Mark DiGiacomo, self-proclaimed “Business Survivalist”, and founder of Digital Elixir Studios has a vision. His vision is to encapsulate messages into meaningful experience that truly connects. It is this vision that has led the animation veteran to success.
This jack-of-all-animation-trade visionary took his vision, and years of experience in film, TV production, video games, writing and design, and used it to see the big picture—the future of multimedia, animation.
Mark founded Digital Elixir, a New York-based 3D animation company, in 2003 and since then has turned it into what he calls a “scalable consortium of serious talent”. This consortium of animators, designers, illustrators, writers, videographers, and programmers are not only coworkers but also friends—making the studio a great place to work.
Mark lent us a few minutes of his time -and some pearls of wisdom- offering advice to aspiring animators across the country.
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
High-end 3D character animation and technical product animation. Our goal of offering very high-end looking animation to consumer and corporate clients was aimed at fulfilling a need based on the expectations of maturing visual audiences both in marketing and in the business to business world.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Seamless with reality and all aspects of traditional production work.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation?
Finding clients who understand the complexity and cost involved with producing animation that sells their products and/or actually has an impact in the market place due to quality and creative approach.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
We enjoy 3D animation and our television commercials are very rewarding both to produce and to see audiences react to; however, our eLearning interactive work with training and corporate colleges also uses animation heavily and is an exciting growth area with the reward of educating audiences in a prolonged, engaging way.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
Due to not being in a major film/production hub, we focus primarily on utilizing contract talent at this stage. We look for creative ability and focus on the details that make their work stand out professionally across the board; We look to good communication skills, both verbally and in writing due to remote working conditions often; We look also to attitude and work ethic/style. We need to be sure that they can operate like a trusted friend as much as a contractor or employee. This business and the stresses of the work can be so tough, there's no time for unnecessary formality that would translate into a person not being 100% committed to the success of the creative work we're infusing into the business world.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
This is a tricky question. Right out of school is often our hardest choice, since sometimes they show a great reel but too often they seem very limited in scope and capability even if they are good. Often the work is not that great, but in the last couple of years we've noticed the reels looking a lot better in general. I can't recommend a single school, since submissions are so varied from around the globe. I can tell you that some of the work from students coming out of continental Europe is incredible.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Get a full education because just knowing animation is today's equivalent of being a line worker at a car factory in the 1960's. Learn to write, read and everything else. Don't just be a technocrat because it won't be enough.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
All projects present their own challenges, but any longer form project presents a larger set of challenges. Saying that, I'd say our long-form multimedia college courses have the most hurdles due to the combination of character animation, game development as well as intensive database development for the system to work as a tool for the schools.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
Some of our people have gone to major art schools with degrees beforehand in the Humanities or other subjects like Product Design. My own education has been in English, film and media communications, but I read voraciously and bring aspects of history, drama and science knowledge to what we do - which includes sales and producing. Communication takes not only the ability to speak and write, but the mind to think on your feet and connect well with others. These are just as important as animation ability and come from a rounded education.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
Lightwave 3D and Maya. That's a tough call, but I'd recommend those two. We use Lightwave a lot because it's versatile and allows for very high-end results across the spectrum of projects we encounter yet it requires little support in terms of software management.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
I can tell you what drives us and me personally besides making a profit and being able to animate or a living, and that is the dramatic satisfaction in being almost lost in the creative refinement of the work itself. Once you're past the preliminaries and the rough cuts and working on the delicate refinements, magic can happen and you forget it's about anything other than human to human connection through awe, humor, story telling...that sort of thing. It transcends just business, yet it still serves it in the end. That's the goal of Digital Elixir Studios.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
Well... there are an increasing number of schools possibly taking advantage of the desire for young people to animate. That doesn't necessarily mean jobs will be waiting when they step out of those doors. The Great Recession has thrown a big curve ball into the mix too. I do think the demand will continue to grow, not in the least due to the diversification of animation into all production as we're already seeing. But I caution any aspiring person interested to look hard at it and have other aspects to your education and life-plan because it is not an easy business and may never be. So the answer to your question is yes and no. There's an increasing number of wide-eyed animation graduates who may enter a very tough market for work, yet I think there will be increased need for certain talents and capabilities over the long haul. There may not be opportunities for every recent graduate to get a solid paying job, however. Sometimes you need to go get the work and make it happen in a field where profit margins have historically been a very tight game.