Introducing Justine, the latest addition to our NERDy family! Going by the motto ‘if it can be crafted, it must be made’, Justine is a dog-loving and an award-winning director with a diverse portfolio, ranging from heartwarming moments to action-packed car sequences.
Get to know Justine in just 3 mins below!
What are 2 things our readers should know about you?
I used to teach kids’ drama lessons to raise money for my gap year. It was my “Steve Jobs typography” moment. At the time, I thought it was to make a quick bit of cash and it ended up being a catalyst for a lot of my career/work.
I love the research and pitch process as much as the production process – it is where the heart of all work starts. It is a time for learning, discovering and dreaming (before all those pesky logistics set in).
Tell us a short story of how you became a director and your journey so far.
After studying stop motion animation, I landed a job in the research department at one a big production company. The thinking was that no one would let me do stop-motion unless I could direct real live people.
I spent a few years cutting my teeth in creative research and becoming an advertising NERD. My catchphrases are all still from those good old ads and they make sense to no one except my husband, bless him.
About 8 years ago, a producer I had met through this research journey, the very brave Brenda Wilson, approached me to start a company and we became an all-female partnership along with production legend, Lebo Mabuela.
The three of us built our reel from scratch and found niches we never thought we would – kids & cars being top of the list.
My research background opened many doors into conceptual and smart work and we managed to pull off some super interesting work like Siemens Fabric (through King James).
Tell us about your favourite project to date and why it has a sweet spot in your heart.
It must be a spot for ‘Toyota’ – MARS.
Creatively, the job spoke to so many things I love – cinema, landscapes, kids, storytelling, science vibes…who DOESN’t want to nerd out in Star Wars land?
Personally, it was remarkable to scout and shoot in such an isolated part of South Africa. The landscapes were truly out of this world. Filming in harsh environments with day time temperature going up to 39C and torrential downpours the night before shoot, comes with its own unique set of challenges, but motivating crew to work through it and achieving the most gorgeous shots makes those days extra sweet.
And to finish off, tell us a NERDY fact about yourself.
There are few things that are not NERDY about me. 🙂 I love anything that will keep my hands busy – embroidery, paper flowers – if it can be crafted, it must be made.
Step into a world where magic, laughter, and creativity converge. Join us as we uncover the magic behind the making of SpinMania – a journey that promises laughter, wonder, and a truly enchanting experience. Discover a captivating journey of a director whose background includes legendary animated shenanigans featured in Hollywood franchises like Madagascar and Shrek.
Light & Mathematics aka Peter S, as someone who has contributed to iconic franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars, how do you plan to infuse the magic of those worlds into this commercial while still keeping it fresh and original?
I approach every project as an opportunity for world-building and storytelling. Who are these little characters? Where do they live? How do they move, play, and explore? In the case of this commercial, my goal was to draw upon the whimsical charm and fantastical elements of these renowned franchises in order to imbue these fantasy figures with a life all their own.
Drawing inspiration from the rich storytelling and imaginative settings of the Hollywood films I’ve contributed to, I sought to create a world that resonates with audiences on a nostalgic level, evoking the same sense of fantastical, somewhat medieval wonder these beloved franchises offer. At the same time, I aimed to introduce a unique and innovative narrative that captures the spirit of Migros and the playful concept of spinning top characters.
It’s a delicate balance – maintaining the action and humour that fans of these franchises adore while weaving in new layers of creativity that elevate the commercial to its own level. Using classic story-telling techniques, we build on a solid foundation of narrative fundamentals, while introducing new and clever ways for the characters to interact. We want to keep the audience captivated by the new ways they interact with each other, and the vast world around them.
Ultimately, my experiences have taught me the art of storytelling and world-building. With this commercial, I aimed to channel that knowledge into a project that captures the heart of the Migros brand so beloved by the Swiss viewers, delighting and surprising audiences while offering them a truly enchanting experience that feels both familiar and original.
The concept of SpinMania sounds exciting! The medieval festival setting with knights, mermaids, and Cyclops sounds right up your street. Can you share any quirky behind-the-scenes anecdotes or fun moments from the set that capture the playful atmosphere of the commercial?
One of the most memorable moments transpired during our early character-testing phase. As we explored how the various spinning top characters interacted, we had a whimsical idea to infuse even more drama and excitement into the narrative. While the unexpected twist in the script was that the Mermaid emerged as the victorious champion, we thought it might make things even more fun if we drew the scene out and had them collide more than once, with the losing characters flying entirely out of the scene.
Picture this: the characters spinning, twirling, and manoeuvring in an epic battle, and then, with a carefully calculated spin, the Mermaid comes out on top – quite literally! Such a good twist, and since we dialled the action by extending the duel scene, the laughter and cheers from the creative team helped us realise that this approach injected an extra layer of fun and surprise into the storyline.
This playful experimentation not only added an element of excitement to the commercial’s concept but also perfectly captured the essence of the entire production process. These moments of spontaneous creativity define the spirit of SpinMania and genuinely reflect the dynamic and imaginative approach we took in bringing these characters to life.
