A/D/O by MINI | Guillermo Zapiola: Channel Hopper

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Animation

Guillermo Zapiola: Channel Hopper

A/D/O Workspace member Guillermo Zapiola designs 3D animations and CGI for TV channel identities and brand advertising, but some of his impressive visual effects are created through surprisingly low-tech means.

The moments between TV shows are where to find some of Guillermo Zapiola’s playful design work. Not in the stream of commercials for super-fast internet or medications with countless side effects, but rather, the Argentinian is behind several short 3D animations that remind viewers which channel they’re watching.

Zapiola (known as Willy to his friends) works as an animator, CGI designer and art director as part of the team at Buenos Aires studio Plenty, which counts HBO, Discovery, Canal+, Warner and Fox among its clients. His projects involve a lot of animations for TV, as well as advertising and branding for a variety of products, from Sonos speakers to Oreos.

Guillermo Zapiola's work with Plenty has included campaigns for Mexican department store Coppel.

Zapiola reached his current career level via several steps. Originally from Patagonia, he studied graphic design at Universidad de Buenos Aires while working for several studios, but wasn’t taken with the 2D print and web design projects. So he progressed to a small company that specializes in 3D animation and motion graphics, where he learnt the key skills he still uses today.

Zapiola then joined Plenty, where he started as a designer and gradually worked up to become director and art director, now heading a sizable team that can include up to 15 people at a time. “It's great to be able to share these projects with such talented people and not having the need to know how to do everything because there's always someone to help you out,” he said.

Some of Zapiola's 3D animations are created using digital software.

For advertising work, clients usually come with a fleshed-out brief that includes initial ideas, scripts and visual references, which Zapiola and his team then uses to develop into rich visual animations made either by hand-drawn cel animation, full CGI 3D animation or even shooting live-action scenes. Branding projects often offer a looser brief at the beginning, requiring a lot more pitching and proposing before a decision on direction is made. An example Zapiola gave was the identity for a documentary TV channel in Turkey, which the team based on the prism found in old cameras – effectively positioning the audience as if they are looking through the viewfinder.

Although a lot of the work for these types of projects involves the use of software like AfterEffects, Cinema 4D and Maya, the team relishes in experimenting with physical materials and effects. Zapiola recounted the entire studio playing with fire, colored threads, prisms and other objects for a particular job. The important aspect, he said, is creating visual references that they can work from as soon as possible in the process. “It doesn't matter how roughly, quirky or sketched, what matters is that the faster I arrive to being able to look at it instead of thinking about it, the better,” the designer said.

Other effects are produced through live-action capture, like these flames.

Zapiola also uses his iPad to quickly mark up comments and actions on visuals, as a method of fast feedback. “I believe that the key to any design process is the implementation of iterations,” he said. “Building layer upon layer, doing the same thing many times because the second time it will be better. Each one of those times it's an opportunity to correct mistakes, try a new approach or a different technique, be more systematic and pay more attention to be more tidy.”

Still in his role at Plenty, Zapiola recently moved from Buenos Aires to New York City. He joined The Workspace at A/D/O on the recommendation of his wife, who had previously visited the free public area, and uses his dedicated desk as a base of operations. As he spends several hours a day on calls with his team in Argentina, the set of sound-proof booths available to members allows him to have conversations with privacy and without disturbing others.

Zapiola and his team experimented with several real-life effects, such as prismatic refraction.

The 24-hour access also lets the designer work at his own time and pace, breaking down his workday into several sessions to suit his creative flow. “I split the work in different sessions and in the time between those sessions what happens is that – with or without looking for the answer to a particular problem – often the solution floats up to the surface by itself,” Zapiola said, adding that this has been particularly helpful while exploring and getting to know a new city. 

Although separated from his team by several thousand miles, and no longer able to experiment with physical optical effects as a group, the designer can remain firmly tuned in to the projects that continue to pop-up on our TV screens.

Zapiola uses The Workspace at A/D/O as his base in New York City.

The Workspace at A/D/O offers a variety of membership tiers for creative professionals. Find out more.

Text by Dan Howarth.