Dion Macellari ’83 Makes Art for Hollywood Characters


Scenic artist Dion Macellari ’83 was once hired to make bad art for the CBS comedy The Unicorn, and, when the showrunner complained that the piece was too well painted, Macellari returned to make it look worse.

On another occasion, for the Showtime dramedy United States of Tara, Macellari had to destroy a mural he created by carving an obscenity into it, just so the show’s main character, played by Toni Collette, could pretend to do the same thing.

Working in Hollywood “keeps your ego in check,” he says wryly.

Macellari didn’t set out to be a Hollywood artist. In fact, he didn’t want to be an artist at all. Raised by a sculptor father and an actress mother, he once hoped to be almost anything else.

“I didn’t want to be like my dad,” he recalls. “Then, when I got out of school, I realized I had no talent whatsoever — except art.”

Macellari grew up in Greenwich Village and Tribeca; his father had a two-story loft in a building so run-down it had a sign to let first responders know people lived there. At the College, Macellari studied French language and literature, which he calls “the path of least resistance,” because he had taken the language as a high school student. He also co-captained the lightweight crew and did illustrations for the College’s humor magazine, Jester.

In 1987, Macellari finished a master’s in painting from Hunter College. He planned to teach but instead took a job working on pharmaceutical advertisements. In 1991, he moved to Los Angeles and airbrushed record covers for Tower Records until he landed a gig making massive hand-painted theatrical backdrops for performers including Madonna, The Shins and Bon Jovi.

“It fell right in with what I could do really well, which is paint fast and realistically,” he says. “If you have to [paint] 50 feet in three days, you can’t overthink it. Or you can, but then you don’t get any more work.”

Macellari makes non-commercial art, too: He contributed mixed-media work to the book Almost All Lies Are Pocket Size; copies are owned by the de Young museum in San Francisco, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

He says connections — and especially his membership in the Art Directors Guild — helped launch his Hollywood career, which has been going strong now for more than 15 years. He has worked on all kinds of television shows, including New Girl and Dead to Me, and the film 500 Days of Summer. Macellari describes his work as “dark” and “creepy”; the characters he creates for are often troubled or brooding. To get into their mindsets, he receives advance copies of scripts and background notes on the parts he’s helping bring to life. But he says he prefers less information, rather than more.

“If I think too much, I’m going to go off course,” he says. “Whatever your first thought is [for a piece], that’s probably the right one.”

Rebecca Beyer is a writer and editor living in Medford, Mass.