Illustrator Matteo Dang Minh on embracing the weird and the wonderful

Having honed his skills in both illustration and animation, Dang Minh talks to CR about his creative process and keeping his work spontaneous

Italian illustrator and animator Matteo Dang Minh says his creative path has been one full of twists and turns. Having loved drawing as a child, as a teen he went on to make funny videos of his friends and so decided to study the medium at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan. But while there he got his first paid illustration commission for Vice Italy so swivelled back to drawing. 

“I never really stopped, but I came back to the illustration world thanks to my girlfriend Francesca Colombara (she is an illustrator and animator as well) and now we are partners in our project Ciang studio,” says Dang Minh. 

All images, gifs and videos: Matteo Dang Minh

It was while studying that he first dabbled in animation after enrolling in an After Effects course where he learnt the basics. In 2018, Dang Minh created his first short film, Homarus. “This was a strange movie about a restaurant where customers eat lobsters and human bodies. Thanks to this short I learnt how to animate frame by frame. I never made animations before, and this work strongly influenced my drawing style,” Dang Minh explains.

“From there I started drawing crooked characters with a lot of hair on their legs and arms. I always like to learn from tutorials or observing the animations I love. I try to find my personal way of doing things, and this is why I animate using Photoshop.” 

There’s a naïvety to Dang Minh’s work where wobbly lines and an acid colour palette come together to create something spontaneous and intriguing. “My style is inspired by old animations from Eastern Europe, like the works of the Estonian animator Priit Pärn,” says Dang Minh. “I’m also very inspired by a lot of contemporary animators who are part of the same experimental animation wave like Sarina Nihei, and Max Litvinov.” 

Dang Minh enjoys exploring the surreal and the funny and likes the contrast of being both amusing and creepy at the same time, such as in his recent Instagram animated series, Lobster Man, where the characters are “half-man and half-fish, doing weird stuff”.  

Though most projects, whether it’s an illustration or animation, start with an image or sketch, Dang Minh prefers to not work on too many drafts because he’s after a freshness and spontaneity that can become dulled after many revisions.

“In animation, my storyboards are very sketchy and I like to have a range of improvisation, especially for personal works,” he says. “When I’m stuck on a commission, I like to go out and walk near the woods or the lake – I live on Lake Maggiore, in Italy – and this helps me to find a new streak of creativity.” 

Dang Minh’s animations are typically more experimental than his still work, as adding movement allows him to see his characters come to life with no limits.

“In illustration, I appreciate seeing my artworks printed on paper. This is an aspect that is totally lacking in digital animation, being by nature a virtual and intangible medium,” reflects Dang Minh. “In both illustration and animation, I like the idea of adding a brick to my artistic production, expanding my universe.” 

In every project Dang Minh tries out something new, whether it’s developing his style or working on a new technique and he hopes this translates to other people. “I love the way when a simple idea in my mind can be something finished and visible to other people,” he says.

“Both in animation and illustration, I like the process and the state of flow I feel when I’m fully immersed in drawing. It’s a fulfilling job, and it always pushes me to go further.”