Director Profile: Frankie de Leonardis

See the other two spots in the BBVA campaign: A. Aberasturi and L. Valenzuela.

Motionographer Q&A with Frankie De Leonardis

Frankie De Leonardis has directed for television programs such as Buenafuente, Dutifri, El Hormiguero and other less well-known shows, such as Fenómenos or 4arreplegats (projects which won various LAUS awards). He was also an ADC*E Gold Winner for his image campaign for geoPlaneta tv.

In the advertising arena, De Leonardis has worked with several of the main agencies in Barcelona, including Young & Rubicam (Vitalínea, Smint, Nocilla, LG, Biocentury), Euro RSCG (General Óptica, Granini), TBWA (Adidas), Tiempo BBDO (Roca) and Quin Team (Last Minute). He founded his own animation studio, Antomic, in 2004, which he ran until joining boolab as a director in 2009.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school (if you went to school)? Where do you work now?

I’m from a little town in Argentina called Mar del Plata, known for amongst other things being the birthplace of Astor Piazzolla the Tango composer. A fact that bears no relation whatsoever to me.

I’ve studied art since I was twelve and did three years of advertising, two years of stage design for theater (in Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina), and one year of special effects (sculpting and stuff).

I’m currently working at boolab, in Barcelona, a great place to live and a great studio to work in.

How did you get into animation and filmmaking?

I always wanted to be a filmmaker, but the family didn’t think it was a serious career choice so I went over to study advertising. (I thought of it as filmmaking, and my family thought of it as a smart career choice.) While I was studying in Buenos Aires, I ended up working part time in one of the first 3D animation studios of Argentina, Aicon. There, I learned a lot and met tons of people that led me into the ‘path of the beam.’

An image from Frankie De Leonardis’ Flickr stream

You do a lot of illustration and character design. How do you feel this influences your motion work?

Yep, most of my work starts as me drawing in pencil and painting in watercolors. I got myself a watercolor set that looks like a transformer and is great to carry with you. Although the final motion piece might have not only my designs but other people’s designs based on my first sketches and editorial line, I always manage to do some of the stuff (the fun stuff) myself.

I don’t like sitting in front of a screen, moving my mouse and expecting the computer to pop ideas into my head. I like to get dirty and believe first-hand concepts rule over computer-limited design. That shows in the work I do; it’s not streamline design.

Do you have a general creative process that you follow when working on a project?

It’s quite a simple process: I need to get all information available—and by “all,” I mean all. Do a self inducted brain-storming. Talk to others at work and get their first impressions, realize what I first thought is shit and get back to thinking. I draw messy stuff, talk again and go back for one final re-thinking. Deconstruct it to its basics and finally re-organize it into pieces I can explain easily, both in a visual and a written way. Let a day go by (if I have it) and look at the idea as my worst client would. If it survives, I can relax and get a beer.

What it’s like living and working in Barcelona?

It’s sublime. You get all the thrills of living in a big city with the rhythm of a small town. Working in Barcelona has a balanced outcome: you get to work a lot and yet get time to watch outstanding theater, film festivals and live music.

Have you lived/worked anywhere else?

I’ve lived and worked in Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, and a very little in Rome. I’ve been around some other places for work issues but always having Barcelona as my dock.

The Work

The Lost promo you directed last year is one of the better TV promos I’ve seen. You seem to be conflicted about it, though, which I find very interesting. Can you talk a little about that project? Where did the concept come from?

The concept was born inside channel Cuatro‘s creative team. It came to boolab as a poem by Borges on chess and the need of using the series images to represent the verses. Each character went with a verse that pictured them as chess pieces. The graphical concept was evolved from that premise and evolved into what you can now see.

Regarding the conflict, for me it’s one job that came out okay—but not at all the job I love to be showing around. It hasn’t got amazing VFXs you’ve never seen or characters designed for it or a hand-knitted plot. It’s too straight forward for what I’m used to do. So my conflict is having to talk about it when I don’t really find it that interesting.

If you could have done anything you wanted to with that project, what would you have done?

I would have shot the actors and asked them to perform what needed to be performed just for that promo. Plus, I would have worked with a real chessboard hanging from wires, making each step forward an unsteady and dangerous step. I would have also considered binding them by wires so that a character might drag others with his choices. I would have found a way to say a lot more than just what’s being spoken in the verse.

The Lost promo is radically different than your recent work for BBVA. How did that campaign come to you?

I guess out of my working for broadcast I’ve turned into a person that can work fine with celebrities. Also, I have a traditional animation background and illustration experience, so the agency thought I might be the guy for the job. Besides, I love to do different stuff and boolab is the kind of place that encourages you to do whatever you feel like.

The BBVA ads feel like miniature films. How much freedom did you have to develop the visual ideas in each spot?

Advertising is not the most free environment you can get into. Nonetheless, the agency creative team was really eager to try anything that could add some mood to the campaign. The first agency scripts were really funny with extreme situations and a lot stuff happening. I was allowed to retouch some of those scripts and add a bit of my own world to it. The result is a great balance of both boolab and Young & Rubicam’s doing. Visually, they granted us with all their trust to let our minds fly off and were really supportive.

What was the most challenging aspect of the BBVA spots?

I would say the calendar plus having to recreate famous people with little detail.

Looking Ahead

What is your dream project?

One that has the time for planning, the trust of the client so you don’t have to prove yourself worthy, the money to achieve what’s being pursued and the freedom that makes you proud of being a part of it. (I know, I’m bloody cheesy.)

Do you have any advice for those who are entering the field of motion?

Get your hands dirty on paper. Use the computer once you know the recipe you’re making.

Where do you see the future of motion graphics headed?

I’d love it to stop being segmented speech. I’d love it to turn into a language that’s not only for logos. When I started working, the phrase ‘motion graphics’ didn’t exist. We did computer work. Now it’s an artistic technique; maybe in the future it’s the tool that binds music, illustration, cinema and theatre into a new rich communication experience.

If you compare it to cinema, it started as a technical wonder, then it was a magic trick, then a short story, and then a film as we know it today.

Credits for BBVA campaign

Client: BBVA bank
Advertising agency: Young & Rubicam (Madrid)
Production house: boolab
Director: Frankie De Leonardis
Executive producer: Coke Ferreiro
Producers: Jorge Alegre, José Nuñez
Music: OEO
Sound: Sirena

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.