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How to move from animation to illustration

Illustration of colourful characters enjoying dinner
(Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

You may have been to a design conference before. But have you ever been to one that starts when the sun goes down? 

That's the secret ingredient behind Us by Night, which takes place in the evening, leading to a special different atmosphere that's markedly different from other creative events. 

Taking place in Antwerp, Belgium this Thursday, Friday and Saturday (26-28 September), Us by Night is packed with fun activities, including an arcade, a night market, a delicious selection of local food and fluorescent ping-pong.

But of course, the main attractions are the brilliant and inspirational speakers from across the world, and one of the top attractions this year will be the return of Sebastian Curi

Who is Sebastian Curi?

Sebastian Curi is an Argentinian illustrator and animator, currently based in Vancouver, who's known for his fun characters and bold illustration style, characterised by strong lines, big shapes and simple colour palettes.

Artwork

Illustration for mobile payment service Venmo by Sebastian Curi (Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

Having spent a decade working in the animation industry, he's recently switched his main focus to illustration, working with a variety of agencies, clients and artists including Apple, Warby Parker, Collins, The New Yorker, IDEO, WeWork, CNN, Soul Cycle and others.

We caught up with him to find out what he'll be talking about at Us by Night, and why you shouldn't miss his talk.

How did growing up in Argentina influence your work?

I’m from Buenos Aires. Growing up, my parents moved a lot around the province in search of better job opportunities so I’m not really from any neighborhood. I started working when I was studying in high school and, as my family had little money, my creative development moved slowly until I reached a job in a graphic design studio. 

Argentina is a country of contradictions and instability. As a by-product of that, you learn how to deal with lots of things at the same time. 

In my case that involved studying and working at the same time and working in different positions around the design and animation industry, until I found what I liked. Kind of a jack of all trades, master of none situation.   

How did you come to live in Canada?

After working for some years in different studios in Buenos Aires, I went freelance as an animator. At some point I felt really stuck with my career, and sent a couple emails to studios in the world that I liked. 

Amazingly, I got an offer from a big production company in Los Angeles, and that started a whole different stage for me. LA is an amazing city but travelling the world seemed such an exciting thing to do. 

Illustration of woman running with dog

Outdoor Voices 1 by Sebastian Curi (Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

After two years at this production company, I didn’t feel connected to my work and my illustration stuff was still something that I thought as a side job. 

So I went looking for a smaller and more cosy studio and that’s how I arrived at Vancouver, Canada to work at Giant Ant.

Was your recent move from animation to illustration an easy one?

I worked in animation for 10 years and leaving that was a very hard move to make. I was very hesitant, and because of that I kept working on studios until I was completely sure I could sustain myself and my wife without problems. 

That also created its own problems. Having two jobs put me in a place of lots of stress, little time and all of that impacted in my health a lot.

It took me more than a year of working every morning or night, and putting some weekends into my illustration stuff, to feel that I have something interesting to bring to the industry.

I finally moved into illustration because I feel I can have more ownership of my work as an illustrator. I love the freedom I have to work, how clients move in this industry, the time it takes me to finish a project. Every little thing about illustration seems magical to my “animator eyes”.

Is it important that you create characters with flaws? 

I’m all about bold and simple drawings. I like the spontaneity of my process and how they lead to joyful and lively results. 

For me, illustration is a way to create moments and have some fun, and this people I draw are perfect for conveying the things I want to say.

Three colourful cartoon characters and a dog

Illustration for mobile payment service Venmo by Sebastian Curi (Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

In the beginning, the imperfections in my drawings were due to a lack of ability to draw perfectly. But at some point I fell in love with the textures and handmade vibe they give overall… so I stuck to them.

How much do you collaborate with others?

I love to collaborate. You are as good as the people you work with, and I really like to work with people that I can learn from. 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of animation with some amazing animators. Also, I worked a week on a huge mural for the Vancouver Mural Fest.

I would say collaborating is the only thing I really miss from animation. Illustration can be a bit lonely.

What’s your approach to colour? 

For me, colours have beauty in themselves. It’s all about proportion and vibration. I prefer to work with big shapes and just let the colours do their thing. 

Illustration of person holding a rainbow between their palms

Outdoor Voices 2 by Sebastian Curi (Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

I usually tend to start with high vibration colours in big sizes and then I just add details of lines and patterns with low saturation colours. It’s never the same, I like some combinations but I try to keep things fun at this stage.

Colour gives you the tone of the story. It creates the context.

What are you speaking about at Us by Night?

This is my first talk at a design festival so I’m pretty nervous about it. I love to attend these kind of events, listen to podcasts and read about the industry - but saying something that helps people or brings value is a challenging thing to do.

Sebastian Curi's work on big screen in conference centre

On show at Apple Today (Image credit: Sebastian Curu)

My talk is going to be about changing over time in search of keeping it fun. How to find something you love and make it a job but in a healthy and sustainable way. Basically, it will focus on my journey, how each step took me to where I’m at now.

Us by Night takes place at Antwerp, Belgium from Thursday September 26, 2019 – Saturday September 28, 2019.

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