How did you plan to add unexpected comedic elements that take the audience by surprise and leave them laughing?
One instance where we’ve harnessed the power of surprise and humor is with the character interactions. Take the playful duel between the characters, for example. In a sudden twist, the Cyclops, after being skillfully knocked out of the ring by the Mermaid, ends up soaring skyward, landing comically in a tree. This unexpected turn of events alone should get the audience chuckling, but the comedic touch doesn’t end there!
As the Cyclops settles into the nest, his rather abrupt landing inadvertently prompts a tiny Phoenix chick to emerge from its egg. This whimsical touch adds a layer of lightheartedness. It creates a delightful visual gag that catches the audience off guard, sparking genuine laughter while introducing and highlighting another of the collectable toys.
These unexpected comedic elements, carefully woven into the narrative, aim to surprise the viewers and evoke genuine amusement. By leveraging creative twists like the Cyclops and the Phoenix Chick, we ensure that SpinMania is not only visually captivating but also a source of true delight, engaging the audience in a way that’s both memorable and light-hearted.
With the rise of humorous ads, how do you see the evolving role of humour in advertising today compared to traditional approaches?
Humour in advertising has evolved significantly with the rise of humorous ads most recently, moving from a sporadic element to a strategic cornerstone. Unlike traditional approaches that convey information directly, humour engages audiences universally and memorably through positive emotions, kind of like what we do in films made for younger audiences like Madagascar and Ice Age. It captures attention in today’s media-rich environment, fostering emotional connections and brand loyalty without being overly sales-y. Humorous ads entertain, humanise, and amplify brand personality, creating relatable narratives that resonate and endure. In a landscape where authenticity matters, humour is a powerful tool to forge lasting and enjoyable connections with modern audiences.
In a world saturated with ads, what is the single most important thing when making a commercial you want to be remembered?
The most critical factor in creating a memorable commercial is the ability to evoke a genuine emotional response. Amidst the multitude of ads, those that elicit a heartfelt emotion – whether it’s laughter, inspiration, empathy, or awe – are the ones that etch themselves into the viewer’s memory. An emotional connection transcends fleeting visuals and catchy slogans, leaving a lasting imprint that resonates long after the ad has ended. Crafting a narrative that tugs at the heartstrings or triggers a relatable sentiment is the key to making a commercial that stands out and lives on in peoples’ minds and hearts.
Is greener production just a myth? Join Ira Giorgetti, a creative producer and photographer from NERD Productions, as he shares his experiences and thoughts on sustainability in his career. Learn how simple changes can make production greener and discover ways to embrace eco-conscious practices.
Can you tell us about your own personal journey when it comes to getting involved in sustainable production – how did you get started and where has that journey taken you?
Growing up in the Philippines, a country directly affected by climate change, sustainability became a deeply personal and relevant issue for me as a creative producer. My family elders instilled a sense of responsibility for nature, which influences every aspect of my production planning. To reduce the environmental impact, I prioritise eco-friendly practices, source from environmentally conscious suppliers, and use energy-efficient lighting and recycled props. I also manage resources efficiently, minimising waste, implementing recycling and composting programs on set, and promoting low-emission transportation options to reduce carbon emissions. Alongside environmental sustainability, I advocate for diversity and inclusion, aiming to create fair and inclusive working environments in my productions.
By integrating sustainable practices into my work, I aim to minimise environmental impact while staying true to our company’s values of diversity and inclusion.
What are the conversations that clients are having with you about their desire to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of their content production?
While the demand for sustainability varies from client to client, many of them now consider it a crucial aspect of their content creation strategies. Some may view sustainability as a checkbox exercise, but a significant number take these concerns seriously, understanding the urgency and the need for substantial changes to mitigate environmental impact. This growing demand is partly driven by younger generations, who are more environmentally aware and passionate about sustainability, and are pushing for brands and companies to take action to reduce their impact on the environment.
Because of remote production and the impact of transporting people and kits, I guess most sustainable production conversations are limited to live action, but what are the challenges and opportunities on the animation front?
Sustainable production conversations typically focus on live-action productions due to the significant impact of transporting people and equipment. However, there are also challenges and opportunities in the realm of animation. One challenge is the collaborative nature of the work, but advancements in technology and remote collaboration tools have made it more feasible and efficient.
On the other hand, animation offers unique opportunities for sustainability. By creating virtual worlds and characters, they can reduce reliance on physical sets and props, lowering energy consumption and waste production. Studios can also prioritise renewable energy sources, like solar or wind power, for rendering farms and computer systems. Embracing remote work allows for tapping into global talent while reducing the need for extensive travel. By leveraging technology and making conscious choices, the animation industry can promote sustainable practices and reduce its environmental impact.
What advice would you give anyone working in production, whether for the production company, agency or brand, who is struggling to get buy-in from their clients and colleagues on sustainable production?
