NERD Productions Welcomes Live Action Director Rodney Rico

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Coming in hot is a new signing at NERD Productions – fashion, beauty & editorial director Rodney Rico. With an honors degree in Filmmaking from Kingston School of Art, Rodney made his mark crafting videos for top magazines and luxury brands worldwide. Inspired by classic films and French New Wave cinema, Rodney’s style stands out from the rest and we can’t wait to see his next creative adventure as part of our creative family. We sat down with Rodney to chat through our ‘get to know’ questions and what can we say, he really is a true NERD!

How would you describe your approach to storytelling and visual style as a director?

I’m still very traditional when it comes to filmmaking—I try to be efficient but also bring a sense of realism. I can think of many ways to set up my camera movements to convey the visual storytelling, but I usually end up just holding the camera (handheld), and it becomes more personal to the viewer.

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Tell us about your favourite project to date and why it has a sweet spot in your heart.

I wrote an essay about Disney as part of my final year project, specifically about The Little Mermaid (1989). I was approached by the producer who was organizing an editorial shoot with an actor starring in the Live Action version, so I was super keen to join. It was a full-circle moment, and I was happy with the results.

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Watch the commercial here.

If your life was a movie, what would its genre be?

I’m a big horror fan, but I wouldn’t say I want my life to be like a horror movie—maybe more of a romance. Romanticising life keeps me happy in general, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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What are your career hopes and goals for 2024?

I want to work closer with different talents and get to know them better on a personal level before a shoot. I really want to capture their essence and mix my own personal style into it.

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Watch the commercial here.

And to finish off, tell us a NERDY fact about yourself.


Ooooh, I’m a big Marvel fan, but that’s a whole other story.

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See Rodney’s profile here.

Film ‘The Law of The Sea’: Advocating for Asylum Seekers and Global Compassion

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We find ourselves in a world where asylum seekers face formidable challenges, where political decisions can exacerbate their plight, as evidenced by recent developments in the UK.

We sat down with Elmaz Ekrem to talk about her film ‘The Law of the Sea’ that makes us shed light on the interconnectedness of the world crises, urging us all to reflect on the choices we make as a society and to embrace the notion that compassion and empathy must guide our actions in these turbulent times.

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What is the story behind making ‘The Law of the Sea’ ?

This film started life as a graduate project but ended up being televised by Channel 4 as part of their Random Acts series in 2016. It is not a pleasant origin story.

In the summer of 2015, the European refugee crisis was escalating in response to the civil war and attacks by ISIL in Syria. I was on holiday in Turkey. That September, the bodies of drowned children washed ashore a few hundred miles away from where I sat on the beach.

The sadness and grief I felt were overwhelming and I decided I needed to use the opportunity to make my graduation film about this. To make a film about anything else felt like an act of inhumanity. How could I not acknowledge what was happening in the world?

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The team went to Lesvos, one of the Greek islands to receive thousands of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea,and interviewed many people involved in the migrant crisis from volunteers to medics to fishermen. It took a lot of interviews before we found the angle of the documentary and it emerged while translating and transcribing the interviews. We realised that the perspective of the fisherman of Lesvos had been rescuing refugees while going about their usual schedules, and spoke of their unique and heroic experiences with the same level of nonchalance as describing their occupation.

The film, once a dream born out of empathy, found its way to Channel 4, where it would be broadcasted to a wider audience, touching hearts and minds around the world in December 2016.

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What would you like to share to our audience about advocating for migrants and refugees?

After making this film, using art, documentary and filmmaking as a form of activism to advocate for migrants, refugees or displaced indigenous communities became the forefront of my practice, and something I’d like to share is how the climate crisis is something that intersects through humanitarian and social injustices. 

A quote from the Zurich Group on how conflict worsens the climate crises, or vice versa:”This domino effect was felt in Syria, where the desertification of formerly fertile farming land between 2006 and 2010 meant crop yields plummeted, 800,000 people lost their income and 85 percent of the country’s livestock died. As people lost their livelihoods, food prices soared and 1.5 million rural workers moved to the city to find jobs. Those left behind facing poverty were an easy target for recruiters from the Islamic State… societal issues caused by climate change worked to exacerbate existing tensions. The result was a conflict that fueled the world’s worst refugee crises in decades with around 6.6 million Syrians (roughly a quarter of the population) forced to flee their country.”

