Animation studio HU_SH shines a spotlight on Turin-based multi-headed director Nerdo
Turin may be best known as the birthplace of Italy’s iconic Fiat, the nation’s first cinema, vermouth, and Nutella, but these days there’s an exciting modern export drawing international attention to the Alps-fringed city: Nerdo.
Nerdo is a creative hydra, a multi-headed studio that specialises in branding, direction, and animation. The master storytellers have been bringing their creative solutions and visual flair to major brands and networks such as MTV, Fox, Coca Cola, H&M, Sky, Cartoon Network, and McDonald’s for over a decade.
We caught up with Nerdo on their most recent projects, as they discuss their passion for Asian cinema, crafting an ASMR-worthy, mesmerising brand identity for Banca Mediolanum, and creating an adorably trippy animation for TED-Ed.
Q> What’s the story behind Nerdo?
Nerdo> Nerdo was founded by Turin-natives, Alessandro Durando, Lorenzo Levrero and Daniele Gavatorta, who studied together at university. After graduating, the three freelanced all over Europe and the US at various multi-national companies. In 2009, they decided to return to Turin to build a new creative entity, a studio that could develop beautiful design but with a strong experimental spirit – something they felt was missing from the creative scene in Italy at the time. Now, Nerdo has grown to become a team of ten core people, which is scalable on a project-by-project basis.
Q> How would you describe the creative scene in Turin?
Nerdo> Turin is a cultural hub with so many opportunities to nurture creativity. It’s full of great people, many museums, and a high-level of universities and art schools – which give us access to great talent to collaborate with and grow our team.
Q> You’ve got a big portfolio of work to pour over, but this recent project for Rai Italy’s Far East Festival really caught our eye – especially with the iconic Asian cinema references and restricted palette. How long did it take you to settle on the style of the animation in this film?
Nerdo> We wanted to create our original spin so we decided to go down a different route to the polished look and style we usually associate with Asian animation. Initially, we were going to do the whole film in the style of Japanese calligraphy but we wanted it to be more representative of Asia as a whole, so in the end we used it to connect the key scene transitions. We worked with a limited colour palette of monochrome and red, as we found that red is an important colour in Asia. Often representing good fortune, it features prominently in the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese flags.
Q> How did you go about condensing the huge body of work that is East Asian cinema into just 30 seconds?
Nerdo> The main challenge was to not over-produce content as we only had 30 seconds to represent the variety of East Asian cinema! It’s a subject we’re all really passionate about so the hardest thing was narrowing those ideas down to the core four Asian cinematic icons you see in the final film: the samurai, the Chinese mafia, the demon, and the dragon. There were so many cool ones that didn’t make the cut, like a female archer and a fight scene between two criminals. We were working to a tight timeline and we completed everything in three weeks, working through the nights. It was pretty intense! But also so much fun and we had a great collaborative relationship with the client.
Q> Your work really varies in style: alongside your literal, colourful and bright animations, we’ve also seen hyper-real conceptual work. How did you go about approaching a non-tangible product like Banca Mediolanum?
Nerdo> We designed the whole 3D identity of Banca Mediolanum, creating a promotional video to explain its payment services. We were fortunate that the client shared our ambition to create something different to the standard infographics. We spent weeks researching how to create a metaphor for the financial services – and more specifically of money moving from one person to another. We settled on the idea of visualising balls on a journey crashing into each other, and the financial institution that sustains that kind of movement.
Our main goal with any project is to create something that’s visually entertaining and that people love to watch. We wanted this Mediolanum film to have its own value and to work without a voice over when it was viewed on social media. It was an unconventional approach for advertising from a bank, but Mediolanum has had a good response with loads of people being curious to find out more about the brand behind the film.
Q> Do you find that brands are receptive to trying this kind of conceptual style to communicate with existing and future customers?
Nerdo> For this, we think the hardest challenge was convincing the client that this visual language would be effective. We put a lot of work into mediating and gaining their trust in our vision before we had created the layout. But we were really lucky to have an open-minded client and in the end we managed to create something that we are very happy with.
Q> You’ve mentioned that your main goal with any project is to create work that is visually entertaining and enjoyable. But how do you strike the right balance between work that is explanatory and stimulating?
Nerdo> I think one of the greatest challenges we tackled recently in this respect was our animation for a TED-Ed talk about hallucinations. At close to six minutes, this was the longest animation we’ve completed so far. We created and revised countless storyboards to make sure every scene was engaging – particularly throughout the more dry and scientific parts of the voiceover - and there were seamless transitions throughout. It definitely helped that we were lucky enough to choose a topic we were really interested in. After tons of research, we decided to focus on the kind of hallucinations we’d like to have – looking into the colours and images people like to see. So, I would say always a lot of visual research, planning, and storyboarding to make sure we’re keeping the viewer’s attention until the very last second.
Q> So, what’s next for Nerdo? What are you looking for in the UK, where you’re represented by HU_SH?
Nerdo> We’re definitely keen to work closer with the UK and US markets and find some great collaborations there. After a decade of creative growth, we’re in a strong position and we’re on the look-out for a game changing project that gives us the opportunity to take it to the next level. It’s an exciting year for us – we’re working on completely new kinds of projects in new media. Currently, we are collaborating on a video game, which we’ve adopted a variety of new techniques for. We are also planning to produce an animated series. Stay tuned!
You can check out more of Nerdo’s work here.