NICK DILIBERTO ON ‘NOVA SEED’, HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION, AND THE STRUGGLE OF CREATIVITY
This interview was originally posted on Kinja’s Observation Deck. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
By Arpad Okay. The creator/director of NOVA SEED talks with me about hand animating his forthcoming sci fi epic that pits animal men against I don’t even know what. We don’t talk about what Nick’s movie is about so much as how it came to be.
NOVA SEED is a bit of a mystery. A bevy of stills have been released, and a teaser trailer exists showing off the post-apocalyptic world full of military men, animals and mutants. “Science fiction sombre et direction artistique agressive,” according to one of the few reviews out there. Another describes it as “Mœbius-esque vehicles crossing the desert… the lion guy (the protagonist?), a skull dude, a girl in a bubble, possibly Richard Edson, mutants, essentially a whole bunch of Rock & Rule looking stuff that makes no sense but hangs together well.”
When I talked to Nick DiLiberto, he sympathized with his audience’s position: “Only 45 seconds have been shown of an entire feature… so I can imagine what you’re wondering. Of course there will be lots of story points I cannot talk about yet. The trailers have been designed in a way where you will receive more and more of the story as things progress.” This seems to reflect the structure of the film, as well — DiLiberto says that “the film’s pacing is one of its strongest points… from the opening title to the end credits there is a very smooth progression.” Since so much of NOVA SEED seems to come from steadily building up the structure, I asked Nick questions about the foundation of the film. Here’s what he had to say.
AOK: I want to know about the source of your ideas. Where did the story come from? Were you struck by an idea? Did you want to add a new story or character to a particular pantheon/genre? Did you get inspired by something you experienced? Tell me about the genesis of the movie.
Nick DiLiberto: So NOVA SEED is a story that revealed itself through the characters and the world. Start off with the characters, then move to the world, and build and build until a story begins to show itself out from the shadows. It is the world itself that shed light on the history of how this current story or event has come to be… which also leads to the world being very real and lived-in, with a vast history of its own.
In that sense, sometimes I feel the story is leading me. But I want to lead the story, so it is a constant back and forth struggle.
I think we’re in a time right now where storytelling in general has been analyzed and dissected so much that it has lead to formulas and patterns revealing themselves. And the only way around that is to follow your gut.
AOK: I think anyone who looks at it can tell that the medium through which you’re telling NOVA SEED is important to the piece as a whole. My question is, what is it about hand drawn 2D animation that nothing else has got? Why do you (re: we) love it so much? What is animation at its best?
What makes NOVA SEED something that came from you? There was a gap in the world that your movie has filled. What was missing? How did you fix it?
Nick DiLiberto: A gap in the world that NOVA SEED has filled. I think this feeling simply comes from seeing something visually different or something somewhat nostalgic to the cartoons we grew up with as kids. Film has turned to computer graphics, live action for the FX and cartoons for their visuals entirely… they have become closer in their look as a result. For me personally, one of the things I’ve always liked about 2D traditional animation is that it isn’t perfect, you can see the artists’ strengths and weaknesses, you can see the artists’ struggle and their dedication right before your eyes, it remains up on the screen for the world to see. So much so that die-hard fans of 2D animation can tell what artist animated what scene on a shot-by-shot basis… pretty incredible. I don’t think there is another animation technique that is that personal to the individual creator.
AOK: So speaking of the thumbprint of the individual creator, your short film and the name of your production company are both tied to Medusa- what’s up with that? Should we expect Homeric elements in NOVA SEED? Also — you’ve worked on video games for a long time now. How do you feel about your work life animating for video games and your art life making films? Video games are high stakes stories, much like mythological ones; is there overlap between all this stuff or am I imagining things?
Nick DiLiberto: As far back as I can remember I’ve loved mythology, but it starts with Ray Harryhausen of course, seeing the creatures he created and the worlds they inhabit have a big impact on a child. It would lead me to reading literature about mythology later in life… but my goal with Gorgon Pictures is to make animated films that don’t follow in the footsteps of others, each film will be its own beast.
Making the films I want to see as a fan and be a part of as a creator. I’m sure this will be our biggest challenge with the studio going forward and sustaining its future.
I’ve been fortunate that the video games I’ve worked on have all been based heavily around story. And a video game with multiple, branching paths… to take the story in different directions there are no handcuffs preventing you from thinking outside the box. If the player gets themselves into an undesirable situation, you have to find a creative way to get them back on track. Video games have helped shape who I am and helped me learn about storytelling from a different point of view.
AOK: How do your feelings about getting the most out of an animated film relate to your making NOVA SEED?
Nick DiLiberto: Why do a film entirely in 2D animation when there are much better tools and more modern techniques you could be taking advantage of?
It really comes down to an uncontrollable desire to draw and the love of animating on paper, an Obsession. If I can remain doing the work for pleasure the more my creativity grows and the more I remain passionate and want to grow as an artist.
Every 2D animated project I have ever worked on I assume will be my last chance. Hand drawn animation takes a long time and a lot of dedication, this industry can be very unforgiving and I may never get to make another animated picture again I tell myself.
I don’t hold back, I don’t save ideas for a sequel I’m planning. There are always ideas that don’t fit into the current project that I may put into a folder for later, but I never take an idea out anticipating I’ll be able to use it in the future. As history has shown, it has always been very challenging for any 2D animation studio to stay afloat, with countless films canceled in the middle of completion due to not meeting deadlines, or simply not being able justify the costs. With that thinking, I’m always trying to take the current project to its fullest, this may be the last, no cutting corners, trying to go out with a bang.
I am never going to play it safe with any Gorgon Pictures film planned for the future, so I believe a big part of the successes of the studio will rely on its community and the support from its fan base.
Nick DiLiberto has worked on animating video games like Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Asura’s Wrath. NOVA SEED is his first feature. You can find the trailer and more stills from production on the movie’s website, GorgonPictures.com.