Learn your craft, not the tool.
This the main advice freelance 3D artist and motion designer Nicola Destefanis has for beginner artists. Our current tools are the result of years and years of evolution, but the tools will become obsolete – problem-solving will stay.
A creative who found his own little space and peace of mind in London, Nicola is a passionate professional and a dreamer for more equality in the industry. Let's get to know him better with the Member Spotlight below.
How did you get into the industry?
My background is in Graphic Design. When I was 18 I thought I was going to work in the print industry, for a magazine or some publishing company. I loved the strict rules imposed by the printing process: respecting the layout, working with just text, 2 colours and 1 static image.
That has been an incredible school: trying to find beautiful solutions using little tools teaches you how to focus on the actual point. Is the opposite direction of trying to make something interesting adding effects on top.
During my studies I stumbled upon Flash (note for the kids: former Adobe Animate) and got hooked. Motion design was not an actual thing yet so I spent a few years creating websites and little online games, as an animator but mostly as a developer.
One day I started using this other tool in the Adobe suite called After Effects, and that opened a door.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I moved to the UK in 2013. London is an incredible place and offers an incredible variety of things to do. Although not every day has been sunny here, I think I’ve found my spot now. I guess I can say “I’m a Londoner” after 7 years, and I’m proud of that. But I’m also dreaming of spending a period of time in a different European city one day.
After working for Smoke&Mirrors and other companies, I started freelancing in 2018. What I love the most is having the chance to work for different industries in different environments: BBC Studios, MTV, DNeg, Shotopop among others... Hope to see this list grow in the next years.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I would love to be able see that, would be like travelling into an alternative reality, my personal episode of The Twilight Zone!
Probably in the publishing industry, but who knows? Also, maybe music. I always wondered how what I make with images would translate to sounds.
Can you explain your creative process?
All jobs are different and there is not one single secret sauce that works for all. In particular as a freelancer you are asked to cover different roles, very different tasks each time.
I’m trying to force myself to do more pre-production. Too often artists are rushing to create beautiful images or cool animations inspired by something seen online without proper planning, missing the chance to make a project original.
For me it is more about finding the very unique character of the project first, and pre-production is key.
How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?
Very! Everything we do is thanks to technology. We are extremely lucky these days: as we don’t have to face any practical issues, you can dream about being a director, a sculptor or a painter, just sitting at your desk.
I’m not saying that digital is better than analog at all. All the incredible software we use are actually based on real tools created way before the first computer was invented. We still have Film ISO in virtual 3D cameras and ISO is a technology developed in late 1800.
But now digital art brings the tools to a vast number of potential artists, that’s the actual power of technology for me.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
It is like an attitude for me, I enjoy going to exhibitions more than spending the afternoon watching TV. Living in a city like London is a true fortune as there are plenty of amazing opportunities to get inspired.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
The best is yet to come! I hope...
If I look back at what I’ve done so far I can’t pick up a single project. But if I check my portfolio I can see there is something I’m really happy about in each work. Can be design, animation, or a mix of elements that creates a specific mood.
One thing I’m really proud of is variety, not sticking to a specific style, no one-trick pony.
How do you recharge away from the office?
It is all about books. Reading may appear old-fashioned and boring nowadays with all those audiobook and TV series around, but it's a very liberating process indeed: it forces your mind to create the image all by yourself, there is no interpretation, no director or DOP worked on that, not even a voice-over suggesting the mood.
It’s just you, how your imagination is able to see that.
A walk in the countryside is also mandatory to unwind and there are plenty of beautiful places outside London. Have you seen all the colours you can spot in a British wood in autumn? No way you could find those online.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Never stop learning, but don’t get lost learning the tool, cultivate the craft.
Tools will get obsolete in a few years, but you will bring the experience of problem-solving with you. And you will reuse this attitude in different contexts.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?
More storytelling, more interesting content: less “cool but boring” stuff (where “cool” means “popular”, and not “nice” anymore).
We really need to take care of our sources of inspiration. It takes effort and time to choose what to follow and where to look for reference: very often it is more about how many likes it gets and not how beautiful it is. This is actually lowering the level of quality of what we consume on several different layers.
And as Massimo Vingelli said once “The repercussions of ugliness are endless.”
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
This is a peculiar moment for the industry due the current international situation with Covid and I hope the advertising and video entertainment industry will be able to reorganize in the right way.
There have always been great budgets, in TV production, movies and advertising. I hope that the distribution of those budgets will be more equal across the whole production process, for all departments and all artists involved.
Not just because this is fair, but because this is the best way to produce more high quality content and better products.