When seeking buy-in for sustainable production, focus on personalising the conversation to connect with clients and colleagues on a human level. Engage in one-on-one discussions to understand their values and concerns, emphasising the direct impact sustainable production can have on their lives, their loved ones, and future generations. Share stories and evidence of successful sustainable projects to illustrate positive outcomes for the environment, well-being, and cost savings. Address specific concerns and objections, collaborating to find common ground and align solutions with their goals.
Sustainable production is a collective effort requiring patience, empathy, and effective communication. By connecting with people personally, demonstrating the tangible benefits, and addressing their concerns, you can inspire and motivate your clients and colleagues to embrace sustainable production practices and positively impact the world around us.
Milana Karaica, executive producer and founder of NERD Productions, shares her journey as an immigrant and reflects on her past and present. As a child of war, Milana faced challenges during the many transitions in life but discovered her passion for creativity and a drive to make a positive impact. Despite obstacles as an immigrant and minority in our industry, she remained determined to bring diversity and inclusivity to her work. We spoke with Milana about her experiences, including childhood struggles, relocation, creative beginnings, and how her early life has influenced her as a woman and founder.
Please tell us a short story as to why you initially left your home and what the future looked like for you at that point?
I left home for the first time when I was about five years old. As a child, I didn’t think much about the future. All I knew was war, and it made it hard to imagine what the next day would be like. My family had to move from the city to the countryside because it was safer there. Even though we had good times playing and exploring, we didn’t understand the real reason we had to live there. When we left, it was sudden and scary. We had to grab our things quickly, and my mom told me to take just one thing. I chose a picture of my dad because I worried about him being dead and not seeing him ever again.
I never really thought about the future because every day was tough. I tried my best to support my mom and take care of things while waiting for my dad to come back, even though we didn’t know when and if that would ever be. The future didn’t feel like something that was meant for me and my family. Every time we came close to some normality and safety it was snatched from us for reasons beyond our control. Just breathing or existing it seemed…
What factors influenced your decision to build a new life in the UK rather than return to your home country after fleeing the conflict? Were there any specific opportunities that made you stay?
The civil unrest in former Yugoslavia was fueled by conflicting interests and differing opinions, causing unimaginable hardships for everyone involved. After 5 long years of living in a war, my family was forced to leave our home in Croatia. We fled to Serbia, seeking safety and relying on our Serbian heritage. But we faced discrimination and were treated as outsiders by many locals. In many ways, it was no different than back home. Living in Serbia was challenging, and we struggled to make ends meet, as refugees and immigrants often face exploitation and difficult labour conditions.
Eventually, Serbia was bombed by NATO, only adding more trauma and suffering to still sore wounds. We had limited options for a new home, as immigration policies often reject refugees. We made the decision to move to the UK, as it was relatively close to our home, allowing us to visit the rest of the family. Leaving behind our most loved ones was incredibly difficult, as the bonds formed during those unimaginably hard times are stronger than anything you can imagine. When you have nothing, and less than nothing again and again you learn to cherish the people you had left.
Our move to the UK was driven by the need for safety, without any clear plan or prospects. It was a daunting experience, filled with fear and uncertainty, but my parents had to reassure us that it was for the best, despite not knowing anyone or speaking the language. The transition was horrid, and I initially resisted the idea, wanting a stable home and acceptance. However, my parents had to make difficult decisions in order to protect our family. There were no opportunities waiting for us; they simply hoped to find work and provide for us. Despite societal views seeing refugees as burdens, I strongly disagree, as my family and I have proven our ability to contribute to society and go even beyond that by creating opportunities for others as well as empowering them to be their best selves.
Knowing that you immigrated quite early in your life, how has living in the UK impacted your creativity and career pursuits? Did you always want to work in production despite the country you lived in?
I always wanted to work for the UN and fight for human rights to change the world into a better one for future generations. But I felt disappointed by the UN as a kid, expecting them to save us and failing so short in every aspect. As I grew older, I realized that dwelling on my past wouldn’t let me live a somewhat normal life I so desperately wanted.
During my teenage years, I tried to hide my complicated background and fit in. I spent a lot of time lying and wanting to be seen as ‘normal’. Slowly, I discovered that being creative made me happy. It allowed me to imagine and escape, creating my own worlds and being true to myself. This made me want to give others the same opportunity and bring joy to people. So, I decided to pursue a more creative path. My parents may have been disappointed because they wanted me to do something great, but I found satisfaction in creating beauty.
Can you describe any instances where your immigrant status has intersected with your creative journey? Did you face any unique challenges or opportunities as a result of your background?
I knew it would be tough from the start, so the difficulties didn’t surprise me. People warned me that the industry was male-dominated and not welcoming to ethnic minorities. I faced discouragement from teachers and others who believed advertising was for men or not a creative field for women. Initially, at entry-level positions, I didn’t feel much discrimination, but as I advanced, the cracks started to show. Colleagues from privileged backgrounds made subtle jabs at my school, neighbourhood, and accent.
