Interview: Antonia Bonello on Art Directing for BuzzFeed, 8-Bit Animation, and the Badassery of Wonder Woman

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* Contains 8-bit pixel Game of Thrones gore and spoilers (seasons 1-3), as well as some Orange is the New Black spoilers, so be cautious if that's not how you roll *

Finally! An interview where I can use gifs! Today I'm talking to the extremely talented Antonia Bonello, a multi-disciplinary creative with wonderfully nerdy taste and a talent for 8-bit animation. You'll see some of her adorably brutal animations throughout the interview as she chats about her fantastic achievements in the online world, her love for Batman and Wonder Woman, and what it's like to art direct at BuzzFeed UK.

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Antonia! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, do you want to tell me a little more about yourself and where you are today?

Antonia Bonello:
Hi! I’m Antonia, a multi-disciplinary creative from East London and Art Director at BuzzFeed UK. Leading premium content solutions, I work with brands to create engaging branded content on the BuzzFeed platform. Specialising in retro 8-bit animation, I also create illustrations and interactive game content, most recently being shortlisted for Design Week Awards Rising Star 2016, and previously winning Silver at the Media Week Awards for BuzzFeed’s partnership with Alzheimer’s Society. I’m obsessed with Batman, love playing PlayStation, and am a first Dan black belt in karate.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your design style in three words, what would they be?

Antonia Bonello:
Playful, detailed, nostalgic.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into design and animation? Did you study them formally or come across them as hobbies?

Antonia Bonello:
I’ve always adored art and storytelling. I grew up reading superhero comics, playing video games, and watching movies from a very young age, which I believe set the foundations for how I like to create narratives in my work. I have an inquisitive mind and love to learn how things are made, teaching myself stop-motion animation as a kid after watching Ray Harryhausen’s animations on Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, and drawing my own comics based on my uncle’s 1970’s Marvel collection. It was obvious to me that my career should be in the arts where I can continue to have fun with all these interests, so I studied Graphic Design majoring in Moving Image at Central St. Martins.


Magic & Musings:
I adore those Harryhausen films too! There's something so creepy and visceral about those animations that I haven't seen anywhere else since.
What made you interested in 8-bit design specifically?

Antonia Bonello:
My 8-bit style developed from a personal project I was working on after I had graduated. I had an idea for a game app called Rush Hour, so I decided to make a game trailer for it in hope of fundraising to get it developed. Having always played video games, I decided to make the visuals 8-Bit in style as a homage to retro games such as Super Mario and Sonic. I realised that this style could be adapted to show pop culture with a cool, nostalgic twist, hitting two beloved subjects that the general geek-culture of super fans get very excited about. I love how restricted I am designing for 8-bit, as it either looks like what I’m trying to illustrate or it doesn’t (there’s no middle ground), and you’re always only one pixel away from giving your character a hilarious pixel penis!

Magic & Musings:
That's hilarious!
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Antonia Bonello:
I will always be most happy and proud of my 14 Most Brutal Deaths In ‘Game Of Thrones’ As 8-Bit GIFs animations for BuzzFeed. This commission from BuzzFeed Editorial really kicked off my 8-bit pop culture mash-up style, went viral across the UK and US gaining traction from other publications, and is how I got hired full-time to work for the Branded Content arm of BuzzFeed UK. There’s also something just morbidly cute about the different characters chopping each other’s heads off.


Magic & Musings:
It's nice to see scenes that I found so traumatising in such an adorable way. There's also been so many more since this, so maybe an updated version is in the works? *wink wink*
How did you find yourself in the position of an art director and what does the day-to-day look like in this position?

Antonia Bonello:
Having been hired as Creative Designer at BuzzFeed UK through the virality of my Game of Thrones animations, I have worked my way up to Art Director of the UK branded content Creative team over three years. My days vary a lot but usually includes attending brainstorms with the creative team where we discuss ideas for briefs, meeting with clients to pitch our ideas and how they can partner with BuzzFeed, creating illustrations and animations for branded posts, and if there is time I will experiment with personal work and new formats. Even though I lead a team of designers, I still like to get my hands dirty and get stuck in with the content creation – I believe it’s so important to not get stagnant and always want to stay on top of my game!

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Antonia Bonello:
I wouldn’t say that any particular female-identifying or non-binary artists have influenced my work per say, however I do l love the animations of Kirsten Lepore, the cleverness of Kelli Anderson’s interactive design, and the stories of Marguerite Bennett who is currently writing the new Batwoman comic books. 

Magic & Musings:
Kirsten Lepore is absolutely wonderful! Surely everyone recognises 'Hi Stranger'?
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Antonia Bonello:
I’m most productive when I put on a movie or a TV series to watch while working. I often find it difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time, so by having a movie playing allows me to listen to the story and quickly glance at what’s happening without disrupting my workflow, unlike popping on Facebook would. Doing this allows me to get lost in tedious projects that require patience, such as frame-by-frame animation, and hours go by without realising. Watching Batman: The Animated Series works really well as the story is lead greatly through dialogue and I also get my daily Batman fix.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Antonia Bonello:
I look through my ‘Inspiration Folder’ that I keep on my desktop, which is full of cool images that I have collected over the years. Failing that, going to an art gallery always stimulates my creativity and makes me think of creative solutions in a different way. I also find that my best ideas come when I’m about to sleep, so a nap often works too if I am really stuck!

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Antonia Bonello:
I am always experimenting with other mediums as I get bored and restless if I keep doing the same thing all the time. This allows me to adapt different styles I’ve developed and the mediums I use to fit briefs, rather than trying to fit in a rigid style that won’t necessarily be the right solution. I believe it’s important to experiment otherwise you just become stagnant and a one-trick pony, so I’m currently teaching myself video editing and hand-drawn illustration. 

Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Antonia Bonello:
My work is entirely internet-based as BuzzFeed is borne from the internet! I love the nature of BuzzFeed and the way it interacts with its audience and vice versa, which allows me to have real-time feedback. Unlike traditional advertising, I can live-track viewing figures and read honest (and sometimes brutal) comments that allow me to quickly learn, adapt and progress in ways that I had never previously thought I could, for both myself and my clients. Social media is such a huge tool for personal and commercial growth that I don’t think many people and businesses are utilising to the full potential. I’ve learnt so much about how people interact with different types content and content themes, which is priceless knowledge.


Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Antonia Bonello:
Keep working on projects that you love. When first starting out, I felt that everyone else’s work was better than mine, so I tried to mimic their styles and projects. I tried to be minimal, more graphical, and internships forced myself to design logos and boring corporate stuff. I hated doing all of this – it just wasn’t me. So, I started working on self-initiated projects in my own time that I could put my love into. In the end, it was these self-initiated projects that got me the career that I have now, as they showed my personality and way of thinking, and I now get to do what I love everyday.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Antonia Bonello:
I recently re-read Batman: The Killing Joke, which is a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. It’s such a dark story that is masterfully written and illustrated, with twists and turns that catch me every time. I also just watched the new Wonder Woman film for the second time at the cinema. It makes me feel so empowered to watch these natural, strong women kicking ass on-screen. I kind of wish I had this film to inspire me as a young girl, maybe I would be just as obsessed with Wonder Woman as I am with Batman, although I now want to be an Amazon warrior. 

Magic & Musings:
Wonder Woman was absolutely incredible. I don't think a film has ever made me feel so badass!
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? 

Antonia Bonello:
Be you, be unapologetic and show who you are through your work! 

You can see more of my work on my website and follow me on Twitter. I’m always happy to meet new creatives, so feel free to get in contact!

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