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Meet Matthew Ciaglia of Design for Entertainment in East Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matthew Ciaglia.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Southern California and grew up in San Gabriel until about 5th grade when we moved to Upland, CA. My father’s side of the family all followed us in the developing community of Upland Summit. Upland Summit is a tract community and it back right up to the famous skate spot; Mt. Baldy Pipeline. Upland is also known for having a well-respected skate park and community; Upland Pipeline. I was interested in skating boarding, punk music and typical suburban stuff. But, never got to heavy into it skateboarding. My cousin Joe Ciaglia would later go on to create a major player in the skatepark construction industry. He founded CA Skateparks. I would take another path. When I entered high school I wanted to follow in my grandfathers’ passion for woodworking and craftsmanship. In junior high, I took woodshop classes, art and computer electives. So I high school I was really interested in taking woodshop. But, the classes were all full so I took art. I meet my art teacher Boyd Nyberg and was interested in his animated and unusual personality. His artwork was very interested and his class had a Macintosh on a cart. So I was exposed to technology and art very early. This was in 1992. I then saw a poster for the Art Center College of Design Saturday high program. I began taking as many classes as my family could afford. I also won a couple of merit scholarships. I wanted to pursue a career in illustration and worked all through high school to try and attend Art Center. I wasn’t a very good student in high school and art classes were my highest grades. Upland is neighbors to Claremont and the colleges that make up the Claremont village. Towards the end of high school, I started taking figure drawing classes and meet the master of hard edge painting Karl Benjamin. So I spent a lot of time in the hippie college town. After High School my dream of attending Art Center where postponed. I was told that attending Jr. College and chipping away and general education credits would be a smart way to get a degree from the Art Center and save some money. So I spent a few years at Chaffey (aka 13, 14th and 15th grades). I took a lot more art classes, computer, and photography. While attending Chaffey I started working at a new print and pre-press company in Ontario, CA – The Graphics Factory. Gary Guesnon hired me and one of the new companies the first employee’s I spent 4 years there learning the trade of graphic design, printing and really loved working there. I also meet Ralph Partida (Artcore) who would be introduced to the world of deep house party flyers. Ralph’s cousin owned Empire Records in Fontana, CA and I would spend the next 3 years as part of the 3am posse curing out party flyers for weed and beer money. Ralph gave me the name Pixel Pimp! During this time I reached out to several designers via email. Raymond Roker at URB magazine and Tim Hungerford who ran ChipMonk Graphics. Both replied and gave me valuable advice! Fueled by the Matrix, Seven and several other films I began to notice a program similar to photoshop being mentioned. After Effects. I would wander the Barnes and Noble and read the books and magazine every weekend. I was really influence by Buro Destructo, Neville Brody, Emigre magazine and April Greiman. I found out about a motion design group in Hollywood, CA at the AFI Institute. I would leave work and rush to attend the 6pm meeting. MGLA was it! Motion Graphic Los Angeles was the turning point for me. Motion Design is where the future was going to be. One MGLA I listened to Kyle Cooper give a break-down of the 1998 spy film “The Avengers”. So I spend the next year learning that After Effects and Infiniti-D (a 3D app). Towards the end of 1999, I applied at New Wave Entertainment. I remember driving to Burbank, CA and driving past Disney studios and thinking “This is it! This is going to be my big break” I meet Scott Williams, Sharre Jacoby, Toby Wilkins and George Cawood for my interview. A week later I got the call to start as a freelance junior design. They even invited me to the Christmas party. I began work on the Fight Club DVD working under the amazing Art Director Vicki Shively. It was like a dream come true. I was young and would spend all my time at NWE. It was an amazing time for me and the company; we had a ton of trailer, main title, broadcast design, and DVD menu work. Nina Saxon was working with NWE during that time. She has a ton of main title credits and she is a very talented designer and creative director. I learned a lot and worked with some of the best people I have ever meet in my career. I owe a tremendous amount to Alan Baral and Paul Apel for bringing on at NWE. While at NWE I worked with Dina Mande a fantasy Animator and Art Director who would go on to found Group 101 a film group in LA. She would introduce me to Ted Melfi and I would help him with some freelance projects he was directing. Just small animations here and there to help build my reel. I wish I would have kept in touch with Ted. He would go on to work on Hidden Figures and other amazing projects. While at NWE I attended Gnomon School of Visual Effects and took several Maya classes. After NWE I went to Universal Pictures and worked in house for a couple of years. Universal was really great and sent me to the Art Center for Night School. I took several graphic design classes and photography. Then George Cawood started Framework LA and I eventually went to work with him again. While at Framework I would contribute to the amazing volume of work the small team put out. The first Ironman Trailer, and very high-end trailers for Spiderman and James Bond. We did a lot of work for Sony and Adam Sandler’s Company that was the parent company of Framework. We also did several main title sequences, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The House Bunny, and many others. I got to work there with some of my closest friends; John Priday, Dan Pierse, Dane Macbeth, and Jonathan Winbush. It was another company I was very lucky to work for. The holiday parties Adam Sandler threw where amazing! During 2008-2009 I got married and the recession hit. I moved around a little. Living in Long Beach, CA and then the Sierra Madre, CA. I was lucky enough to land a job at Insomniac Games. Art Director Grant Hollis was kind enough to take a chance on me and bring me in. I had no video game experience except for attending E3 for several years and working on a few video game trailers over the years. Insomniac Games was another time in my