As the first blooms of 2023 appear, we bring you DeTuco – our new & vibrant animation signing. This bunch, brimming with team spirit, specialises in bringing to life CGI characters and whole new worlds. They are eager to infuse the NERD Productions family with even more colour and craft. Prepare to be wowed as we ask them a few ‘need to know’ questions!
What are 2 things our readers should know about you?
We love projects that involve characters, as we are fascinated by designing and creating new worlds and telling their stories. In every project presented to us, we look for new challenges and we always try to modify the visual style of what we do, diversifying our creativity and pushing the limits. We are constantly on the move, we even develop our own tools to innovate and go off the traditional paths.
Since we like to work with talented artists and recognize their skills, a few years ago we organized an exhibition for fellow creators.
It was one of the best experiences we´ve had as a team since it was an event without any kind of economic profit, it was made for the pure love of art. Bringing together so much talent, and so much amazing work was unique and it filled us with joy. We always talk about doing it again and we believe it may be possible this year. We choose to be infinitely curious and give the best of ourselves at all times so we can leave our mark.
Tell us about your favourite project to date and why it has a sweet spot in your heart.
There are many projects that we love, but without a doubt the one that we remember the most is Monstruosos. It was 100% our own idea, which we were able to carry out thanks to the trusting client over at Cartoon Network. We talked a lot about the story itself and put it together little by little as a collaboration. The first script was made and a visual style was developed. CN believed in us from the start and gave us the space and resources to unleash our creativity. The months working on Monstruosos were of pure creativity. The whole team participated and contributed great ideas, it was very inspiring. Even our kids got in on the fun, joining us for lively lunches and playtime in the studio.
Another project worth mentioning is Body Armor Edge. This project presented a thrilling combination of aesthetics and technical demands.
We are not talking about 2023 resolutions, but rather what we are looking forward to this year. What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
This year, like every new year, we want to continue challenging ourselves and developing films that allow us to enrich our techniques or tools and explore fresh styles. We’re looking to reach and exceed the standards of what the market demands, making the most of our talent and thus, offering our best quality in each project.
And to finish off, tell us a NERDY fact about yourself.
Something that has become a tradition in the studio is playing video games on breaks or in little moments of free time. We discovered that disconnecting for a moment when possible and playing with (or against) each other is something that creates great opportunities for fun, laughter and bonding.
As fans of animation in all its forms and techniques, and passionate about new technologies, we have created channels with the team members to exchange opinions, and discover artists and content. This has become an inspiring pastime for all!
We are passionate, curious, restless and love to be in constant search. We are friends, colleagues, and family – we are DeTuco.
Milana began her journey in the production industry at just 17 as a runner and worked her way up to Executive Creative Producer, proving that nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it. But she didn’t stop there. Milana went on to set up her very own production company, one that champions diverse and inclusive talent. Her success story serves as a testament to her unwavering work ethic and her ability to learn and grow from every experience.
And now, Milana is sharing her story and valuable lessons. She wants to inspire and motivate those who are just starting out in the field of production, and help them connect with fellow producers and mentors.
What advice would you give to aspiring producers or content creators hoping to jump into production?
That’s easy! There are two bits of advice that I always share and those are the two things that have never let me down, to this day. Always have a ‘can do’ attitude and do the best you can. Nothing you present or do should be less than your best effort! It is the only way you will truly reach your goals and have a sense of achievement and fulfillment which only comes from doing hard work.
What skills or emerging areas would you advise aspiring producers to learn about and educate themselves about?
It really depends on what area of our industry you wish to focus on. Production Producers are very different from agencies’ side Producers, for example. There is quite often this misconception that a ‘Producer’ should be able to do it all which is not the case at all! It’s actually when things go wrong on production most frequently.
I would say choose a direction and really try to master that before you start another 4 or 5 others. I know it is trendy to try and be a Jack of all trades these days BUT it just means you will eventually be the master of none. Being able to be that person that is absolutely a must-have on a project for a specific quality or skill is invaluable to your hiring success rate.