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My main message is ‘REFUGEES ARE WELCOME’, and should be granted safe passage. But if you’re reading this you probably agree with me.

The horrible truth is that there are people who disagree. As recently as August 2023, the UK home secretary Suella Braverman refused to endorse a scheme that would help asylum seekers in the UK, despite it being described by the UN as “more humane” while she pursues increased detention capacity for immigrants, a programme which is estimated to cost billions. 

As we navigate the climate emergency, we must recognise that global conflict and migration are intrinsically linked. Together, we can create a world where refugees are not only welcomed but embraced, where the threads of compassion bind us as a global community, and where the darkest of times can give rise to the brightest of futures.

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Welcome, Justine!

Justine

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
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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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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See Justine’s profile here.

Unveiling the Enchanting SpinMania campaign: How NERD’S Director Light & Mathematics Weaved Magic and Charm in This Fantastical Commercial

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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.

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Click the image to see the spot

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • Full Credits:
  • Client – Migros:
    Sara Schneider (Promotions & Activation Department Manager), Stephanie Künzler (Promotions & Activation Project Manager), Delia Candolo (Junior Promotions & Activation Project Manager), Kathrin Lamm (Digital Project Manager), Celina Bernasconi (Media Project Manager).
  • Agency- Wirz Group:
    Lorenz Clormann, Thomas Kurzmeyer, Chantal Heimo, Adrian Busse, Mark Stahel, Zara Velchev, Evelyn Schellenberg, Luigi Vitiello, Nico Keramaris, Cosima Lang, Naomi Meran, Tim Lieberherr, Florian Joller, Vanessa Lehmann-Spalleck, David Offermann, Janna Löhr, Eva Bachmann, Erasmo Palomba, Nadja Kilchhofer, Ruwanie Hayoz, Giovanni Bucca, Yussef Serrat, Oliver Fäs, Sonja Jegen, Karin Gartmann, Rahel Signer, Corinne Räber.
  • production Stills, DOOH, OOH, Print and Film production:
    NERD Productions (production company), Light & Mathematics (director), Jingle Jungle (sound studio), Federico Bettini/Colin Schmid (music composition).

NERD Productions: Promoting a Sustainable Future for Advertising

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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.

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NERD Sustainability Advocate & Director: Lucas Borras ‘Arrow’

2. How can we best collaborate with communities and organisations in advertising to promote sustainable initiatives beyond internal production processes?

  1. Offer resources: Provide resources and support to help the community/organisation implement sustainable practices. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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NERD Sustainability Advocate & Director Rachael-Olga Lloyd ‘Everything InBetween”

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.

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NERD Sustainability Advocate & Director: Brett De Vos ‘World Diabetes Day”

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.

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NERD Sustainability Advocate & Director: Hayley Morris “Charlie Banana”

NERD’s Hayley Morris on sustainability in animation

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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.’

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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.

Repurpose

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.

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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.

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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.

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Bounce Bounce by Hayley Morris

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!

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The Ecstatics – Explosions

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.

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Making of – Explosions in the sky

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?

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Netlfix: The Half of It

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!

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Charlie Banana TVC

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!

The Essential List by NERD’s Ian Clarke

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Get to know Ian Clarke, NERD’s award-winning Animation Director whose work spans the boundaries of 2D and 3D animation, motion design, branding, and typography. With a unique approach that puts ideas at the forefront, Ian’s creations are a reflection of his boundless creativity and technical expertise.

When thinking about an Essential List full of creativity and flavour, we knew Ian would have loads to share. If you are in London, this will come in handy for some local suggestions too! We hope you enjoy getting to know Ian more as much as we did.

