Chicago-based animator Dante Zaballa describes his style as his brain “favouring involuntary movements with my hand” and a “clumsy attempt to do my best in the shortest time possible”. Of course, this underplays the charm in his vibrant and inviting animations.
Zaballa uses a mix of digital and analogue techniques for his works, but the process always begins the same way. “I usually start by making quick drawings,” he says. “Even if they are rough they give me an idea of where I am heading. With those drawings in mind I sit down, open Flash and start animating it, going from one drawing to the next. I don’t really plan the movement, which makes the process more enjoyable.”
With his hand-painted animations, Zaballa uses acrylics, crayons and pencils, giving the work texture and a touch of naivety. “I use these [materials] because it’s what I had to hand when I started out and got extremely used to them,” he says. While some of this texture is lost in his digital work (which he creates using a Wacom Bamboo tablet), the happy innocence is still there in his thick, opaque colours and curious faces. Through his use of simple shapes and figures, Zaballa creates a playground of characters which he places in various situations, ranging from the everyday to the otherworldly.
Zaballa has a somewhat conflicted relationship with his craft: “I enjoy the excitement at the beginning of every project, and the relief once it is out there alive dancing in people’s screens. But I do not like being in the middle of a project. Realising there is a huge amount of work to be done fills me with extreme anxiety and delusional thoughts,” he tells CR.
Despite this, he seems to be producing new work at a rapid rate, with recent projects including an animation of a podcast interview with author and artist Jenny Odell and a music video for Argentinian artist Juana Molina.
The animator’s portfolio is also peppered with various personal projects such as My Trip to Japan (which was based on a recording of Zaballa and his friend reminiscing about their trip before heading home) and Daily Snips, an animated diary of ordinary events collated from Berlin, Tokyo, L.A. and Buenos Aires.
While he’s been taking on more commissions of late, Zaballa says his approach and his process remains largely the same whether he’s working on client or personal projects.
“Most of the time there is something specific to be communicated in commissioned projects, but I always try to keep it as fun and nonsensical as I can. I like nonsense,” he adds. This love of nonsense is a wonderful contrast to the more polished and slick animations we often see online – instead, it feels like we’ve been given a front-row seat to Zaballa’s imagination.
As with any creative career, Zaballa is more than aware of the challenges of his chosen path. “Having any kind of stability is definitely a challenge as we freelancers rely on the arrival of unexpected emails to go on,” he explains.
“Besides that, another great challenge for me is to keep doing personal work and enjoying what I do.” In Zaballa’s eyes, personal work is what keeps him motivated – and he never wants to feel as though the art form is just a job. “As long as I use animation as a medium for catharsis and manifesting random thoughts, I feel good about it.”