Despite facing such obstacles, I embraced every mico- opportunity and worked hard, even when I felt undervalued in every shape and form, professionally. I recognized the importance of making the most of these little opportunities for myself and others who are marginalized. I felt a sense of duty to prove myself and show that everyone deserves a place in the room, regardless of their background. The stigma of being an Eastern European female has followed me, with people assuming I’m a cleaner or even mistaking me for a sex worker at ad festivals. It’s disheartening when colleagues laugh, not realizing the hard work it took to get there. People’s judgments based on appearance and nationality can be hurtful, but I’ve learned to stand strong and challenge those perceptions.
Having built your life and business in the UK, how do you feel it shaped you?
I’ve reached a point in my life where I embrace my uniqueness, my womanhood, and my challenging background. I’ve grown into a strong and resilient person who empowers others rather than seeking personal gain. My focus is on helping people find peace within themselves and expanding their horizons. I’ve come to realize that gaining diverse experiences brings great satisfaction and inner peace. Embracing learning and being open to new things is the winning formula for personal growth and self-reflection.
Being a diversity and inclusion advocate, how do you imagine your future contributions and impact on your home country, if any?
Recently, I’ve come to realise that limiting ourselves to a single country or border is an unhealthy mindset. It isolates us and doesn’t contribute much to our satisfaction, happiness, or overall fulfilment. Instead, we should focus on experiences, embracing inclusivity, and broadening our horizons. Let’s encourage our children to study wherever they choose, explore their interests, immerse themselves in different cultures, and not restrict themselves geographically. By doing so, we can connect with others, understand their perspectives, and create commercials that truly resonate with a global audience. After all, we are here to talk to everyone not just a handful!
Following on from Immigrant Heritage Month, we had the opportunity to connect with Lana, one of our talented illustrators, from Ukraine. As she navigates her life amidst the ongoing progression of the war, we sparked a conversation, seeking to uncover the intricate realities of being a creative in Ukraine. Through thought-provoking questions, we aimed to shed light on the challenges and aspirations that shape Lana’s journey. Join us as we embark on an insightful exploration of her unique perspective and the resilient spirit that fuels her creativity.
Please tell us a short story about your experience of learning about the conflict and then making a decision to leave.
We anticipated the conflict but didn’t truly believe it would happen until the last minute. During the invasion, both my brother and I were in Kyiv. We quickly found a car and travelled to my hometown in central Ukraine. I stayed there for around 3 to 4 days before making the immediate decision to leave, as advised by my mom. I went to Poland, to begin with, where my cousin had been living for several years.
What motivated you to return to Ukraine despite the ongoing conflict? How did you find the courage to face the challenges associated with going back to your life there?
After staying in Poland for a little while, we decided to go further and the idea of staying in a safe country like Portugal was wiser, but the unbearable thought of being far from my family made me decide to return to Ukraine after months and months of struggle and tears. It took me days to travel across the country, but after months of emotional struggle, I bought plane tickets without telling my family and came back to be with them. We can’t predict the future, so being together was my priority.
How has your experience as a creative person abroad influenced your artistic expression upon your return? Have you found new sources of inspiration or a different perspective that informs your work now?
The situation affected me, and I channelled my emotions into art, but I struggle to share it publicly. Despite knowing its importance, I find it complicated and have mixed feelings about posting my work online.
My friend and assistant, Gina, who had witnessed the power of my creations, urged me to post my work, recognising the value it held not only for myself but potentially for others as well. Yet, every time I approached the moment of clicking that “share” button, I just couldn’t do it. On one hand, I know it’s important for me to create and express myself. But when it comes to actually posting my work during the war, something doesn’t feel quite right. I can’t fully explain why, and it leaves me with mixed feelings.
Despite this confusion, I actively work on understanding my own beliefs about sharing my art. I remind myself that it’s important, even if it doesn’t have a big impact on the world. I push myself to overcome the hesitation and doubts, knowing that creating and expressing myself through art is meaningful. While the complexity of this issue may remain, I am determined to move forward and share my work with others.
As the months passed and all events unfolded, did you experience a surge of inspiration to create more?
During the first wave of shock and fear, I created a series of three illustrations to express not only my own feelings but also those of fellow Ukrainians I knew. These artworks depicted various emotions such as anguish, pain, and fear. However, I never shared or posted them publicly. It felt like a personal creation, something just for myself.
As an illustrator, I initially focused on simpler art and commissioned work. But over time, my style evolved, and I began exploring more complex and expressive pieces. I am transitioning from being solely an illustrator for clients to embracing the role of an artist who conveys my own vision, thoughts, and mindset through my work. This shift in focus and artistic growth coincided with the experiences during the war, acting as a catalyst for this transformation.
Can you share any particular moments or encounters that made you realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in your home country even during the war? How do you hope to make a difference through your creativity?
During such a challenging time, my primary concern has been the well-being and safety of my family and myself. The overwhelming nature of the situation has prevented me from formulating concrete plans or specific encounters that made me realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in my home country during the war. My immediate focus has been on survival and ensuring the safety of my loved ones.
Another illustration from Winter 2022.