What was the biggest lesson you learned when you were starting out in production – and why has that stayed with you?
I started my career at just 17 as a runner in Soho.. Literally making tea & coffee and dropping off parcels to post houses and agencies. We didn’t send anything on a link in those days… it was a DVD or printed out and you physically had to deliver everything. Seems like a strange concept now!
From there I crawled my way through the ranks and became an Office Manager and then a Producer, followed by Executive Producer. It all happened quite fast for me as I was relentless in how hard I worked and I worked hard. I feel it happened to me very young and even though I had the experience of doing the physical work and being in production I was not a seasoned individual. There came a certain point where I accepted the unfair treatment of crew, and staff, and just thought that was a way of life! I guess it was fear that my job would vanish that never allowed me to question that and put a stop to it until I found myself as a person through some amazing clients and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, going against that grain made me an enemy but it is this that motivated me the most to start NERD and make it a production company like no other! Empowering, nurturing and making D&I our focus to be a better industry overall.
When it comes to broadening access to production and improving diversity and inclusion what are your team doing to address this?
As a leading D&I-led production company we advocate diversity and inclusion by championing an innovative and forward-thinking company culture that focuses on constantly seeking, nurturing and empowering young talent, female talent and talent from under-represented backgrounds. We don’t have boxes to tick and quotas to meet. This is not how to achieve true diversity. It is simply by treating everyone as equal and giving them a chance at an equal playing field.
And why is it an essential issue for the production community to address?
Our consumers are literally EVERY single person on this planet! So as an industry, we need to be talking to all those individuals in a relevant way and with an authentic approach. At NERD we are constantly inspired by the people around us that share the same passion for building an environment reflective of the people that we create the work for – the consumers.
There are young people getting into production who maybe don’t see the line between professional production and the creator economy, and that may well also be the shape of things to come. What are your thoughts about that? Is there a tension between more formalised production and the ‘creator economy’ or do the two feed into each other?
As a company, we do actually see a mix of asks for both of those approaches! To us they do feed into each other and why not?! Again, as influencers and shapers of lifestyle trends, we do need to see emerging trends in culture as something to embrace and not fear. I know this is a concept that our industry doesn’t quite accept on so many levels but the sooner we do the sooner we will have less out-of-touch advertising!
If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production/ Exec Producers when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)
When I first started, EPs were mostly at lunch or flying someplace exotic to shoot something super exciting! It was the dream role for many for this very reason. I kind of feel sorry for the EPs of today. They are often overwhelmed by responsibility, lack of support and this endless expectation that they can and should just do everything alone! Don’t get me wrong, we will still get that afternoon at Soho House but these guys do need a little support.
When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc, but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?)
It is really difficult to supply structured training for Producers and we do prefer hands-on training. Working alongside our seasoned senior producers and directors is the best and most efficient way to absorb knowledge and gain hands-on skills. Seeing others at work and crafting together is also great for social skills development and gives a sense of team play you can never have in any other approach.
On the other side of the equation, what’s the key to retaining expertise and helping people who have been working in production for decades to develop new skills?
I think this is covered in the question about EPs. Everyone has their value! Those that are very experienced and have the knowledge to share- we still need to help them keep up with the latest equipment, software etc We must all keep learning and helping each other by sharing that newly learned knowledge with our team. There is always something new to gain for all of us no matter the level of experience.
Clearly, there is so much change, but what personality traits and skills will always be in demand from producers?
Being nice! It is really not that hard! Those Producers who are very kind will always get more out of their team.
Keeping a cool head. As a Producer, you can not afford to be the one creating the drama on set. You need to be calm and zen, smoothing everything out and ensuring everyone else is not feeling the stress. You will have a very successful shoot if your whole crew is supported and able to do their part.
Being organized! Don’t think I need to go into that one hehe!
