Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, 2005. A frame from the underwater scene with Octopuses animated by Federico Cascinelli while working for Framestore CFC. Copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
Federico Cascinelli is a professional 3D Character Animator who recently worked on international feature film productions as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), “King Arthur” and “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire” (2005).
His story is about success in a non-conventional way. His accomplishments, pain and ambitions have led him to an unusual approach to a career in animation.
But before giving you all the insights about his artwork I want to give Federico Cascinelli himself the opportunity to tell his story. This is an introductory article from a series which will show more about Federico’s role in the movies I mentioned above.
Ciao Federico, after hearing your story directly from your voice, I would introduce you to CG Explorer readers with this question: should we graduate from a renowned Art School to become a successful CG Artist?
It wouldn’t seem like that.
I successfully studied to become a surgeon and worked in this role for some years. One day, I discovered I had lived a life someone else had chosen for me and decided to give it a different turn.
This was going to cost me a brilliant career in one of the top-class Italian hospitals, the relationship with my family and, maybe the highest price to pay, my marriage.
Today, I am a professional animator in the movie industry with experience in the world’s top animation studios. This job allows me to nurture my passion in “animare” (to animate in Italian, from “bringing things to life” in Latin) and to share it with the love for my two children.
I have no regret for what I have done. With great sincerity I confessed to my ex-wife (I am divorced) that if I could get back in time, I would do the very same things.
Thank you for your frankness and for sharing such a personal story. After all this, what would you suggest to somebody who would like to follow your path?
I suggest to beginners to choose a good school, no short training, preferably three-year courses so they can build a firm basis in fine arts, acquire solid drawing principles and explore animation from A to Z.
I have no formal education in animation. Of course, my scientific background has been of great help to developing my animation skills. I am a methodical guy with a very logical approach to problems. My Animation Supervisor at Framestore CFC once told me:”Your method is your greatest asset, you are a problem solver”. That is why for me being a self-taught artist was a natural choice. I needed to conquer the principles at the foundation of animation before being able to apply them.
My greatest school has been the one I attended in surgery rooms where my elder colleagues suggested me to “Steal their crafts with the eyes”, that is to learn by observation.
I went through some formal training, the most important of which were a number of master classes with some of the most famous animation artists in the World: Don Bluth and Richard Williams.
(Editor’s note: Don Bluth is the author of the popular traditional animation-based videogame “Dragon’s Lair”. Richard Williams, four Oscars awarded with Disney’s animated film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, is also the author of each animator’s bible: “Animator’s Survival Kit”).
Federico, where did your solitary learning path take you? I mean: in which way did you get the necessary background which others obtained (also) from schools?
I always felt guilty for not possessing an artistic background so I filled the technical and artistic gaps with the knowledge needed to animate forms and make them alive with the research and practice every apprentice should do.
I do a lot of life drawing sessions with method and perseverance because I understand the importance of catching a pose, a gesture, an expression to be able to naturally reproduce them when I animate the 3d models.
I know you’re going to raise the long-debated issue they talk about in every (serious) animation school: should you be a skilled storyteller or a technical virtuoso?
Very soon I discovered that my one greatest desire was not very much the technique for the sake of it but the opportunity to tell the kind of stories that entertain people and make people smile.
We are happy about it! I can hear you say. How many times did they tell us that technology and techniques are useless if not used with purpose? And how many times did the greatest animated film directors, from Walt Disney to John Lasseter, repeat “in the entertainment industry there is only one key to success: the story! The Story! The Story!”?
That is why I have had since the beginning a strong desire to be a filmmaker. Later, I will tell you about Cascinelli the director, author of independent animated short films, and of the success I obtained with my film production.
Bubble Blue and Blonde Baby. A frame from the short animated film directed and animated by Federico Cascinelli.
Thank you for mentioning your role as an independent filmmaker but, as promised, in this first part of our long interview, I would like to listen to your story first. It’s not so frequent to get to know more of the life of an artist in the typical CG forums. Here we don’t pay for paper so if you indulge a bit longer in a flashback I am sure we will find very interesting aspects in it.
Well, you asked for it!
Let’s walk a step back in time. I was a shy and curious kid. I was mesmerized by the weird figure of a distant uncle. A visual artist and a sculptor. I spent my youth playing together with my cousin with the temptation of seeing the world through the lens of Arts. (The force, Luke!). But my family was not very keen on considering my artistic skills and forced me to enroll at Liceo scientifico (Editor’s note: in the Italian school system, a strongly science-oriented type of secondary education).
My life took a direction which seemed unavoidable.
If you feel like it, can you tell us more about your family?
My father is a famous doctor with an important management role. It really didn’t take him much to “route” me towards studying medicine at the university.
I became a high-energy type of guy, with a frantic life inspired by efficiency and ambition and powered by a good measure of arrogance. I sprinted through my university years and graduated at only 24 (which is pretty unusual in the Italian university system)
With lots of business travels, seminars, workshops and the apprenticeship in the surgery division of a famous Italian hospital, my life was accelerating at mind-blowing speed.
Still not satisfied, I got married, bought a house and made a beautiful analogic human being.
Around 2000, something toggled in my mind. I never really asked myself what must have happened from an anatomical point of view: a pushed button? A neuron out of place? An out of the loop synapse? Or maybe a bug?
I discovered a pressing internal conflict. I felt alienated from my life which I didn’t recognize as my own. I would break out of the cage with a metaphor which would have the effect of a rock: “My life is like my car, I drive it and I decide where I want to go“.
I understand how dramatic this must have been for you. Was it then that you developed an interest for animation?
Yes it was.
There was an unexpected reaction to this change: all the passengers of my car/life decided to get out of it. Unfortunately.
Is this the suffering we read in artists’ biographies?
Maybe this tragedy pushed me to get into the art of animation. Of course, there were tears and true depression. Deep depression. But maybe in a few years, I will look back and realise this was the natural evolution of a human being who was escaping from a system which had tamed him.
I always say: “Life is like waves, sometimes it takes you high, some others it takes you low. And when you go underwater you have to find the strength to keep your breath until you will be up again”.
And this was maybe the deepest valley I fell through, the bottom of the sea uncovered by the tsunami of life which influenced the first part of my life. Because after that… another life began.
I may appear blunt but I feel like a romantic hero, a Don Quixote, a Cyrano. I am totally crazy and I know that. I am an absolute idealist.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. A frame from the scene of the squirrels, animated by Federico Cascinelli during his collaboration with Framestore CFC. Copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
Federico, thank you for sharing your experience with a bunch of strangers with whiom, I am sure, you have many things in common. Not only a passion for animation, computer graphics and motion pictures. It’s with your story in mind, so dramatic and poetic, that we just look forward to knowing more about your experience in the movie industry as an animator of digital visual effects and character animator of your independent short films.
Links and resources
- Federico Cascinelli official Website
- Harry Potter official movies Website
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film Website
This interview could have not been so intense without the help of Marco Genovesi. I would like to thank Antonella Pastore for her relentless care and precious contribution to my continuous improvement as a human being