In your art in general, past, present or future art, do you incorporate any symbols or colours that could tell people who you are and where you’re from?
That’s a great question because it made me reflect on my artistic journey. Previously, I didn’t prioritise incorporating elements of my cultural identity into my work. However, as I continue to develop my style and explore my art, I am beginning to recognise its importance. I hope to find the courage to share my cultural perspective with my audience soon. While I used to believe that my art could change the world, the current situation has made me question its impact. Nevertheless, I strive to be more socially active and understand that art can still influence various aspects of life.
Having worked with a number of amazing clients and being an important part of NERD, how do you think your decision to stay in Ukraine will impact progress in your career?
The situation definitely had an impact on my work, although not specifically with NERD-related projects. Due to the circumstances, I had to take on various projects to support my family financially during the initial challenging phase of the war. This heavy workload took a toll on my mental state and led to burnout.
Looking ahead, I remain hopeful for the future of Ukraine. I aspire to see a time where we can build our lives and dreams within our own country, rather than seeking opportunities elsewhere. As for my art, I am focusing on transitioning from being solely an illustrator to embracing the role of an artist. I am open to where this artistic journey takes me, going with the flow and seeing where it leads.
In honour of Pride Month, Ira Giorgetti, one of NERD’s passionate Creative Producers, discusses the key factors that make a workplace safe and inclusive for people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
We explore the significance of inclusive policies, diverse leadership, and an open and accepting culture in order to foster a sense of security, trust, and belonging for all.
As a queer person of colour, what makes a workplace feel safe or unsafe for you?
When it comes to feeling safe and supported in the workplace, there are a few key topline factors that play a significant role:
Inclusive Policies and Practices: A safe and inclusive workplace has well-defined policies that explicitly protect LGBTQIA+ individuals from discrimination and harassment. Leadership has to ensure that policies are communicated effectively and upheld consistently, creating a sense of security and trust among employees.
Diverse and Representational Leadership: A workplace needs diverse leadership, including individuals from LGBTQIA+ and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds. Representation at the top sends a powerful message that everyone’s voices are valued, and it helps foster an environment where different perspectives are respected and celebrated. At NERD Productions, we are lucky to have an open-minded female founder from an ethnic-minority background, so we’re a head above the rest right from the starting line!
Open and Accepting Culture: A safe workplace is one where people can be open about their identities without fear of judgment or negative repercussions. Creating a culture of acceptance, where colleagues and superiors actively listen, learn, and support each other, is crucial. This includes embracing differences, challenging biases, and fostering a sense of belonging for all employees.
In contrast, an unsafe workplace for me would be one where discrimination, microaggressions, or biases go unaddressed, creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment. A lack of diversity in leadership positions and a culture that ignores or dismisses the unique experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals and people of colour can make it challenging to feel safe and thrive professionally.
At NERD Productions, our core values revolve around crafting excellent creative work and championing diversity and inclusion. We strive to create an environment where colleagues and partners feel safe, respected, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. By fostering a culture of acceptance, celebrating differences, and providing a platform for diverse voices, we ensure that our workplace is a haven for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity.
Can you compare your experiences as a queer person who has worked and lived in two countries with differing views on rights and protections for the LGBTQIA+ community?
In the Philippines, where comprehensive anti-discrimination laws are lacking, marginalised groups, including the LGBTQIA+ community, often face underrepresentation and are susceptible to abuse. The absence of legal protections and societal acceptance creates an environment where expressing one’s authentic self can be challenging and sometimes risky.
On the other hand, moving to London in 2016 offered a transformative experience for me and my partner, with whom I’d been in a long-distance relationship for over five years. The city is known around the globe for its progressive stance on diversity and inclusion, which shows in its comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Such laws provide a profound sense of safety and allow people to openly express their identities without fear of legal repercussions or social exclusion.
The contrast between these places highlights the significance of safe and inclusive workplaces. Working in a company like NERD, which prioritises diversity and inclusion, becomes particularly meaningful. Our team and culture provide a supportive environment where individuals from marginalised backgrounds, including myself, can thrive and contribute their unique perspectives to the creative process.
Having personally encountered the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in a country without robust legal protections, I am deeply aware of the urgency and importance of advocating for greater rights and equality. My experiences in the Philippines and London fuel my passion for promoting diversity, amplifying underrepresented voices, and working towards a more inclusive future for all.
How does feeling safe in your working environment impact your personal life?
Feeling safe at work as a queer photographer and producer positively impacts my personal life. It allows me to authentically capture the beauty of men’s fashion and the intricacies of the male form without holding back and fearing judgment from my professional peers. It allows me to create art that resonates with my identity, build meaningful relationships, and maintain a life with my loved ones by my side.
Whether I’m shooting in Soho, a vibrant queer hub in London, or working with friends from home who also identify as part of the community, a safe working environment strengthens connections. It allows us to embrace our identities fully.
Working with clients and freelance talent in the LGBTQIA+ community is a joy. We share a common understanding and appreciation for each other’s journeys. Feeling safe at work fosters an atmosphere where everyone can bring their authentic selves to the table, resulting in collaborative projects celebrating diversity.