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Lifestyle

  • Place of birth: Limerick, Ireland.
  • Hometown: London, UK.
  • Staycation: London parks during the summer or if in Ireland anywhere on the Co. Clare coast.
  • Vacation: European city breaks, France in summer, Greek Islands, Thailand, Mexico.
  • Pet: Would love a dog but in London, it is like having a baby. One day.
  • Place of work: I have an office at the wonderful Switchboard Studios, home to designers, architects, editors, independent record labels, audio engineers, artists and more. Great bunch of lads.
  • Place of workout: The Underdog Gym, Walthamstow.
  • Side project: Restoring old family photos using AI and many many hours in Photoshop. Discovering the only known photo that exists of my Grandmother, and sharing it with my mother for the first time, has sent me down a rabbit hole of the family tree and DNA discoveries. 
  • Mode of transport: Legs, legs, legs. With a bit of bike. And a cheeky taxi.
  • Bonus travel essential: Bose noise-cancelling headphones – a banisher for crying babies.
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Culture

  • Artist: I just saw a massive Maurizio Cattelan show at the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, and it was great. The locals documenting every moment of the exhibition with their phones were just as interesting.
  • Musician: Eeek could be so many… will say maybe Ross From Friends, as was just listening to him earlier today.
  • Commercials/music video director: Spike Jonze & Michel Gondry’s 90’s music vids. Inspired me like nothing else.
  • Film director: See above, but also anything that Cartoon Saloon make. The Secret of Kells and Song of The Sea are animated gems.
  • Photographer: Martin Parr’s snapshots of British life are someone else. Saw a Vivian Maier exhibition at Photo London a few years back, what a fascinating lady.
  • Film: Victoria (Germany – 2015) – no it’s not about that queen.
  • Series: I wanna be current and say The Last of Us, Succession and The English, all of which I loved recently, but Star Trek 4eva!
  • Commercial: The Guinness Surfers has to be one of the best, right? Also, it features Leftfield so yeah it remains one of the best ads ever made.
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  • Music video: Apex Twin ‘Windowlicker’ – when this came out it blew my mind, Chris Cunningham is a genius.
  • Video game: Last of Us Part 2/Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Book: Currently reading The West Clare Railway by Patrick Taylor. It documents the dangerous world of Victorian-era steam trains (!), and it mentions my Great Great Grandfather Paddy who as a train driver dodged death a few times. Glad he did, and glad I am here.
  • Graphic novel: Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • Podcast: Dan Snow’s History Hit, The Blindly Podcast, Dekmantel Podcast Series, Treks & The City, Bad Gays
  • Newspaper (off or online): Lefty cliche but probs The Guardian.
  • Magazine: That’s so 20th-century man. Jokes.
  • Bonus culture essential: Covid gave me a rediscovered appreciation for live gigs and the theatre.

Food and Drink

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  • Breakfast: Weetabix, what’s the point in anything if you aren’t regular right!?
  • Restaurant: Heard great things about Cafe Cecilia In Hackney, so next on my list.
  • Cheap bite: Auld Hag at Exhale Brewery. Great Scottish bites.
  • Working lunch: Soup and sandwich. So boring. I miss working in Central London with its street markets.
  • Favourite dish: My death row dinner would be a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, as it reminds me of my childhood. But maybe I murdered someone to end up on Death Row, so I might not deserve it?
  • Signature dish: Pork tenderloin with apricots and almonds (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/07/angela-hartnett-pork-apricots-almonds-recipe)
  • Snack: Hummus with a cracker, and repeat.
  • Guilty pleasure: A big dirty bag of Onion Rings crisps.
  • Bar: Exale Brewery on the Blackhorse Beer Mile in Walthamstow, it helps that it is exactly 2 mins from my house.
  • Booze: When we moved to this part of London the closest pub was a 15 min walk away, now we have 7 breweries and one urban winery (!) mere minutes away. So brewery IPA, with a wine chaser. And repeat.
  • Not booze: Water. It’s underrated.
  • Bonus food: Gyoza
  • Bonus beverage: Gin & Tonic or Mezcal Margarita

