Julian Gallese

by Edwin Rostron

Costa Rican animator Julian Gallese creates worlds of multitudinous activity, populated by myriad human, animal and not so easily described characters, each busy with its own tasks, passing us by as we meander through their lives. At the same time as drawing us into these detailed micro-universes, Julian gently disrupts the illusion of his animation. Figures vanish and music abruptly stops, scribbles, marks and hand-written text hang about the place alongside all the other beings, constantly reminding us these are all drawings assembled in time. Rather than breaking us out of the film into ‘real life’ however, these disruptions feel like an integral part of the world we are seeing. By emphasising the fact that they are very much animated drawings, the characters’ sense of life, character and identity is made all the more charming and magical. The artist himself is always present in everything we see, from the duck-men to the scribbled marks, and we become involved in their actions and emotions nonetheless. Julian’s work expresses a love of drawing, play and invention that I find immensely enjoyable and endearing, and his films reward multiple rewatching with so many details that at first go unnoticed.

To coincide with Julian’s latest film Cococo going online, I spoke to Julian about his work via email.

GIF by Julian Gallese

EoF: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to work with animation.

JG: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, and during my high school years I started making small animation experiments in sketchbooks and post-it note cubes. I tried an animation school in Costa Rica but I found it frustrating that you didn’t get to make your own film until like 3 years into the course. Also, most teachers strongly discouraged experimenting. So I dropped out and found a 1-year course in Canada, where you got to make your own film by the end of the year, that’s where I did my first film.

Cococo (2017) by Julian Gallese

EoF: How did your latest film Cococo begin? What were your initial ideas as you began making it?

JG: The idea just began with some drawings I had been making during my commutes. The first and the last scenes were the ones I did first. Then I just started making up a narrative around those situations. I made Cococo mostly at nights during the period I was working at an animation studio in Vancouver.

EoF: Can you describe the process of making it on a technical level, how you put it together and how this fitted in with your creative process?

JG: The films I had done previously were animated on paper. This one was made on computer with a graphic tablet. This made it harder to draw, but it also saved a lot of production time. The only software I used was Adobe Flash to animate, and some basic After Effects to put it all together. I made a very rough storyboard at the beginning, it had many empty spaces, I think this was good for the creative process because this allowed me to make up characters and animate them as I went.

Menagerie (2014) by Julian Gallese

EoF: Its a wonderfully detailed world you have created in Cococo – I’m still taking in new things after my 4th and 5th viewings – and this is a similar effect to your previous film Menagerie. I love how the main characters are not necessarily the most important parts of the film, there are many places to look and it could be a different film on every viewing. How conscious is this in your mind when you are making the work, and what draws you to create such busy worlds with so much going on?

JG: It was quite conscious, I think when nothing is going on in a film, for a small amount of time, it creates some kind of suspense. With Cococo I tried to hold that until the film is ending. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. The music also helps to create narrative arcs and “climaxes” that the picture wouldn’t have by itself. What drew me to this idea was trying to maintain the interest of the viewer even though nothing is happening. I’m not sure how well it worked..

EoF: I think it works very well! What is it about animation that attracts you?

JG: Making a sequence of drawings is exciting by itself. But I think, it’s mostly being able to create a ‘world’ that wasn’t there before. And like any kind of film, it can make you feel all sorts of emotions. The idea of making people feel uneasy, or relaxed, or sad (or whatever) with drawings attracts me to do animation.

North (2016) by Julian Gallese

EoF: Your work reminds me of Richard Scarry a bit, as well as Amy Lockhart, and the Simpsons and a bit of David Shrigley too (though your work is still very much its own thing!) Are any of those significant influences? What other works of animation, art, film etc have inspired or influenced your work?

JG: Thank you! All of those are significant influences! As a kid I was always trying to draw the Simpsons and they came out horribly wrong, I think I still do. Becky James is another important influence for me in animation. Sally Cruikshank. Also a lot of Estonian animators, I like their unusual ways of narrating stories. I’m probably forgetting a lot of other filmmakers, I don’t have very good memory. The popular paintings and murals of off-brand characters I saw around everywhere growing up in Costa Rica are a another influence too.

EoF: You have lived in Costa Rica, Vancouver and Barcelona – maybe elsewhere too? How have these different locations affected your work (or not)?

JG: I’m currently based in Barcelona now. I was living in Canada when I started Cococo, and I was in the cold New York winter when I finished it, I missed the tropics. So maybe in this case it’s the place where I was not in, that influenced the work. But they say the place you’re in always finds its way into the work.

Music Video for “Today’s Conversation” by Magpie Jay (2015) by Julian Gallese

EoF: Are you making anything new? Are there any particular things you would like to explore or develop in your work?

JG: I would like to keep exploring different ways of narrative for my next film, maybe try some dialogue, I don’t know. There’s a 360 video project I will be working in the spring next year (for something I can’t say right now) I’m very excited to explore that medium.


©2017 Edwin Rostron