Feeling safe also spills into my personal life with my partner and our chihuahua, Momo. When a workplace is genuinely secure and inclusive, it allows one to strike a healthy work-life balance, allowing for the time and energy to nurture relationships and create a loving environment at home.
From stumbling upon a hidden door into the filmmaking world to working on some of the biggest feature films and winning awards, NERD’s director Peter S uncovers the secrets behind his remarkable journey. Join us for an enlightening Q&A as Peter shares intriguing insights about his craft, granting us a glimpse into the enchanting realm of VFX.
VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where and why did you learn your craft?
Similar to cinematography, VFX is one of those disciplines that requires the encyclopaedic accumulation of knowledge and techniques. You never stop learning, but working at big shops like Weta, with the best in the business, really inspired me to dream big. Initially, I went into VFX because it was a sort of secret door into the filmmaking world. I just happen to have the right skill set, at the right time, and in no time at all, I was sitting beside the world’s biggest directors, studying their approach to storytelling.
There are two ends to the VFX spectrum – the invisible post and the big, glossy ‘VFX heavy’ shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those as a director?
The invisible shots require a good deal of humility and restraint. Every artist wants to be noticed for their work, but there are better ways to approach those shots. Instead, you have to just stick with the reference, and keep the overall purpose of the shot in mind. It’s a thankless job. The flashy stuff is really fun, but now ALL EYES are on your work so you better not drop the ball! Those are the shots that give you stomach ulcers in dailies. The potential to fail spectacularly is very real.
We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?
With commercials, usually, it’s done when the clock runs out, but on some projects, you are given a lot of time to nail it. And yes, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, tinkering well past the apex of its potential. I just think that walking away from your work for a little while is the best way to get perspective. Go snowboarding, race go-karts, hike with your kids, anything works. As long as you earnestly disconnect for a little while, and then can return with a fresh pair of eyes.
Is there a piece of technology or software that’s particularly exciting to you in VFX? Why?
At first, I was a little spooked by the AI software that was coming out, but then I leaned into it on a few projects and realised that it can be a useful tool. Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with AI knows you still need an operator guiding the creative process. It brings a few types of tasks, that have only really been available to the top-tier VFX studios, to everyone else. I’m excited because it levels the playing field a bit, and I can go toe-to-toe with the Titans of VFX!
How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?
I had a terrifically lucky break when I applied to a little-known studio, called JAK Films, in Northern California. It turned out to be the secret art department that George Lucas was running out of Skywalker Ranch during the making of his Star Wars prequels. It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated what a mythic cathedral of storytelling that place was. George had a team of the top concepts in each field – Costume Design, Industrial Design, Creature Design, etc. I got to sit in a room with them every day and see first-hand how much magic you can create when you put egos aside and work to inspire the people around you.
What was your most recent exciting milestone in the industry, you were super proud of?
While I have won a few awards for some of my commercial work in the past, the award I received last year from the British Animation Awards for AirWick was a really special one. The film was such a simple, clever script that called for a poetic, zen-like approach. Everyone involved respected that calm approach to the crafting of it, and I believe it really shows in the final product. I think that little film will stand the test of time.
What is your favourite commercial/film of all time?
The work that blows me away year after year, is the stuff that I truly have no idea how they pulled off. Apocalypse Now, (based on one of my favourite books) still makes my head explode. It’s spellbinding in its ability to be a huge spectacle, and deep meditation, at the same time. A film like that will never be made again. Like all great art, it demanded the creator’s journey into madness in order to bring back something so special.
Introducing Maria, our Head of Business and Talent (Europe), who offers a glimpse into her life in the production industry. From navigating the challenges of getting started to managing difficult relationships and being the calming force, Maria has seen it all. Having discovered her love for production in London 14 years ago, she never looked back and knew this was the path for her.
We recently caught up with Maria to gain valuable insights into relationship building in production. Her answers to some of the most pressing questions are sure to provide the invaluable knowledge & truths you’ve been seeking!
How did you first get involved in the production and what appealed to you about it?
It first started 14 years ago, when I was an office manager in a post-production company while I lived in London. Later on, when I moved to Madrid it became very natural to start as a talent rep as I already knew the industry and its peculiar jargon.
What about your personality, skills and experience make this position such a great fit?
Besides the general knowledge that this industry needs, I believe it’s crucial to possess an empathetic personality to grasp the needs of clients/brands. Luckily, I naturally possess this trait 🙂
What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting their career in production?
To avoid getting overly caught up in the tumultuous nature of this industry, I would recommend not spending all of your energy on it. Instead, prioritise engaging in enjoyable and creative endeavours while also selectively choosing meaningful projects to take part in, as they will help make your journey more manageable.
Thinking back to some of the most challenging experiences you’ve had in your career, what do you think tends to lie at the heart of the more tense or difficult client?
Well, there’s been a few, the worst one involved a poor relationship between the agency and the client, making the entire process much more excruciating than it should have been. I think taking the time to get to know each other, and building trust and respect would help hugely!
