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The Art of Visual Storytelling with Lorenzo Fonda

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Working in multiple disciplines such as animation, comics, murals, photography, and more, Lorenzo Fonda spent the first quarter of his life in Italy, where he taught himself the crafts of film, illustration, and skateboarding. With his first feature film, a documentary called Megunica, he won multiple awards all over the world. In Los Angeles, Lorenzo started his new long form project, the documentary Archaeology of the Future – which is currently in post-production.

From Lorenzo Fonda’s montage of his directing work since 2006.

Can you walk us through how you got where you are today?

Right at the end of the first quarter of my life I was lucky enough to be awarded a fellowship at Fabrica, the renowned center for research in visual communication founded by Benetton. There, I met dozens of other artists who inspired me and showed me that you could make a creatively rewarding career out of being a “creative person”. As soon as I got out of Fabrica, I started to be represented as a director by Mercurio Films, which produced my documentary – Megunica – about the work of mural artist and animator, Blu. The film won several awards around the world and it ended up being shown in Los Angeles too. I had never planned to move to Los Angeles and start a new life there, but as a budding director it made total sense. After about five years in LA I moved to NYC at the end of 2014, which is where I live now.

Still from Lorenzo Fonda’s documentary – Megunica – produced by Mercurio Films.

People recognize you as “Cembro” or “Cerberoleso”. What do your pseudonyms stand for? 

When I was in high school, I used to draw a lot during classes- an endless amount of weird characters doing even weirder things. I used to name them with random names that were pleasant and amusing for me to spell on paper and by voice. Often people would mistake the names I gave the characters for my signature, which I found extremely entertaining, so I started using random pseudonyms to call myself based on those names. When I sent an email to the Italian skate/snowboard company Bastard to show them my characters, I randomly signed the email with Cembro. When they replied saying “Hello Cembro”, thinking it was my actual pseudonym, I thought “now I have to start calling myself that”. About Cerberoleso- again, lots of Cs, Bs, Rs. Cerbero was one of my preferred pseudonyms, and one day I was at the skatepark and a friend needed to make fun of me and instead of calling me cerebroleso (Italian for brain-damaged) he came up with this anagram Cerberoleso– simply swapping the order of two letters.

Lorenzo Fonda.

What would Lorenzo say if someone offers him to appear in a video as a skateboarder?

I would tell them, “only if I can direct the video part myself”. Which is only a half-joke. But half-jokes apart, I’m not sure anyone would ask because I haven’t been skating properly for many years now and the spectacle would very likely be a complete disappointment. Coincidentally though, for some reason I was very recently inspired to go skating at the local skatepark here in Brooklyn, and I think I will start riding casually again, just to feel the feeling of what it feels like being on a board and doing a bunch of tricks.

Lorenzo’s mural. In collaboration with Sergi “Ombrebueno” Sanchez at the Bastard headquarters. Photo by Giuliano Berarducci.

Films, animations, illustrations, comics, installations, murals, photography, writing … From which of these disciplines did you start your artistic career? Which one is your favorite? 

I think illustration was the first, because when you’re 1 year old, the only way to express yourself is to leave a mark on a piece of paper with some gouache that your mom smeared on your hands. My love affair with art making never stopped after that, and I slowly got better at leaving marks on paper. What came after I think was film, because my mom would bring home a VHS camera from school where she organized “home-made visual effects courses” for kids -which were obviously very popular, and in which I got to participate too.  I got to play and experiment more with the camera. Animation came shortly after, as my dad taught at the university and we always had a PC at home with which I learned the ropes of animation with very early and rudimentary animation software (drawing characters with the mouse, because I had no idea drawing tablets even existed).

My favorite discipline is the one that makes me happy and that makes me a millionaire.

Lorenzo Fonda for Human Society, Samedaypups.

Thinking about your behind the scenes, what is the process for creating your videos? 

Every project is different, really. Commercials, music videos, branded content, short films, feature lengths- they all require a different approach because they are different in nature. Over time though, what I came to realize about my work is that it usually relies on what I feel is a strong concept/theme and everything stems out of that.

When I have to think of ideas, I always tend to go back to that initial concept and extrude them out of it.

From Metronomy, The Look. Director: Lorenzo Fonda.

Where do you take inspiration from for your artwork?

Inspiration usually hits me when least I expect it. I like to think it’s because my mind is fertile and receptive and when interesting things I see, hear, or feel enter it, they get the “Cerberoleso” treatment. They get transformed into something that I recognize as a possible source of art material. When that unconscious and automatic spark is set off, I enter into rational thinking mode and try to imagine a physical shape for that idea so that it can exist in the real world and other people can experience it, hopefully experiencing it in the closest form to the feeling I had when inspiration initially hit me.

Lorenzo Fonda’s “The main attraction” tryptic.

You work for a wide range of international clients such as National Geographic, The New York Times, MTV, Universal Records, Nike…. How did they get to know you? 

I think a lot of my fellow filmmakers/creatives/artists will agree that it’s just a very organic process. You make something, someone notices it, commissions something bigger, someone bigger notices you, you make something bigger, someone bigger notices it, commissions something even bigger and so on, until you get to the very big guys. It’s also a matter of dumb luck, which is often maddening because things happen unexpectedly and at completely random moments…

I guess all you can do is be prepared to perform when the right opportunity comes along. 

Part of Lorenzo’s Works Montage, Spring 2014 Edition.

Any exciting future project in mind?

I have been very excited about Virtual Reality recently, and I’ve been experimenting with it quite a lot. I did a VR experience called The Uncanny to promote the titular 200-page graphic novel that I just finished last year. I have an ongoing project called Immigrants where I sculpt scenes and characters in VR and render and animate them with the open source 3D software Blender. Next weekend I’ll also be a contestant in a VR sculpting battle organized by Medium/Oculus here in NYC, where I’ll have 10 minutes to create a VR drawing based on a random pairing of two words. All of this is very new to me but it’s extremely fun!

By: Lisa Zanon

Video from an ongoing personal project by Lorenzo Fonda, titled Immigrants, 2019.