life where I felt incredibly lucky. It was a very difficult interview process, background check, and art test. I applied and got a hybrid UI / Motion Design / Graphic Design role. I started on the tail end of Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time. Working on video games it was a huge learning experience and culture shift. Working on a video game for three years is different than juggling client work. I really loved working on videos games and with so many talented people. It is truly amazing what a group of 120 or so people can create. From the programming and engineering to art and music. Video Games are an amazing piece of art and technology. I worked for three years on Resistance 3, created a lot of icons, maps, signs, motion design piece, weapon training clips, marketing piece, capture, and publisher presentation. I then started work on Fuse then in 2012 I threw a resume at Trailer Park and meet with Creative Director Kelly Carlton and Pete Bergeron. I was offered an Art Director and quickly jumped at the bump in title and salary. I was living with my in-laws and saving up for a house. I had a 2-year-old and wanted to support my family and grow. I really enjoyed my time at Insomniac as I did with all my past companies. At Trailer Park, I would get to work on a lot of high-end film trailers, TV spots, and special projects. I meet a ton of creative and talented people. It was a very fast paced environment; which I enjoyed. But, it was pretty intense as far as pressure and quality and attention to detail. It is nice to have a mix of work. Doing the main title seq. followed by some trailer work, then maybe a random project. Just doing trailers day-in can be challenging. That is why I also like to throw some freelance work on top. Just so I am barely sleeping. I have always taken on a small amount of freelance work. Over the years I have done work for Blur, Caltech, Dojomotion and other clients to keep my portfolio sharp. Most recently I worked with Insomniac games on their latest Spiderman Game. I contributed a lot of logos and some signs. A couple of my design actually made it into the Marvel’s Spider-Man: The Art of the Game book. As of today; I am currently working in-house at Universal Pictures as part of their Marketing Dept. I enjoy the steady work and benefits of the large corporation.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The career of a creative person is like that meme. It looks like an up work graph of success. But, it really is a squiggle. You never know what project is going to be a monster success for you, leading to more work and interesting challenges. So of the biggest sounding and most ambitious projects never leave the style frame phase. I had the honor of working with Greg Kupiec for a couple of years. Greg is a powerhouse of ideas and passion. I worked on several main title sequence for Greg while we were at Framework. He is one of the rare ones; a true lover of the craft. Greg took me along on a pitch to meet with a director and you think in your bubble, “oh they are going to love this, these boards are going to sell them.” Then they throw you a curve ball and you have to adapt. You have to think on your feet and be the able pivot. It is a hard skill to learn, but Greg and other Creative Directors are masters.

So of the personal challenges can be great too. April 25, 2010, my son was born 8 weeks early and had to spend a week in a NICU (a special area for pre-term babies). Then you are talking to a social worker who is asking you if you have done drugs and stuff. Life goes from paying around with a computer making weird art and stuff to being an adult. I got a bill got $83,000 and thought “That is going to take a long time to pay off.” Thankfully I had really good insurance at the time. Motion graphics is a weird world. It seems to have a long way to go as far as being a mature field. But, on the other hand, it isn’t really a field at all. It is a catch-all phrase of a bunch of different disciplines. The film, animation, 3D, cinematography, and graphic design to name a few branches. Living in LA is a struggle also, housing is expensive, I choose to live out in the suburbs and have a family. So I drive about two hours a day. It is tough to balance moving up in your career, making more money, taking on bigger projects and being home with your family. You make choices and sometimes those choices don’t work out. Life is challenging.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Design for Entertainment – what should we know?
My business is me. I am basically selling my skills as an artist. I don’t consider myself a storyteller. I don’t really have a story to tell. Since my days of illustration, I have always been drawn to illuminating the written word and bringing other people’s stories to life. As a motion designer, I will either help tell a small part of a story in the main title seq or a trailer and help an editor add branding and style to a feature film trailer. In video games, I help enhance the environment with signs and help the user understand complex ideas with icons and UI. I work on those skills to stay competitive in the marketplace. My core business model is “design for entertainment.” That can be the main title sequence for movies/television, movie/television promos & trailers, and video games art. My video game work is 2D signs and assets game artists can use in their levels. I am always trying to learn new skills: ZBrush has been a big passion of mine for several years. I initially wanted to learn the program because Trailer Park hired a 3D artist to do some work on the Superman movie logo. Ariel Loza was doing some really amazing thing and I wanted to get my hands on Zbrush. So I have spent a lot of my free time learning the program, which of course lead to 3D printing and model making. I have attended the Designcon conference for the past 3 years with my son and it is amazing the kind of work that people can produce on a small scale with desktop tools and materials. Ralph Partida has been working with a tattoo artist named Big Sleeps and Ralph asked me to 3Dise Big Sleeps logo. So I took this as an opportunity to work in Zbrush and get a cool art toy type of portfolio piece. So my business is all over the place. It follows my creative whim. One day it is motion design the next toy design or photography. I get bored easily so I love to keep learning and experimenting.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Integrity, being practical and working towards a goal. Jack of all Trades. Willingness to keep learning. A flexible mind.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Matt Ciaglia

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