And what are the keys to building a productive and good relationship?
Being sympathetic to other people’s situations. Never take things personally, when someone does something wrong, even if you feel it was directed at you, they usually have their own struggles.
What’s your view on disagreement and emotion – is there a place for it and if not, why not? If so, why – and what does productive disagreement look like?
There’s always a place for disagreement, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a place for productive conversation. It is important to put everyone’s needs and limits on the table to have a better process and better end result.
These days, agencies and production companies do so much beyond traditional campaigns. As a producer or account manager/sales manager you do so much to put all the pieces together – and that complexity can often be mirrored on the client stakeholder side too. What’s the key to navigating (and helping the client navigate) that complexity?
As an account/business development manager, the key is to truly listen to everyone’s needs. Paying attention to all creative and practical opinions will help find a balance within all of them and integrate them into a funnel to materialise the best out of it.
What recent projects are you proudest of and why? What was challenging about these projects from a sales/production perspective and how did you address those challenges? What was so satisfying about working on these projects?
It was a huge campaign for Facebook and the production process was complex. The process was painful but in the end, the campaign was a huge success 😉 It was incredibly rewarding to see all of our efforts come to fruition and to know that we had played a significant role in achieving our client’s goals.
At NERD Productions, we firmly believe in the harmonious relationship between creativity and sustainability. We strive to minimise our environmental footprint and advocate for sustainable practices at every stage of the production process, ensuring a better and greener future.
Here are some of our top ideas on how the production industry can actively contribute to a more sustainable world: 1. As a production company, we often influence viewers’ lifestyle choices, so how can we encourage our global audiences to adopt more sustainable consumption habits?
Create content that showcases the importance and benefits of sustainable living. This content can inspire viewers to adopt similar practices in their daily lives.
Collaborate with sustainable brands and organizations to create content that promotes sustainable products and services. This can create a positive association with sustainability in the minds of your audience.
Lead by example and ensure that your own production processes are sustainable, minimising your impact on the environment.
Engage with your audience and encourage them to share their own sustainable practices and experiences. This can create a sense of community and inspire others to adopt similar practices.
Support sustainable initiatives by sponsoring events, donating funds, or volunteering your time. This can create a positive association with sustainability in the minds of your audience and encourage them to do the same.
By implementing these ideas, we can encourage sustainable consumption habits and make a positive impact on the environment.
2. How can we best collaborate with communities and organisations in advertising to promote sustainable initiatives beyond internal production processes?
Offer resources: Provide resources and support to help the community/organisation implement sustainable practices.
Co-create campaigns: Collaborate with the community/organisation to co-create campaigns that promote sustainability. This ensures that the message resonates with the community and is more likely to be effective.
Look for sustainable opportunities: Look for parts of the story or processes that can be made more sustainable. Highlighting these aspects can inspire others to take action towards sustainability.
3. How can we entice clients and agencies to invest in making production more sustainable, as this usually comes at a higher cost?
Investing in sustainable production is not only essential for a better future, but it can also bring numerous benefits to clients and agencies. However, it’s crucial to entice them to make the initial investment. Here are some ways to make sustainability more engaging:
Firstly, highlight the long-term benefits of sustainable production. While it may require higher costs initially, sustainable practices can result in significant long-term cost savings. For instance, by reducing energy consumption, waste, and improving efficiency, businesses can ultimately increase profitability and create a positive brand image.
Secondly, showcase the business case for sustainability. Presenting research and case studies that demonstrate the financial benefits of sustainable production can help clients and agencies realise the value of such practices. This can include increased market share, customer loyalty, and an improved reputation.
Thirdly, offer incentives to encourage sustainable production. These can be in the form of reduced rates, additional services, or other perks. By offering tangible benefits, clients and agencies can be motivated to invest in sustainable production.
Lastly, encourage collaboration to identify areas where sustainable practices can be implemented without compromising production quality. Working collaboratively with clients and agencies can also help reduce costs and increase buy-in from stakeholders.
4. How to reduce digital pollution? Our starter’s top tips for everyone:
We believe in constantly reevaluating practices to ensure they are effective and sustainable. Simple solutions like eliminating email signature images and avoiding sending unnecessary emails can significantly reduce data usage and your carbon footprint.
Sustainable web design practices such as image optimisation and file compression can further reduce the energy required to load web pages. Using video conferencing and allowing for remote work can save time, money, and emissions from unnecessary travel.
In a world of computer-generated everything, there are still a few of us who are holding on tight to the traditional and truly handcrafted ways of bringing stop-motion and mixed-media films to life. It’s a bit like being part of a secret society, except our secret handshake involves a glue gun and some felt.
Hayley: ‘For me, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of creating something truly unique with my own two hands. I love experimenting with all kinds of physical materials – from paper and fabric to fibres, found objects, and even the occasional pinecone (yes, you read that right!).
But, as with most good things, there’s a downside. When you’re working with real stuff, you’re also generating real waste. After years of working on commercial productions, seeing all those non-biodegradable materials being tossed in the bin at the end of the day was a real bummer.
