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Artist Spotlight: Nic Gregory

It’s a privilege to introduce Nic Gregory, director of the wonderfully charming animated short film ‘Suddenly’, which is now on the record as an official Atlantis Award winner. 

Let’s start with the first question that anyone has after reading your bio; I see you work for Marvel (with full respect to any agreements you have signed) – what are you allowed to tell us about what you do?

I was lucky enough to be involved with the new Spider-Man: Freshman Year animated show. I was a background/concept artist. As you guessed I can’t say much more but I will say that I was lucky to be involved as I have been a Spider-Man fan most of my life and read Marvel comic books since I was a young boy. I never thought I’d be able to add Marvel Studios to the list of places I’ve worked.

Can you also speak about your experience attending our live event on June 25th?

It was a great night and the mix of shorts and trailers was curated well. It was a fantastic first year for the event and attracted an appreciative crowd of film lovers. That’s exactly the scenario a film maker wants for a viewing of their movie.

Ok, let’s look back a little.  Tell us a about yourself, growing up and your passions. 

I was born and raised in Australia and grew up loving animation and art. Looney Tunes, Disney’s Fantasia and Nickelodeon cartoons were on heavy rotation. I also played basketball, read comic books and watched pro wrestling. All these loves became passions I would pursue when I was an adult. One of the more noteworthy sidetracks I had off the art and animation path was 8 years as a pro wrestler.  It was an amazing experience and another thing from my childhood that I loved and was lucky to do. After that I continued to focus on making art and eventually, in my mid 30’s, I decided to uproot the life my wife and I had created and move to America to chase down the animation dream. With no family, friends or a place to live in the United States, we moved here and after some tough times in the first few years, we made it work and now both have successful careers.

Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry? 

Animation for sure! It seemed magical to me. The same type of art and paintings I could see on a gallery wall came to life and I’ve loved it ever since. Plus I have always loved film. Going to the cinemas and drive in theatres was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. Not only can amazing stories be told but I also love the incredible visuals and imagination that film can bring to life.

What are you currently working on?

I am working with Titmouse again on Beavis and Butt-Head and am excited to see my work in their new movie. As for my personal work, I am already creating my second short film which will be an adult comedy. 

What were your main responsibilities on Suddenly? 

I was director, writer, producer, concept artist, character designer, storyboard artist, environment/background painter and more. I also edited the film together and animated the background art. On future shorts i’d like to try my hand at more areas of the film making process and keep adding more skills to my repertoire.

How big of a team was involved in the project? Also; can you tell us about your experience in working with your team in this film? 

It was a small team. At first a lack of budget made me think about doing it entirely by myself but then I heard the beautiful music of Makana. An incredible musician from Hawaii. His song Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest fit my films concept perfectly. Then I added Desmond Bouey to the team to complete the character animation. I had searched for an animator for many months, and just when I thought I may have to animate it myself I found Desmond and his body of work made me confident that I had found someone that could nail the simplicity and subtlety of the characters emotions. I’m proud to add their names to the credits of the film. They created great work.

What was the most important thing for this movie to achieve from a narrative and character standpoint?

I wanted to keep this film simple. I came up with a character and concept based on the phrase “life flashes before your eyes”. The simplicity of it meant you could take time to breathe and exist in 2D art. Something I love about animation. Most of the characters story is told through the eyes. Curiosity, happiness, fear, excitement, anger. All that life has to offer.

What makes a film interesting for you? What are three qualities that you look for in a movie? 

I am very much a fan of 2D art so I love movies that can draw you in visually as well as emotionally. Seeing characters learn and change is always a great ride to go on. Regardless of whether it’s a big life event or a small moment, when you feel the change as much as the character does, that is always a great feeling. Lastly, I am a sucker for a good comedy. It’s not easy to create an amazing journey for your character while also making a crowd laugh along the way. Comedy is hard and I think we need more of it.

What project helped you launch your career? 

