By Alex Howlett
A couple of years ago I was trying to find where my job was that day in Shoreditch, when my phone died. I knew the name of the street but I didn’t know my left from my right, let alone which direction I needed to be heading in. My only choice was to ask a stranger if they knew the way. Luckily I stopped Luca Pisanu, Visual Developer and Concept Artist from Italy, rather than anybody else.
He didn’t know the way. What he did do, was get up Google Maps and walk me there. We chatted for five or ten minutes, before swapping details and parting ways. I haven’t seen him since that day, however I’m glad for the FB add which allowed me glimpses of his progress on my News Feed since then. It was more recently, when I saw that he was involved in the latest Disney film, Moana, that I decided to get back in touch. With the same friendliness he conveyed when I asked for his help two years ago, he instantly agreed to answer some questions about his fascinating job, which entails helping to dream up and actualise the surreal world of animations.
‘I can basically describe myself as an artist that takes part on the very first step of the production and keeps following side by side with the project almost until the end. From color keys, little paintings that show mood and lighting situations of a certain sequence or moment, to final paintings, characters and detailed environments used as reference for how they have to look. I design every aspect of the world surrounding the story, following the production design dictated by the production designer and art director, making sure that everything follow the same rules. It’s really fun and my job can cover movies, animations, videogames and comics.
What is your favourite project you have been involved in, and what about it did you enjoy so much?
‘So far the paintings I did for Moana. I loved the style I had to work on, artistically speaking I really like the brush look and the effect that it gives at the end.
The team of artists I worked with was fantastic and it’s been an overall great experience from the beginning to the end. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by the same group of fantastic artists and I continue to do really fun stuff.’
What is the best part of the artistic process?
‘It’s very personal but I think I enjoy every step for different reasons. I love the very first sketches and the research. When you start having pages of thumbnails and you start to put together what will be the chosen final idea it is a great sensation. The cleanup phase brings that sketch to life so the challenge there is to keep the same dynamic lines of those sketches but make them clear and understandable. Usually cleanups look way more static than the first sketch and we totally lose that appeal.
The color brings the magic and define the mood. Choosing the best colors to describe your story in that particular painting is always another big challenge that force you to do take lots of important decisions in a short time.’
There are some beautiful landscapes on your blog – how much of them are inspired by your surroundings, and how much of it comes from your imagination?
‘I was lucky enough to be born and raised in the north of Italy, near the mountain and the countryside. Very green, colorful, with the change of the four seasons. That built a great visual library of landscapes in my mind that definitely helps my art every single day.
My imagination gives me composition and the whole early vision of pieces. I can draw all I know but, little advice, you should always use references. You can stylize everything you want but definitely having a strong base is the most important thing.’
Who do you look up to and respect within your industry?
‘I have the privilege to be surrounded by incredible artists. I have many names in my mind in terms of ‘heroes’, those that drive me and that gave me the strength to push harder every day.
The first name is definitely Craig Mullins. The father of digital painting. Every work he does is simply a masterpiece and still today I learn from watching his work.’
What are the best places you have been able to travel to with your work?
‘From my little town In Italy I have visited almost the whole of Europe. Working wise, London and then here, Los Angeles. London gave me a lot and I wouldn’t be here without it. It’s a beautiful city with so many opportunities. Our industry is strong over there and if you live in Europe it is definitely the best place to start your career in my opinion.’
What is the best part of your job?
‘The fact that I get involved very early on in the project gives me lots of range on creativity. I love the early sketches, the tests that aren’t linked to a precise moment always give some interesting results that I usually get to bring to the final result.’