Prologue Profiles Episode 011 : Christina Nicodema’s First-Ever Directed Short, Animator

“Do better each day and keep pushing yourself because fear is a waste of time, even if you can’t help yourself, it’s not going to help you get better.” – Christina Nicodema

Christina Nicodema’s an animator who’s worked for Nickelodeon, Fox and PBS. She wants to also make her own work and has decided to direct her first ever stop motion animation short.

In Christina’s episode we hear from an artist about to embark on a major project that she’s never done before and talk candidly about the importance of maintaining optimism in the face of fear.


Christina: Hi, this is Christina Nicodema. I’m an animation artist. And you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Christina: I decided to start back up on a film that I wrote in college for my thesis.

Dan: What’s this idea for the movie?

Christina: It’s a stop motion short that I’m basing off of my favorite show of Shel Silverstein poem actually which is called The Garden.

Dan: I haven’t read that poem. What’s it about?

Christina: It’s about a guy that plants this diamond, grows himself this elaborate, extraordinary garden of jewels and at the end of poem he takes a break from all of his jewels and stuff and just sits down exhausted and takes a nap and he dreams about one real peach.

Dan: Is there a name for your project right now?

Christina: Tentatively I’m calling it The Garden.

Dan: So how far along are you?

Christina: Well my one friend is producing it with me actually and that’s probably the one thing that makes it a little bit less scary is I have a partner doing it with me now.

Dan: Who’s your partner?

Christina: One of my friends, I actually know him from college and we worked at Curious Pictures together for a little bit and he directs and writes and stuff like that. And he liked the storyline and he was like, ‘Why don’t you let me produce it?’ And I was like ‘Really? Okay!’ And So I re-wrote my script a couple times and I wrote my first round of storyboards…

Dan: So you’re writing the script, you’re mocking up the storyboards…You’re gonna film it?…

Christina: Well, hopefully down the road I can get somebody to help me with this but, yes I’m going to build the characters, I’m going to build the set. We have some equipment, we’re gonna animate it and shoot it ourselves.

Dan: Have you ever directed before?

Christina: This is my first piece that I’m directing myself.

Dan: So what was your path in college that kind of brought you to this point right now?

Christina: I went to art school [Nightmare Before Christmas, everyone knows that one. That was huge for me growing up. And when I realized how much I loved sculpture I was like ‘Well, this is sort of where illustration and narrative and sculpture all sort of meet, like storytelling with a 3D physical world’.


Christina1


Dan: So what’s the budget for a project like this?

Christina: I am hoping to do the entire thing for around seven to 10 thousand dollars. It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of money. So you have to find a way to get that money. So we have things like Kickstarter…

Dan: Is your Kickstarter up?

Christina: No. I’m not even like there yet as far as like raising that amount of money I need.

Dan: How do you find the time to work on this project?

Christina: I am gonna have some months off this summer actually between seasons of my current job at Umizoomi so I think I will try to freelance as much as I can but the thing with with freelance is there’s stretches where there’s nothing. So I’m just going to work and work as much as I can on this.

Dan: And when do you think the project will be finished?

Christina: It’s a pretty massive undertaking. We’re sort of working out of schedule now we’re hoping early 2013. That’s our hope to get it done.

Dan: Now do you have like a place in mind where you want to show this?

Christina: The plan is once I finish it, I want to submit it to as many film festivals as possible. If I can just get into some film festivals like that’ll be amazing. I don’t have to even win anything but getting in is like great because people see your work. And then you get exposure and that’s how you hopefully get more jobs.

Dan: Why do you want to make your own work?

Christina: It’s I guess I have to. It’s like an innate need to express myself visually and it’s why you are an artist, you almost can explain it, it’s just something you have to do. It comes out of you.

And if you can find a way to get paid to do that then even better. But making art and telling stories, and hopefully touching people in the most positive way that you can…I want to do that. That’s really important for me. I want to make people feel good and inspired watching my work.

Dan: And tell me, how do you feel that what you are working on now is what you want to do and that you have this project to sink your teeth into?

Christina: I feel amazing that I’m actually doing it. For so long, like I almost didn’t even know how to start it I’m like ‘There’s just so much here I don’t even know how, it’s like, how do I even take this on?’

So to be at a point where I feel like ‘Yeah, okay, I can do this. I don’t know how I’m going to necessarily get it all done, but yeah, I’m doing it. I’m gonna go for it.’ That feels great. You feel a little bit more in control of your own future. You know, I’m going to love doing it, too. I know that.


Dan: What part of the project are you most looking forward to?

Christina: I am looking forward to model making and sculpting and building the set. I will be so happy when I’m sculpting my trees and all of it. I mean…

Dan: Why is that?

Christina: Because that’s what I love to do. I love making things with my hands.