Kit

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  • Phone: iPhone – cameras are great on them. Also locked in the Apple product cycle. Send help.
  • Computer: Mac Studio
  • TV: Samsung
  • Headphones: Bose Comfort II
  • Camera: Old Canon Digital SLR
  • Soundsystem: Ruark MR1 MkII Bluetooth Speaker System… in sexy ‘Rich Walnut’
  • Pen/pencil: Wacom Pen
  • Where you document an idea: My annual moleskin purchase
  • Casual clothing: See Smart Clothing
  • Smart clothing: See Casual Clothing
  • Footwear: Trainers/Tackies/Runners/Sneakers
  • Watch: Nah
  • Collection: Trainers/Trackies/Runners/Sneakers
  • App: Overcast
  • Website: https://www.positive.news/
  • Favourite social media feed: Sainthoax on Instagram. She is the mother.
  • Work program: After Effects. 
  • Analogue work tool: Pencil and paper.
  • Morning grooming/makeup essential: La Roche-Posay Rosaliac UV Legere – Damn you Rosacea AKA “The Curse of the Celts”
  • Bonus kit essential: Second Mac Studio Display at home, so can carry my Mac Studio easily between the office and home.
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‘Marguerite’: A whimsical blend of stop-motion and hand-drawn animation by Hayley Morris

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Hayley Morris walks us through the process of creating her newest personal short film ‘Marguerite’, and the many lessons, reflections and experiences it brought.

Why ‘Marguerite’?

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).

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Hayley Morris: Bringing colour and light to Vote Early campaign for MTV

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Early bird gets the worm or in this case – how to get young people to vote? New captivating and immersive stop-motion animation from NERD’s Director Haylely Morris for MTV. 

The campaign focused on translating important messages and highlighting some of the main issues US citizens are facing at the moment. We were mesmerised by Hayley’s imagination on how to carefully translate such important issues to young public through art. Our team grabbed Hayley to chat all things NERDy about this film.


We love the idea of such a short yet powerful message, how did you come to this?

MTV’s campaign mission was to get young people out and vote for the Midterm elections in the US on Vote Early Day. The midterms usually don’t have a large turnout like a general election, so we wanted to create something that told the message in a clear and memorable way. We brainstormed so many ideas, and in the end, we landed on the concept of “Early bird gets the worm”. There are so many issues facing the country, but we decided to focus on Reproductive Rights, Gun Violence, Inflation, Racial Justice and Mental Health Care. Voting early tends to be easier and since there was the worry of voter suppression on actual election day, the importance of translating this in a digestible message was high.

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Birds often symbolise infinite possibilities, renewal, eternity, and the transition between life and death, what is the meaning of the lovely bird in this spot?

The bird was chosen mainly as a symbol for the early bird concept and how you can bring the issues you care about to the ballot box to make a difference with your vote. The bird itself is crafted out of an election ballot and it plucks the issues (worms) out of the ground to fly them to the ballot box.

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Being a stop-motion director you must be good at a few different handcrafts. Origami seems to have a particular place in this spot, is this something that you enjoyed long before starting your career or is it a skill you needed to acquire for the profession?

I love working with paper and have been manipulating paper through stop motion for a long time. In each project, I always try to do something new and see how I can push it in a different way. For this one, I really wanted to push the transformative quality of paper by having the election ballot fold up into the bird. I wanted the final bird to be very simple, but highlight the elements of the ballot that are important to read. The belly of the bird displays ‘ELECTION’ and the wings and tail says ‘For US Congress’ and ‘For Governor’ with the candidate’s checkboxes. 

I usually like to create a lot of my work in camera, but here I wanted to explore compositing more. I shot all of the elements on a green screen and mocked up the final scene for the compositing. Seeing it all come together was a lot of fun.

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Your work is always so colourful and brings joy to every topic you cover, is it something you aim for in every project?

Thank you! The paper itself is always so inspiring. I love going to the art store to look and feel all of the papers available for their colours and textures. I try to craft sustainably where ever possible so I also enjoy searching through my materials and seeing what I can re-purpose and give a new lease of life to!

For this one, MTV wanted the colours to be close to their end frames which had blue, yellow and pinkish orange. I tried to bring those colours into all of the backgrounds so that the transition from the paper scenes to the digital end cards wouldn’t be too jarring. It also helped make the white bird pop against the colourful backgrounds. It was so entertaining to explore what the underground scenes with the worms would look like, so I found some really beautiful Lokte paper in brown and maroon tones that were a nice contrast to the vibrant above-ground scenes.

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For fellow directors and animators, do you have any advice on how to make serious and important topics more fun through handcraft?