Hayley Morris walks us through the process of creating her newest personal short film ‘Marguerite’, and the many lessons, reflections and experiences it brought.
I started working on “Marguerite” in 2017. Jamie Caliri reached out to see if I wanted to make a promo for a version of the new Dragonframe software based on a drawing I had done of a 1920’s style woman. As we started working on it, it evolved into a new piece, and we decided to ditch the idea of it being a promo and have it be a very short film instead. We worked on it, on and off for the past few years in between our projects and life events (pandemic, baby, new home and more).
My inspiration for the film is an amalgamation of many things. My dad passed away in 2014. He was a musician and guitarist and we really bonded over music. I had been wanting to make a short film inspired by him that wasn’t directly a film about him. That same year, I went to Paris for a show I was in with other stop-motion artists. I fell in love with the feeling of the streets at night and hearing the city’s sounds. When brainstorming ideas, I was listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt and had been making drawings with references to 1920s Paris. In my research, I was drawn to the photographs of Brassai and his night scenes of solitary figures in shadow. I did a series of drawings inspired by the characters in these scenes. One of them was a large drawing of a woman that I turned into the main character of Marguerite.
Stylistically, I wanted to explore how I could create a 3D stop-motion puppet that looked hand drawn. I created drawn textures for the face, hair and clothes that I then cut out and sculpted for dimension out of paper. I then crafted a story and scene around her inspired by Django-style music and references to my childhood.
Your description of this film gives us a feeling it was a self-exploratory journey for you as a director and storyteller too. What did you learn about yourself in the making of this short film?
Yes. I’ve mainly been focusing on commissioned work, so it was really refreshing to create something personal and experiment with concepts and techniques I had been wanting to explore. I think it’s important as an artist to always create something for yourself. In these projects that don’t have a deadline or expectations, you can take your time to flesh out the new ways of making. There are many things I learned: I loved crafting the puppet and exploring the style of the film. I love the mix of materials and the simplified shapes I used for the characters and props – these are gestures I would love to push more in a future project.
I also loved the collaborative process and working with such incredible artists. I’m used to being kind of a lone wolf in my projects and tackling every aspect of a project on my own. It was a good learning experience for me to let go a bit and see how a collaborative process could work. So, I’d say my biggest lesson was learning to trust. After this project, I realised that doing everything on my own isn’t necessary and a project can take on unexpected vitality when other artists are supporting your vision.
I’m on the East Coast and Jamie and Anthony are on the West Coast. It was fun to see how we could make it work long-distance. We managed to create the storyboards, references, puppet, guitar/guitarist and other props back home and shipped them over to California. Then Jamie and a small team created the sets and shot them in his studio. I went out to California for about 2 weeks, crafted some more buildings, and animated the guitarist playing the guitar.
Then, I did all the 2d animation including the smoke at home and Jamie composited and edited it together. I really enjoyed this way of working. I think since the pandemic, it has become the norm. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same place to work with other artists you admire. Now, I live in the woods in Vermont and do all my projects this way. It’s great!
You mentioned Dragonframe software, was this particularly new to you or something you wanted to try for a long time?
Dragonframe is a stop motion animation software that has changed the stop motion art form. It came out when I started working professionally in 2008. Before there were other systems that were not as intuitive to use and as complex as Dragon. Now with a DSLR camera and Dragon, you can instantly capture and see the animation you are shooting, control all of the exposure settings in Dragon without ever having to touch your camera, connect motion control and DMX lighting systems, break down audio lip syncs etc. There are so many features and it’s the best program for working in stop motion. So, I was very familiar with working in it. I was really excited to collaborate with Jamie who is the co-creator of Dragon.
Now that the whole world can enjoy ‘Marguerite’, what is next for Hayley?
Thanks! I’m dabbling with some new concepts. I have a 2-year-old daughter, so children’s programming is becoming an avenue I’d love to explore. I’d also love to create an opening or ending title sequence for a film or tv show.