Australian animator/director and producer Robertino Zambrano talks about his Oscar shortlisted short film Love in the Time of March Madness

  • Emily McVey
  • December 14, 2015
  • Comments Off on Australian animator/director and producer Robertino Zambrano talks about his Oscar shortlisted short film Love in the Time of March Madness

I recently had a chat with Robertino Zambrano about his style, influences, how he got to where he is today and much more. Robertino is a Filipino-Australian Oscar shortlisted animator and filmmaker based in Sydney and his most recent short film, co-directed with Melissa Johnson, Love in the Time of March Madness, has won numerous awards and accolades. It is one of ten short films to be shortlisted for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar. This filmmaker is certainly one to watch! Read through our chat exclusively on The Iris:

What is it that influenced you to become an animator and a filmmaker?

I’d say I’ve always loved drawing since I’ve been a little kid, but I didn’t realise you could draw for a living until I finally saw Disney’s Tarzan. I was just like, ‘Wow, someone’s job is to make this kind of thing,’ and that’s kind of latched into my mind from then on, to try find out how to get this kind of job.

Is there anyone in particular who inspires you and do you have a favourite animator?

I would say for me, there was a studio that actually gave me the biggest push and helped me decide kind of where I wanted to head through uni days at a studio in the US, called MK12. They were one of the early pioneers of motion graphics animation; they’re really taking it to another level and they tend to design images, design aesthetics into something that would look really cool in motion and it gave a different meaning to animation.

You know before that, animation was Disney and Pixar, not even Pixar at the time, so it was basic cartoon characters running around, but they created something different. I saw MK12 speak at a design conference and they showed their work off and I was hooked by what they’d made. I think for the next few years, the next five years (I was in uni at the time), I spent most of my time trying to emulate their work and it still influences me now. I think it’s influenced a lot of designers out there and a lot of animators to date.

Where do you see yourself in ten years and what are your goals for the future?

Classic question, okay! [Laughs] Alright ten years, I would have hoped to have a stab at doing a feature whether it’s successful or not; you know, I can’t say anything about that but I’d be happy if I had a go. I more than want a go. I’ve got some serious ideas that I would love to get off the ground and I think I would hope in ten years from now, I was creating content on its own, for its own sake and that was how I made a living and that’s what I relied on to pay the bills. I would love that. Right now, I think it’s the path for many most animators that the advertising industry is obviously the source of income; it’s a good source to practice new aesthetics, but it doesn’t compare to making a film. A film is its own thing in its own right, it’s a different game.

I think your work is very unique, it particularly draws out the mood and creates an atmosphere from the very beginning that continues as the film progresses and follows the character. How are you able to produce this effect? And how would you describe your style? 

The style is primarily expressive, made up of loose line work and textural fills. It has the appearance of being hand-generated, but it is actually a mix of digital 2D and 3D animation techniques. For me, it’s very important that the visual appearance and the motion feels very expressive; I try to lay in a load of rhythm and a certain level of looseness into the finish of the piece and for me that is important. If it comes out too polished, it feels cold.

I think for this kind of story, especially kind of documentary related, there’s a weird space where, you know a lot of documentaries and you’ll see it in a lot of TV shows, whenever they retell a story they’ll do a re-enactment, live action re-enactment, and for me I don’t like that because of what it does. It takes away the level of interpretation of the storyteller. It tries to present that particular film as an actual manifestation of the story and in reality it’s not, and I think then if you did an animation then it’s something furthermore that is loose and honestly, rough. You are being honest about that. It’s just a separate representation and it leaves it a little bit open, if you are to fill in their own representation and fill in the blanks purely in their own head.

Do you try to express certain messages within your films? 

It really depends on the story. For me I’m not a seasoned writer or anything, so the last couple of things weren’t written by me, so for me it’s [about] trying to capture what the storyteller and/or the writer is trying to originally express. So if you ask me what do I try to express, I guess I try to express the most honest and memorable interpretation of the story for the viewer.

It [also] depends on the film… for Love in the Time of March Madness, it’s very, very much about trying to capture Melissa’s story and express it in the most honest way possible; finding the right balance, you know? Hitting the right tone, because storytelling in the movie is very anecdotal. It’s recalling memories, it’s thinking back through her own head and it’s a challenge trying to express that feeling. You know, not just literally showing a scene that she’s describing, but rather for the visuals to express the mood of her retelling that story and jumping from memory to memory. So that is the challenging thing, that’s what I love, just trying to get that mood with animation.

So as an Oscar shortlisted filmmaker, how did you get to where you are today?

Working extremely hard, being obsessive about making something as good as it can possible be for yourself but also for other people. Just being proliferate and just constantly making things and not being discouraged by setbacks. You know, I can go on in length about how I went and studied this and I did that; for a long time, I’ve been working in advertising and I’ve been telling myself to make a short film and it took me a really long time! This is my first short film.

Working in different studios and doing stuff for ads it’s like, I will really want to do this; I hope someone drops this really good brief or story on my lap and I can go do it, but the reality is that this film was made through true force of me wanting to make a film. There are so many things that could have stopped me and it took a really long time, it took three years. I was doing it on the side of my evenings and weekends of my full-time job. You just have to decide you want to do something and just tunnel your way through.

If you could work with anyone whether it be a writer, director or an actor who would it be?

You know, I would love to work with Quentin Tarantino; you can tell he likes animation, in the last Kill Bill film, he did kind of a lot of animation anime. He’d be someone who would be truly open to doing something different and really interesting and provocative; I would love to do [that stuff], really unleash the darker side of your mind and try and create something that will either make people really uncomfortable. [Laughs]

What was it about Love in the Time of March Madness that really stuck out to you when you read the script? 

When I first read the script, almost immediately I said, ‘This is a good story, it’s a really good story and it needs to be made.’ It was brutally honest. You know, most scripts that come on your lap or most animation scripts, because of the nature of animation, are pretty light-hearted and this one was reached out to you. It grabbed you and it was very personal.

Melissa’s writing style, her story telling style, is very good. It has a really good sense of pace and rhythm and as soon as I saw it, I could see visuals already. I think when that happens, you have something that you can probably get on really well with.

Do you have an advice for people who are looking to pursue a similar career?

Let’s see, I would say as soon as you can, just try and make a film – don’t be precious about your first few projects. Your first pieces that you make will always have lot of kinks and stuff you won’t like. I think, learn how to take a project from start to finish and just constantly improve. Just make another project and improve that as you go. Another piece of advice would be to work really hard to perfect your craft; some people like to do a bit of everything and that’s kind of me, but I found in the last few years, that you only have a limited amount of time in your life. [Laughs]

I think when it comes to filmmaking, especially animation, having really strong input into one part of the craft is really valuable and to focus on that and to develop it and to be disciplined, not dabble too much… This is what this film taught me; I’ve been a dabbler for ages, I’ve gotten into all sorts of stuff, I’ve got into coding and illustrating. The illustrating is good because it helps, but I realised I love animation and to make good animation, you need to focus on it and you need to just keep getting better and better.

Secondly, even if you’re not a writer, learn enough about writing to be able to understand a good story and constantly just meet people, listen to people; be a good listener and just understand people. I think the more you understand a wide variety of people, the more tuned in to different kinds of audiences you’ll be. If you know your audience, you can be a good storyteller. The more people you meet too, the more stories you’ll come across and that’s really a big thing; if I wasn’t out there meeting people, I wouldn’t have met Melissa, and would have never come across her story.


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