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The Ingredients of Animation: Matteo Ciompallini

Scene created by Matteo Ciompallini for The Ingredients of Animation, featuring Polish dumplings.

To encourage animators to try out new tools and techniques following the release of Harmony 21, Toon Boom Animation assembled a demo pack titled The Ingredients of Animation, which features work from six artists participating in our Ambassador Program. Each artist hired for the project contributed scenes, made using a variety of cutout and paperless techniques — and were inspired by recipes they have a personal connection to.

In Poland, dumplings are a dish of special significance; says animation artist and illustrator Matteo Ciompallini. To honour the delicacy, he prepared a bite-sized animated recipe. Visualizing the classic folk dish in an impactful, minimalist style, Matteo showcases a mouthwatering mix of textures that look good enough to eat. We interviewed Matteo, where he discussed how he used photographic and graphic design elements to create the scene. His visual language synthesizes shapes to represent each stage of preparing the dish, condensing several steps into a ten second clip. Cooking has never looked this easy! 

Matteo highlights the tools in Toon Boom Harmony he used to execute this technique, and explains the references that went into the recipe’s visual style. With nods to 20th Century graphic design, fine art, and Polish folk art, Matteo brings interesting influences to the table. Hear more about them in our interview below, and enjoy Matteo’s delicious dumpling recipe.

Matteo Ciompallini‘s scene was featured in the demo video for Toon Boom Harmony 21.

Hi Matteo, thanks for your fantastic animated dumpling recipe. Why is this dish significant for you?

I think that for Polish animators, dumplings are significant from birth. This is the dish that we have every Christmas, on the table. I think that was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the assignment was a recipe.

The short film succeeds at getting key ingredients across while visualising the necessary actions needed to combine them. Was it challenging to condense a whole recipe into such a short clip?

First I did the photography of the simple page, editing it in graphic design software. So, I was looking for the colors that I like and that are used in Polish folklore. That was the starting point. 

I wanted to make it move and be more vibrant, so I decided to use peg animation — kind of a cutout animation in Toon Boom, to just position the same page while changing the rotation and the positions. So it is looped on, I think four pegs, and copied. And I thought that works pretty cool because, always, when I’m doing projects for clients or for myself, I add grain. And here I saw that, because of the texture of the paper, it worked like a grain was already in there. That was a pretty cool effect.

The color palettes in Matteo Ciompallini scene were inspired by Polish folk art.

With such an array of moving background parts, do Pegs play a key role?

Yeah, it can hasten the work. It allows you to make things quicker sometimes. Sometimes it works as a trick too. Maybe it’s not the typical way of moving this kind of texture I have chosen. You can use your creativity to change the way you are using it. That’s the way I think about this tool and how I use it.

This texture used for the pastry of the dumpling is particularly creative, with the use of photorealistic textures. It’s made of something entirely different, yet it looks good enough to eat! What is the textural trickery here?

Yeah, that’s also photography. I decided to just bring in the photo of aluminum paper, so I made folds on that. There are also some of my fingerprints I can see in there. I made this the same way that I use that peg in the background. I’ve used this on the texture of the dumpling, and also using some other nodes in Toon Boom Harmony, like the cutter.

The style reminds me almost of 20th Century poster art…

Yeah, that’s the trickery of the shapes and condensing it to the minimalist style. It’s the fun of working with this kind of visual language, I suppose. 

I don’t know if it is visible for the viewers but this is also a kind of a homage I have done to Saul Bass, the graphic designer. The way I chose the typography in the whole animation, it was handmade — handwritten. I used the Stroke Tool for all the typography, because it works very well. 

The secret ingredient behind Matteo Ciompallini’s dumpling texture? A picture of crinkled tinfoil.

You mentioned the influence of graphic designer Saul Bass. Could you elaborate on that?

I think I like his style because he reminds me of Polish poster design. I believe he saw a lot of graphic art from Europe, and also from Poland, because they have some similarities, in his work and the work I know from the books I’ve seen.

We can definitely see that thread running through. It’s a very commanding and impactful style, with very bold colours. How did you go about choosing the colour palette?

Yeah, I was trying to interpret the colors mostly used in the Polish folklore, which is, I think, very typical for many countries: blue, green, yellow and red. It’s just that typical folklore, colors that are used in the Polish folklore paintings or something or other arts. So there are simple colors that are elements of the spectrum, clean and clear.

The colour script is a reference guide for me, defining our textures. Just comped into one page — a test of the typography that I was planning. 

Speaking of Poland, what is the local animation scene like there where you are?

I think it is growing, getting bigger in 3D and 2D. We have some history of animation, especially artistic animation. Now we are in the age of trying to make things on a bigger scale, to work as a studio and not as the individual artists that try to learn on their own pace and by their own hand. They are also starting schools that are trying to bring the knowledge to young students. I’m happy that I am a part of this first generation of a growing scene. I think it’s pretty cool.

Where do you think animation and food intersect? Is there a role for animators to tell the story of food?

Actually, I will try to answer this from the point of view of the animator. I think it can intersect, it makes you more creative. 

You’re trying to condense the whole recipe into the timeframe. You are trying to interpret the shapes of the food, in a way. I think this is a nice area to explore: to present knowledge and recipes on food using animation, not just with video and photography. It’s another style, and also it’s fun. You can interpret things through the origin of the food: Like I have chosen Polish dumplings, so I’m also looking for a Polish aesthetic in how I’m showing things.

With clever use of compositing in Toon Boom Harmony Premium, an overturned glass appears to magnify, distort and blur other assets in the scene.

Do you think there are similarities between the role of animator and the role of chef?

Yeah, there are a lot of similarities. You, when you are working for the client, you are always working on a light flame, let’s say so the deadline is like the kind of the flame that fuels the project. So that’s the analogy. Yeah, but the planning, etc. It’s very useful, actually. It’s very good to be well organized in a kitchen, as well as when working in Toon Boom. 

Thank you for indulging that analogy with me! How long have you been animating?

I think that professionally, I would say about seven or eight years. 

That was, at first, an accident because I wanted to go and study painting and drawing. But because I was self-doubting my drawing, I was too afraid of going to the fine art academy. Because of the exams, I didn’t know what they looked like and what they wanted there. 

So I tried to go to the film school in Poland and I was fortunate enough to get there on the first pass. I stayed there, watching some pretty cool movies from the past. I guess I was able to just touch a little bit of the cinema. 

The real reason why I was trying to study in this film school was that there was an animation program. I needed to know how to draw and how to tell stories. That was the origin, but I stayed because I liked it, and now I’m trying to grow as an animation artist.

Who are some artists who have influenced you?

Yeah, I think Honore Daumier, especially, is a draftsman that I think could have been an animator in modern times. Also Eugene Delacroix, their style of drawing, when you look at their sketches, I think: “these are the drawings of animators.” They are very lively, but they are very simple, also. And the movement is the first thing that we see in there, the movement and the characters. 

Do you have any advice for anyone who’s starting their career now? Or any words of wisdom?

I don’t know if I have words of wisdom… Just try to have fun when you are doing what you are doing, and try to do it in your way.

Want a taste of the newest features in Harmony 21? Be sure to discover the new features here and download a 21-day trial. Curious about the other Ingredients of Animation? You can find more articles about the participating artists here.