Illustrating worlds | Julinu

Iggy Fenech sits down with award-winning illustrator Julinu (Julian Mallia) to discover the work that has gone into illustrating one of the more ambitious projects he has been involved in: Colours in Motion

22 March 2017, 11:14am
Julinu (aka Julian Mallia): “Trying to replicate the style of some of the greatest artists from the modern art period initially felt like a daunting task”
Julinu (aka Julian Mallia): “Trying to replicate the style of some of the greatest artists from the modern art period initially felt like a daunting task”
The beauty of visual art forms is that they tap into our psyches in order to pass on a message or introduce us to a concept. In fact, it doesn’t matter if something visual is complex or simple, if it’s done well, it will propel us into the world envisioned by the artist. 

Award-winning illustrator and graphic-designer Julian Mallia, who is better-known as Julinu, is aware of this, and from his promotional work for the 2016 Malta Book Festival to the cover of Loranne Vella’s newly-published novel Rokit, he has sought to create colourful worlds that inspire us. Undoubtedly, graduating in Psychology from the University of Malta back in 2006 has given him the ability to understand people’s fears, aspirations and passions slightly better, but it’s his natural, raw talent that has enabled him to create art that speaks to everyone.

Now, Julinu is finalising his work for Colours in Motion, a 10-minute narrative projection that has been commissioned by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. With the themes of migration and the Mediterranean at their heart, and to a soundtrack by renowned Maltese composed Ruben Zahra, Julinu’s illustrations, which are being animated by Paul Camilleri, are set to take over the façade of the Grand Master’s Palace on March 24, 25 and 26.

Projecting ahead: Colours in Motion is a collaboration between Julinu, musician Ruben Zahra and animation artist Paul Camilleri
Projecting ahead: Colours in Motion is a collaboration between Julinu, musician Ruben Zahra and animation artist Paul Camilleri
How did you become involved in Colours in Motion?

I had just finished the animation for the Malta Book Festival 2016 when I was approached by Ruben Zahra, who asked me if I wished to collaborate with Paul Camilleri to create this ambitious project. When Ruben explained his vision to me, I was simultaneously enamoured by the idea but also concerned about the sheer amount of work that it would require… I was also lured by the fact that this will be an intertwined combination of visuals with music, which is another passion of mine! 

What has the process been like?

Creating illustrations for animation requires a different frame of mind because one needs to think in terms of motion over a period of time while telling a story efficiently. One also needs to create visuals that complement the music and the predominant mood. Additionally, a static illustration allows the infinite addition of detail but when working in motion you need to be more systematic and practical… Unless you’re willing to replicate the same amount of detail in every frame. In this projection we do have some frame-by-frame animation but most of the animation has been composited in AfterEffects. 

What this effectively means is that I have digitally painted characters from different angles, with separate, animatable limbs and backgrounds on separate layers with my graphics tablet on Photoshop. When appropriately imported and edited in AfterEffects, this allows for independent movement and composition according to the shot in question. So when creating the illustrations for Paul to animate, I also had to carefully consider the technicalities besides their aesthetic appeal.

The project incorporates visuals from six world-famous artists. How did you feel about using their paintings in your work?

Trying to replicate the style of some of the greatest artists from the modern art period initially felt like a daunting task.  Nevertheless, this commission came just a few months after my brief experience at BreakThru Studios in Poland on the set of Loving Vincent, a groundbreaking full-feature film that is entirely oil-painted by over 100 artists from all around the world in the style of Van Gogh. Although I didn’t stay there for a long time, the experience was particularly valuable for Colours in Motion’s Van Gogh scene, which is hand-painted digitally frame by frame.

Julinu’s character designs for Colours in Motion
Julinu’s character designs for Colours in Motion
Most of the scenes are based on the respective artist’s typical palette, brushstrokes, stylisation and composition so a significant amount of research and observation had to be carried out prior to actually creating the illustrations. For instance, the way Monet mixed colours and applied paint varies significantly from how Van Gogh tended to paint straight out of the tube in a more directional manner. Creating a harmonious flow between different artists’ styles within the same animation was a concern at the beginning, however, the fact that I was the only illustrator involved, meant that all the ‘imitations’ were inevitably influenced by my own painting tendencies and this helped maintain a certain degree of consistency.

What can you tell us about the girl in Colours in Motion?

The girl in Colours in Motion is the protagonist who drives the story forward throughout this diverse journey. So we had to create a relateable character who could credibly inhabit all the different worlds she’s immersed in. She had to be neutral but not bland, and likeable but not glamorous. The fact that Ruben wasn’t looking for a typical Disney princess was a relief, and it allowed me to create a character that is more in line with my typically moody work. Having said this, the animation emphasises the use of colour whereas abundance of colour is not usually my main characteristic… Hence I had to make sure to create harmonious colour schemes that were faithful to the artists’ tendencies but also allowed the girl to blend in.

What was the hardest part?

An animated project of this scale needs thorough planning before the actual production starts. It is basically being created between three people so it was tempting to get overwhelmed by the amount of work and start illustrating straight away. Notwithstanding, we actually saved time by taking a step back and dedicate some time in the beginning to establishing a solid script, storyboards and animatic on which we could rely. This allowed us to get a much clearer idea of what needed to be done and by when. From then onwards, it was all just focused hard work. 

Other projects: Julinu has also recently designed the cover for Loranne Vella’s novel Rokit, published by Merlin earlier this month
Other projects: Julinu has also recently designed the cover for Loranne Vella’s novel Rokit, published by Merlin earlier this month
Probably the hardest part was to juggle the workload with other commissions while making sure the quality doesn’t suffer – I even took a lengthy Facebook sabbatical to help me avoid distractions! It was also challenging to imitate the artists’ aesthetic characteristics to create scenes in their respective style without necessarily creating replicas. This involved some significant research and trial and error before arriving to a satisfactory result. It basically involved creating rules and constraints for each scene. I can probably summarise my mantra by quoting graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s: Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.

Are there any Easter eggs audiences can look out for when watching the projection?

I think most people will recognise most of the paintings we are referring to. Having said this, some artists and paintings are less known and might only be recognised by people from the artist’s country of origin or dedicated art nerds. Additionally, some artists’ output allowed us to make more than one reference to their work. Nonetheless, it should be a fun animation to watch unfold since one can also appreciate it simply for its aesthetic appeal and the accompanying music.

Colours in Motion will premiere on the façade of the Grand Master’s Palace on March 24, during which Zahra’s composition will be performed live. The piece will continue to be projected alongside a playback of the score on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 March from sundown onwards