Ceglia ’94 works as an animator for DreamWorks

by Michaela Ledoux | 1/11/15 7:05pm

Alessandro Ceglia ’94 has dreamt of working in animation began during his time at the College and eventually translated this dream into his current career as a rough layout artist at DreamWorks Animation Studios. Ceglia, who has also previously worked as an animator for television commercials and music videos, has worked as an artist for recent DreamWorks films, such as “Madagascar 3” (2012), “Turbo” (2013) and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (2014). Ceglia is currently working on “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which will be released in early 2016.

How were you involved with the arts at Dartmouth?

AC: I took a bunch of studio art classes, but I wound up majoring in art history. I took painting, a bunch of drawing classes and I worked at the pottery studio — that was my campus job. I was also in a production of “The Tempest” at the [Hopkins Center for the Arts]. I had an internship at the Hood [Museum of Art] my senior year where I helped catalog some of their Asian art collection. I actually took an animation class, but it was only offered my senior spring. It was hand-drawn animation then. Now, I almost exclusively use computers, even for drawing. It actually took me a while to get into animation. I think if I had been able to take the class earlier in my Dartmouth experience, it would have been different. I loved the class and definitely felt like it was something I was interested in, but I was already pointed in a slightly different direction. It felt like too big of a leap to jump into animation based on one class. Later, I wound up going to grad school to get my MFA at [the University of Southern California].

How did you start your career as an animator?

AC: I began with an internship at a very small studio in New York that was unpaid. I was also working in interactive media at the time and working specifically in Flash, which is a program also used in animation so I became proficient in Flash and it was natural to move from there to animation. Once I moved to California to go to USC, things started falling into place. The important thing about animation is living where the jobs are. That’s the benefit of USC. You’re already where the employers are and that helps a lot. Once I was at USC, I did another internship and started freelancing on the side. Once I graduated, I freelanced for a while and eventually wound up at DreamWorks, which is where I am now.

What aspects of your job do you find most challenging?

AC: The most challenging thing is being able to re-do your work repeatedly, because I work in the rough layout department, which is where we pre-visualize the film. We create a rough version of the film, which once it’s approved becomes the blueprint for the movie. Part of the job description is to explore the possibilities of the story, which causes you to go though multiple iterations. You can get attached to one that you think is perfect, but the director might not agree with you so you might have to abandon that idea and explore another idea. It’s challenging continually finding the energy to re-do and re-explore the ideas for the movie. But you get used to it — you can’t get married to anything because it really is an iterative process.

Which aspects do you find most interesting/rewarding?

AC: The most rewarding part is having something tangible that you created or help[ed] create that you can say, “I did that!” I think that’s what drew me to creative work. It’s that you can point to the screen and say, “I built those shots.”

What is something interesting about animation that people might not realize?

AC: One thing that’s interesting is that once you first get into animation as a student, the vast majority of students want to become animators. What you learn as you go along is that there is a whole range of positions in the studio and you realize not everyone is destined to become an animator. They may work in the animation industry but you rarely realize that until you start working. It can take a few years to figure out.

What projects are you currently working on?

AC: I’m actually working on Kung Fu Panda 3, which is scheduled to come out in March of 2016. I’ve been working on it for almost a year and a half.

When you work on films in a series do you have to keep the style the same as the previous film worked on by different animators? Is that difficult?

AC: For a character animator, that is true. So if you’re animating a shot with Po, the main character in Kung Fu Panda, that performance has to be consistent across all three movies even though the character is going to grow and evolve. I’m not a character animator, so it’s not that difficult for me. I definitely need to be familiar with the previous movies, but it’s not as challenging for me to match the style of the previous movies. We are responsible for the cinematography and that has a style that we do need to match. In Kung Fu Panda, the camera work often has a snappy, cartoony flavor to it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.