Life as a salesman was antithetical to the career Cornel Swoboda appeared destined to pursue.
Yet there he was, another fresh-faced 20 year old donning a suit and tie to work a generic job while questioning his place in the world.
It was a far cry from his childhood dreams of bringing science fiction worlds to life with pen and paper.
Yet it aligned with the ‘German way of doing things’, the approach of playing it safe and sticking with the first job you land for the rest of your career.
“For me, that’s a nightmare,” Cornel said. “I never felt happy in the world of sales. I did not like that at all.”
Cornel’s early work experience left an indelible mark - one that would eventually drive him across the world in search of an environment that resonated with his creative bent.
After interning at an advertising agency and and later cutting his teeth as a freelancer in Cologne, Cornel became a motion designer at the German headquarters of broadcasting giant Sky.
Nike Air (surreal concept) by Cornel Swoboda
“Sky was a huge corporation. We’re talking over 1000 people at the HQ, a huge office with an awesome 3D team,” he said.
“But after working at a single business for five years, repetition kicked in.
“I had a lot of international colleagues at Sky and they often approached things differently to me. That stirred my interest, so I decided to travel for a couple of years. It was revealing.
“When we returned, I started sending job applications to studios around the world. I’d never been to Australia before and when the opportunity to work with Jumbla came up, my wife and I were like, ‘let’s do this before we become too German ... let's take a risk’.”
It’s a familiar pattern for Cornel. Set a challenge that promotes growth, then meet it head-on. Novelty plus experimentation - the creativity equation.
“When you learn by doing, by experimenting, you hardly notice that you become better at things. It’s like watching grass grow, but it happens,” he said.
“I like to set a goal to do one project on my own time each year. A lot of people create dailies and some do it well, but I prefer bigger projects - like one, two minutes of animation. Something super-polished. Something I can learn from and be proud of.”
His latest ‘passion project’ - an industrial sci-fi piece titled Oligarchs (featuring a custom score composed by Jumbla sound designer Sean Crowley) - was crafted from the ashes of what appeared to be a concept-killing hurdle.
Oligarchs by Cornel Swoboda
“At the beginning of Oligarchs it was just something I was playing with. I took a scale model of a human and experimented with skin shaders to make it as realistic as possible. After a while I noticed I could push it further and make it ‘real’, but limitation kicked in because the eyes looked fake,” he said.
“As humans we’re all face experts - to me, the model looked like a corpse or a creepy doll. Its eyes looked terrible initially.
“I tried a few things and eventually covered them with metallic pieces. It became a cyborg - that’s how the story evolved. The models started making more sense and I was cluttering their eyes with mechanical parts.”
Cornel’s recent side projects run the gamut from the dark poetry of And Then I Vanish to an advertising mock-up for Nike.
And Then I Vanish by Cornel Swoboda
A common thread through these projects - and Cornel’s body of professional work - is the element of surprise. Whether it’s the explosive rhythm from the ZOTAC Master’s Cup or the organic surrealism of a Julius Marlow shoe, Cornel believes the mark of a true creative is their ability to surprise.
“I notice that most projects come with certain predictability. You watch a video and you know how it’s going to end story-wise, picture-wise,” he said.
“I like breaking that illusion. I like the little surprise moments, so I started doing that with my own work.
“This is something I always try to achieve with Jumbla as well. We’ll help clients come up with different versions of their idea by polishing it, twisting it around or mutating it; branching into two, three, four different iterations to see which works the best.
“I’m still aiming for the same goal as the client, but I like to throw up a few different routes to get there. In that sense, I’m not walking the highway with you. I’m going the alternative route. You will see me walking through a forest.”
Three children and three years into his Jumbla journey, Cornel says the responsibility of fatherhood has changed the way he works, for the better.
“There are other people who need my time now, and I don’t want to be a father who just sits there at the computer, working and ignoring the kids. I want them to spend time with me and remember it,” he said.
“This means I have to sacrifice my own time and manage it better. Before kids that was something I really struggled with. Now, I really have to smash things out in the small windows of time I have.”
With permanent residency in hand, Cornel’s Australian roots are firmly taking hold.
It helps, he says, that the streets of Melbourne are dotted with BMWs and his favourite German breads are slowly finding their way onto the shelves of local bakeries.
Permanent residency aside, Cornel has found a secondary symbol of local acceptance, and it lives in his backyard.
“I’ve now got my status as an Aussie because I’ve got a proper barbie [BBQ] - a four-burner Jumbuck from Bunnings,” he said.