Nick Cross is an award-winning animator and independent film-maker living in Ottawa, Canada. He’s played a key role in the production of several animated features such as Ren & Stimpy ‘Adult Party Cartoon’ and Rupert, not forgetting his personal projects: The Waif of Persephone and Yellow Cake. Nick’s portfolio contains clients such as Nelvana, Spumco, Nickelodeon and New Line Entertainment.
You have been in almost every job on the animation production line, from set decorator to editor, producer, writer, animator to director.
In which role do you feel most comfortable?
I think that the role that I enjoy the most is the art direction aspect of making films. I really like to play around with mood and colour and placing characters into those settings. I guess I just enjoy the idea of creating new worlds and environments; that’s the best part of animation and film-making for me.
Your personal projects have taken many years to produce. Do they stray a lot from the original idea in that time or how do you manage to stay on course?
Since all of the editing in an animated film takes place at the beginning, it gives me a firm framework to work around. If that weren’t the case, it would be really hard to resist the temptation to keep changing things as I go until the final film no longer resembles the story that I originally intended to make. It’s like being a long-distance runner, you need to have discipline to make it to the finish line.
How do you fund your projects?
I fund them with my commercial work. The sad reality is that short films rarely pay for themselves so they have to be more of a labour of love. The downside of having to self-finance my work is that I have to prioritize my time in favour of work that pays the bills. The fact that I pay for the films myself gives me all the freedom that I want, but on the downside, that’s one of the main reasons why my films take so long to produce.
Most animation students have at least one idea for an animated short but they don’t have (yet) the advantage of earning for commercial work. What advice would you offer them in order to see it finished?
Just have confidence. It’s inevitable that a filmmaker will lose motivation as they work on an animated film. It’s just such a long and sometimes a tedious process. You always get to a point where you start to question yourself and the validity of your work. You just have to push all of that aside and have confidence in your original vision, in what got you interested in starting the project in the first place. That’s all it takes, really — perhaps it’s easier said that done, but that’s the one thing that I’ve learned in 11 years of making my own independent films.
How would you sum up the underlying social message in the Waif of Persephone?
I think I would have a hard time summing it up. I don’t usually start a new film intending it to have a moral or a message. They usually just encapsulate a lot of ideas that I have in my head at that particular time. However, I think the main theme for that film is about how good intentions are almost always destroyed by greed.
What’s the animation work you’re most proud of?
That’s hard to say. Like a lot of artists, I am pretty critical of them, but I think that I have reached a point where I’m starting to feel proud of some of my most recent work and Yellow Cake in particular. I think that all the different parts from story to animation and background styling came together quite well in the finished product.
Indeed, the style and grading of Yellow Cake are very unique. What do you reckon is the secret ingredient?
I don’t know if there is a secret ingredient. The style is just my natural way of working; the only real look that I intended to put in the film is a heightened amount of contrast between the light and the darks. I wanted there to be deep, dark shadows to emphasize a sense of foreboding in a subtle way.
Is there another Nick Cross short in the pipeline? Can you give us a hint about what it is?
I actually have two new films that I am working on right now. One is still just a zygote of an idea and doesn’t really have a solid plot yet. The other is a shorter film then my last few; it will only be about 5 or 6 minutes in length. It takes place on a farm and involves a fox stealing chickens. That’s about all I can reveal at this point, since I’m still storyboarding it and I don’t quite have all the plot points figured out yet.
If aliens stole your animation and artistic powers, what could you do for a living?
I originally wanted to be a biologist and a lot of the jobs I had before I got into animation were working with animals. When I was a little kid and people would ask what I wanted to do for a living, I would always say that I wanted to be a zookeeper. I still love science and I’m addicted to nature programs, so I don’t think I would be totally lost if the art thing ever fell through.