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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

5 questions for Costa Rican animator Julián Gallese – ‘Everything in life is a narrative’

Julián Gallese, 23, creates his own world through hand-drawn animations. Gallese studied architecture at the University of Costa Rica and Veritas University before transferring into digital animation, eventually winning a scholarship to the Vancouver Film School in Canada. At the age of 18, Gallese landed his first solo art exhibit at the gallery Des Pacio in San José. He has also had collective exhibits at the galleries Equilátero and Artflow, located in Escazú, and last year animated Costa Rican band Magpie Jay’s music video, “Today’s Conversation.”

Gallese has also participated in various international animation festivals such as the Ottawa International Animation Festival (Canada), Fest Anča International Animation Festival (Slovakia), and the GIRAF Animation Festival (Canada). He continues to live in Canada, working at an animation studio and developing new projects.

The Tico Times spoke with Gallese about his life and work. Excerpts follow.

Why and how did you immerse yourself into the art world?

I never chose it. It’s something I’ve always done. I don’t even remember when I started drawing; my parents have videos of me showing them my work when I was little. I feel very comfortable doing it. I drew too much while I was in high school, instead of paying attention during class. I always kept the drawings I liked, ripping pages out of my notebook… my first art exhibit, at Des Pacio, was those notebook drawings. I’ve had more exhibitions, not solo exhibits, but that one was the first thing that led me into the art world. It was surreal. Looking back, I should’ve taken more advantage of it. It was great. Someone saw my art and one thing led to another.

Why do you like traditional animation, and how does it differ from digital animation?

The fact that it’s done on paper is what draws my attention. I don’t like digital animation; it’s become a very industrialized technology that [has nothing to do with] knowing how to draw. It uses a lot of software; 3D modeling, illumination, rendering… a bunch of computer software technicalities. It’s great, but it is not what I enjoyed doing. I like everything to be as hand-drawn as possible. That’s what I enjoy the most, but it’s not sustainable for the industrial field because of the time it takes to create it, and people are not willing to pay for that.

Which your process to create an animation?

First, I’ve got the idea. I observe life. It’s always a bit different. The technical process is to draw all the movement and key poses at first. From then on, you know, more or less, how much time it’s going to take. During that moment it looks very cut off because it jumps from one drawing to another. When you’re happy and satisfied with that, you draw more and more until it becomes fluent. The quantity of drawings for each animation depends on its duration. For one second it’s, more or less, between 12 and 24 drawings, so you have to be very patient. I work to gain money and be able to eat, but what I want in life is to not work in the sense of being able to do the things that I love. I want to be able to have a job that’s not a proper job and live off of it.

My animations are not solely focused on one character. It’s more about the world I’ve created. I don’t know which world it is. [Laughs]. That’s what I like; not knowing what I’m doing. I like the more subtle stories. They’re not stories that go from point A to point B. It’s more of a subtle narrative. Everything in life is a narrative. You can be looking out the window during a bus ride and nothing’s going on, but there’s actually something happening. There can also be a man standing on the street and nothing happened. He stood there for 30 minutes. That can be a story. I like to make that into something interesting with my drawings and visual style.

Why are there so many cyclical repetitions in your work?

I’ve always liked cycles. It occurs in our daily lives, in music and nature. Everything spins around. For example, you’ve got the four seasons in nature, and they repeat themselves. For animation, these cycles are called loops. It’s something that I naturally do. I don’t know why, but I always end an animation with the frame with which it started. It rotates over and over and you don’t know where it begins and ends. It’s like the myth of Sisyphus. My animations are full of micro-loops. It also saves you a lot of time and work because I can draw three seconds of animation and leave it there for 20 seconds. It’s a resource I like to use and I find it very interesting. If I animate three minutes with 24 drawings per second, I would never finish, but there are also parts in which the drawings aren’t looping.

How do you choose the music for your work?

I like to do the music myself. The audio part is as important as the visual part. Maybe I have OCD, but I enjoy creating the music and controlling it. I don’t like to leave that job to someone else. Besides, whom am I going to delegate that job to? I also don’t like to search for music on the Internet. If I don’t do it myself, I like to do it with someone who I know. I specifically ask for what I want. Music for me is as important as the drawings. About 40% to 50% of the experience of an audiovisual is its sound. A poorly done sound can ruin a great animation.

I’ve got a lot of instruments. With those, and with my computer, I create the music. I don’t consider myself a sound engineer, but I enjoy this. I use my keyboards and synthesizers to create the sounds I want. [He proceeds to show me the synthesizer and makes weird sounds.] I also record samples using different computer programs.

Check out Gallese’s piece “Menagerie”:

Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at

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