Dan: So is there something about the set that’s going to be like so sick that you can already…

Christina: When I paint, I paint a lot of trees and like lots of gnarled tree roots, it’s just something visually I really like it. And I’m just really looking forward to making these crazy wild trees and throwing in all kinds of like textures and abstract elements and just making them beautiful like almost like installations.

I want you to look at the set and just, it just takes you somewhere else. It’s like a fantasy world. I want it to be visually fascinating.

Dan: Is stop motion animation as painstaking as it sounds?

Christina: Yes. It is. Totally.

Dan: No way around that…

Christina: No way around it. You have to really, really love it.

Dan: So how long does it take to work on like one character?

Christina: It can be a long time because first I’m building the form of my character’s face and anything that is going to be exposed and not covered by clothing, so hands, feet, face and head. So I’m building them, I build them in sculpey or clay and I model them ’til I’m satisfied with them. Then I bake them so they’re firm and then I can cast them. And the reason you would cast them is because clay and sculpey is quite heavy and you want your armatures to be as light as possible so they animate and don’t fall all over the place.

So I would cast them in a lighter material like resin and then you have to engineer the whole body so, shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, neck, anywhere that the character is going to be rotating or moving from it all has to be able to bend smoothly. So you have to figure out how you are going to make those joints work so they stay put but you can still move them correctly.

Then you have to…so it’s costume, that’s really fun.

Dan: But once you say action…

Christina: Once you say action…

Dan: They’re off and running. No, I mean like…

Christina: [Laughs] No not even close.

Dan: So break down like a 10-second scene.

Christina: 10 seconds would take you a long time. Some people say that on a good day you’ll get three seconds out of a character.

Dan: What does that mean?

Christina: So on a good day, of animating, you’re doing well if you get 3 seconds shot in that day.


Dan: Christina, what character strength that you have do you think is going to help you the most here?

Christina: Even if it’s crazy, and maybe unrealistic, I feel like you have to hold on to optimism to just not get scared. And just go for it.

Dan: Is there a moment you can think of like when that was like tested for you and you really had to like turn on your optimism?

Christina: It’s tested all the time. Every time a job ends and you think ‘What is coming next? I don’t know when the next job is. I don’t even know who to call right now for the next job.” It’s tested all the time. Especially when you’re not quite as established and you’re not getting as much regular work as people that are a lot more seasoned than you.

Dan: And how do you implement that optimism to get through it?

Christina: If I’m feeling just totally out of ideas and like “Well I don’t know what I’m going to do next”, I will watch something that touched me or meant a lot to me like I’ll watch The Nightmare Before Christmas I still love that movie. Like that doesn’t get old for me. And I’m like ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do. I don’t know how it’s going to happen necessarily, but I will find a way to make it happen’.

Dan: Where do you want to take this down the road? What would you love to be doing?

Christina: I’m really pushing the art direction on this project because that’s the kind of job I want after this. But what would I love, love, love to be doing? Like I don’t know working with somebody like Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox. That’s amazing to me. Just making feature films like that, it’s like a dream.

Dan: Talk to me now about fears. What fears do you have?

Christina: Not being able to get it done to the level that I envision it being at. Failing at it, that’s scary. But I can’t let that stop me either. I have to try it.

Dan: How much of that fear is like in your consciousness?

Christina: It’s there all the time. Like I sit there and I sit down to work on it and I’m excited half the time and then I’m like ‘Well how…I don’t even know how I’m going to do that or this or’ I have so many unanswered questions.
I’m sort of better about that now I just sort of let go of it and just take it day by day and do whatever it is you’ve got to do that day. And just do better each day. And keep pushing yourself and because fear is sort of a waste of time even if you can’t help yourself, it’s not going to help you get better or achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve at that moment.

But I mean, that, there’s a lot of that in my career anyway just not knowing where your next job is coming from, that’s fear. But you sort of have to get used to that and that’s where  the whole faith and optimism thing comes in that’s why you kind of need it when you are freelancer.

Dan: Do you think about failing?

Christina: No. Not really.

Dan: Why not?

Christina: Because I think there was a reason I went into this. When I look back at my decision to go to art school I wouldn’t change it, or anything even though sometimes this business can be a bit of roller coaster and there’s a lot of uncertainty. I wouldn’t change it because there is nothing else rather that I would be doing right now that I’d want to be doing more.

So I don’t really think about failure because I really believe that if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing like deep down like what you want to be doing and what is making you happy, you’re not gonna fail. You’re gonna have detours maybe and your path might change a little bit and it might not turn out exactly what you thought it was going to be but it’s going to be something that’s making you happy. Like you’ll find your way. TC mark

This post originally appeared at PROLOGUE PROFILES.

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