That’s why I’ve made it my mission to think about the materials I choose to use and encourage others to do the same. By making sustainability a key part of my creative process, I’m always looking for ways to repurpose and reuse materials wherever I can. It’s a bit like a game of “How many different things can I make out of this one roll of paper towels?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is usually a lot.)
But here’s the thing: being environmentally conscious doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, it’s made my work even more fun and challenging. I’m constantly pushing myself to develop creative solutions for every project, and I’ve discovered all kinds of new techniques and approaches along the way.’
So, how do I do this in stop-motion animation?
I have a stash of reusable materials for every project. My advice to the animation industry is to integrate sustainability into each project from the start. We should recycle, conserve energy, and repurpose waste. Every project is a puzzle that requires its own sustainable solutions. As artists, it’s our responsibility to be environmentally conscious. Here are some ways I apply this mindset: I use my collection of recycled materials, and when I buy new items, I choose eco-friendly options.
Repurposing objects is not a new concept in animation or human experience. As children, we often use everyday items to create our own imaginative worlds, such as a pile of leaves becoming a castle and a stick becoming Excalibur. As animators, we have the opportunity to continue this sustainable projection of imagination and build worlds that inspire creativity.
Renowned animators such as the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer also repurpose everyday objects, imbuing them with emotional resonance. They transform the contents of our kitchen drawers into a cacophonous consumer or coat old doll heads with a chilling patina of menace. By using familiar objects, viewers can transition in and out of the illusion, recognizing and reinterpreting them. Animators direct an intimate dance with the object, creating a powerful alchemy that can make audiences fall in love with a puppet made from forks.
In the music video “Bounce Bounce” for Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, I repurposed forgotten objects found in Brooklyn flea markets and antique stores. A vintage scarf became a fleet of crabs, a doily transformed into a starfish-like creature, sink strainers were used for sea anemones, and even a discarded toy piano became a reef for sea snails and ocean plants. By giving new life to these objects, I created a whimsical and unforgettable display of creativity.
Waste Not Want Not
Too often we dismiss it as a problem that’s out of sight, out of mind. We toss our trash into bins and watch as it’s whisked away by garbage trucks, never stopping to consider the bigger picture. But what if we approached waste in a different way?
When I was working with Explosions in the Sky on their music video for “The Ecstatics,” we wanted to explore the concept of mental clarity and the layering of thoughts. To achieve this, we used transparent materials like plastic, glass, thin paper, and light projections. But where did we find these materials? In rubbish bins, of course!
By collecting plastic bottles and other waste materials, we were able to repurpose them into breathing lungs and organic forms. We even used reused glass shards to create custom glass-blown shapes. And to top it off, we used antiquated plastic overhead projector sheets to create an etched 2D animation for the finale. By giving new life to materials that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, we were able to create a thought-provoking and visually stunning music video.
While imaginative repurposing and recycling offer endless possibilities, sometimes embracing material constraint can lead to even more creative solutions.
Imagine creating an entire universe from a single sheet of paper. It may seem daunting, but with the right approach, it’s possible. By embracing the limitations of a single material, we can push the boundaries of our creativity and explore its full potential.
Instead of overwhelming ourselves with endless possibilities, let’s focus on the beauty of simplicity. Let’s take a single sheet of paper and see how far we can stretch its life. Can we create intricate origami designs? Can we use it as a canvas for stunning artwork? Can we fold it into beautiful paper airplanes that soar through the sky?
Working with Sustainable Brands
If we want to create a more sustainable future for animation, we need to start by collaborating with conscious brands and inspiring others to make eco-friendly choices. One example of this is a commercial for Charlie Banana that was particularly special to me, especially as I was pregnant at the time. Even if I wasn’t working on this project, I would have chosen cloth diapers for my baby because of my commitment to sustainability and my understanding of the impact of products on the environment.
In bringing this film to life, we wanted to showcase the beauty of paper and how it can be seamlessly combined with digital compositing and hand-drawn elements. I made sure to source recycled paper to reduce the project’s environmental impact. But the sustainability efforts didn’t stop there! I saved all the paper scraps from the cutout puppets and props and plan to turn them into new paper, using my skills in papermaking that I learned in a class a few years ago. I love how this process can transform discarded scraps into beautiful, usable paper, even using fibers like old denim jeans!
These inspiring sustainable films demonstrate the incredible versatility of stop-motion animation when done mindfully. As a proud member of NERD team, who shares a passion for sustainability, I am thrilled to see more organisations like AdGreen leading the way in sustainable production practices. It is essential that we take responsibility for the environmental impact of our creative endeavours and strive to make positive changes for future generations.
I believe that as creators, we have a unique opportunity to inspire change through our work. By rethinking our processes and the materials we use, we can create compelling, environmentally-friendly films that make a positive impact. Though it can be a challenge at times, there are countless ways to craft sustainably and make a difference. Let’s all do our part to build a more sustainable future for our planet!