry into the field of animation, making it a more accessible profession. The learning curve is also less steep now, which means that an emerging animator could be technically on par with an experienced animator way faster than 20 years ago. So how do we judge what makes good animation in a world where technology has levelled the playing field? I believe the best animators in this age will be the ones who can bring true emotion into their work, tapping into those special moments in our lives that are stored in most people’s memories, while also transporting audiences to abstract worlds that can't be filmed in reality. Skilled animators today will be able to make us transcend reality, if only for a few minutes, and take us to a place where we want to daydream.

To do this, we as animators must step out of our comfort zones and experience our own lives to the fullest, absorbing the world around us and looking for inspiration in unexpected places. This is how we’ll find the creativity and imagination we need to tell the kind of stories that can’t be filmed. I think the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) does this extremely well. He transforms feelings and life experiences into something fantastical that sticks in our minds forever.

“I believe the best animators in this age will be ones who can bring true emotion into their work”

In terms of animation for branding, I think you also have to really understand the essence of a brand, and then translate that into something abstract. I’ve tried to do this in my own work, for example in the 2017 Leica campaign Everything in Black and White to promote their Leica M Monochrom camera. The short animated film was a celebration of black and white over colour, where we tried to show viewers how much they can let their imagination run wild when capturing monochrome photographs.

Another example is Wish You Were Here?, a surrealist tribute to D&AD that summarised five decades of the D&AD Awards, highlighting memorable work. I animated a gorilla drumming for a segment of the animated film, for which I carefully studied the hand movements of drummers, but there was nothing realistic about the finished work, it was a fantasy. At the end of the day, the reason we spend hours and hours in front of a computer just to create a few seconds of a film is to make our audience feel something, and there’s no better way than to spark someone’s imagination. 

Learn more about the D&AD Awards 2022 here