I would say it is a lot of brainstorming and just getting all of your ideas out. We probably went through 10 or so concepts before landing on this one. You have to dig deep into all of the ideas and then pluck out what the central themes you really want to focus on are. 20 seconds is not a long time to try and pack in big ideas, so you have to think of symbols and visuals for what you need to say in the most concise way. When it came down to sifting through our concepts, we wanted to stress how voting early is easier and focus on the issues at hand. The bird is a vehicle for change by taking the worms with the issues to the ballot box as the sun rises.

Many of our rights are on the line, like reproductive rights and the right to choose, and issues like gun violence just keep happening. There have been 604 mass shootings in the US in the year 2022. Inflation is making life unlivable and Mental Health Care is not affordable or accessible to a lot of people that need it. Racial Justice has so many layers but is tied to elections and voter suppression within communities of colour.

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Hand-made animation also brings a human touch into the visuals that help to support the human issues we’re trying to address. Even if the viewer doesn’t realize these images are actual paper, there is something playful and relatable to the election ballot folding up and turning into a bird. When you go to cast your vote you are filling out little circles on a physical piece of paper and actually putting that paper into a box/or mailing it in an envelope. 

There is a visceral connection between the paper and the act of voting itself. So for me, making this whole spot out of paper felt very appropriate in supporting the overall idea and concept.

Check out Hayley’s profile for more here.

The Work behind Rudy: a film by Shona Auerbach

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Amidst busy working days for Shona, we managed to grab her and tell us a little bit about one of her most recent creations – Rudy.

Rudy is an award-winning coming-of-age drama set in the heart of rural England. It follows the emotional journey of a teenage girl who finds herself being tested by her relationship with her father and responsibility for her younger siblings. She feels increasingly pushed out when her home gets opened up to a paying guest. Through a newfound friendship with a boy from Coventry, she discovers fun, freedom and autonomy.

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“Rudy” is a film that centres on love and loss, youth and innocence, holding on and moving on. What inspired you to create this film and pursue these themes?

The initial story was triggered by me losing my dad and also losing a friend who left a teenage daughter. The months after this I would drive past a house in the countryside every week, I started creating a story about a girl who lived in that house, dealing with her own loss and trying to find some kind of reconciliation with her own feelings, whilst also trying to get on with life. 

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You collaborated with Akira Kosemura on the musical composition for the film. How did you two meet and what was it like working so closely with one another?

My son loved his music and suggested I ask Akira if he would give me permission to use one of his tracks or even possibly compose a track for the film.  I got in touch with him and after seeing the film, he loved it so much that he offered to compose all of the original soundtracks.  I was bowled over, his music is so wonderful and I loved working with him.  Because of the time difference to Japan, he would compose in his day and send over the tracks and I would put them into the edit and feedback, and although we were a long way from each other we worked really well together. 

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The visual style of “Rudy” looks beautifully natural and nostalgic, somewhat akin to Sean Baker’s aesthetic. What led you to choose this style?

Graeme was the cinematographer on Rudy and I was originally both a photographer and cinematographer before I started to direct.  Both of us are drawn to visual storytelling.  We didn’t have much in the way of budget or crew so we had to be inventive, improvise with camera moves and often embrace what light we were given. We chose particular times of the day to shoot, when the light was right, and so operated in a more organic way.

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Most of the production was done locally and with minimal crew, do you always approach your work this way?

Over the years I have had the good fortune to work on projects with decent budgets, which in turn has allowed me to have bigger crews.  However, I often think it is because Graeme and I originally came from film school, that if there is no budget, we slip quite comfortably back into shooting in a simpler way. Rudy had a minimal crew because of the lack of financial resources. Some may see this as a limitation, however, in many ways it was very liberating because it allowed us to be very light on our feet and getting what we needed in simpler ways.

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What were some of the hurdles and challenges you faced while putting all the pieces in place for this production? 

The main difficulty was the lack of money to throw at situations to help resolve them. 
We knew from the outset that this was going to be a labour of love film, and once we accepted that we did not have funding to make things go quickly, we embraced the fact that we had to make it at the pace we could afford.  We managed to get over most hurdles, finding inventive ways of shooting and we were given a lot of generous support from lovely people along the way.