For me it was little projects along the way. Showing creativity in many forms like painting artwork for galleries, making short stories from my art, working on illustrated books. It all added up and eventually companies would hire me to work as an artist on TV shows and films based on the skill I showed in such works. From there I could learn from those teams and get to use that knowledge to create my own stories.

What criteria do you use when building your team? 

I’m lucky that I’ve learned a lot from the teams I’ve worked with in the film and TV industry so I can use all my experience to do much of the work myself. As an experienced artist that has been extremely helpful for making my own stories. However I’ve learned to keep my focus on the things I am really passionate about and when I find someone skilled in one aspect of the film making process, snap them up and let them do what they do. I try to give them the freedom to add to and plus my ideas so their talent shines through.

What are you most proud of? Describe your biggest accomplishment to date. 

As an artist I am proud of many different aspects of my career for different reasons. I’m proud of simply sticking with it and completing my first short film. I’m proud of having my work be featured at amazing venues like the Hollywood Bowl, and Disneyland. I love that my goal of working on animated TV and films has been achieved many times and I want to keep adding to that list. I’m very goal driven and can’t wait to add more great moments.

As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character? 

I guess I always look for something simple to connect to. Something relatable about their story. As I am always drawing and painting for a living I love sketching a character too. It helps me form them better. Their look, body language and emotions can all come to life with a good sketch.

Suddenly is striking (lol) because it embraces a character that has a life cycle of a split second. Was it difficult to find a balance in the script with so little time to work with?

It was a challenge. I reworked the script many times. In the end I just let the character and the audience have moments to breathe and sit in the scene to help slow it down a little. However I didn’t mind having to go through the stages of life in that short of a time either, because that is how it feels sometimes when we look at our own lives. It really does feel like a blur when we look back on it.

Suddenly was wonderfully nostalgic; reminiscent of the 8 bit video game aesthetic.  Do you think it would be possible to keep an audience engaged in a longer form project in a similar style?

I think you could definitely do a style of animation like this in a longer form. It would be a treat to see the diverse styles of 2D animated shorts as features, but the beauty of short films is that they can truly be like art on a gallery wall. That does make it much easier to simplify things and be extremely purposeful with your movements and designs. 

What are your ambitions for your animation career? 

I have already achieved so many of my goals and am extremely proud but I have a lot more to offer. I not only want to continue helping studios make great films and TV but I see myself making my own films and stories. I’ve learned so many skills in the animation process and I am lucky that I can do much of the work myself so I can continue producing my own artwork. I have some incredible life experiences that I have put into pitch ideas for shows and who knows, maybe one day a studio might like to develop one.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re super excited about? 

Yes! My next short is a adult comedy that takes influence from some of the moments in my own life that forced me to make big changes. I don’t want to give too much away but the characters are real, gritty and hilarious. Plus I already have some amazing talent working with me on this and I’m excited to have it completed for release sometime in 2023.

What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry, especially as an animator?

If you are trying to get into animation, look at the job titles in the credits. There are so many different roles and in each studio those roles can be slightly different from the next. This means there’s many ways to get involved as either an animator, storyboard artist, writer, production coordinator, concept artist, background painter, color stylist and so much more! Take your time to figure out what you like to do and then get started making art and stories.

Can you discuss any future projects or direction you are taking in regard to animation? 

With each new project I hope to explore the art and design, creating may different styles and looks. I want to always remember that any type of story can be told with animation but sometimes it’s ok to focus on the visuals only. Beautiful things can come from experimentation and mistakes can surprise you.

Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more?  (social media links, related websites, etc)

My website will always show updated artwork and career achievements, www.nicgregory.com

As for social media, I am on Instagram (@nicgregoryart) and Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicgregory). I add career and art updates to those sites throughout the year but spend most of my time offline creating things, so be sure to follow if you want to catch a glimpse at what I’m doing.

We appreciate your participation – as well as meeting you at the live event.  We wish you the very best – and definitely hope to feature the premiere of your next project.  You will always be welcome here.  Best of luck with everything.

Thank you for allowing me to take part in your festival and I hope to see The Atlantis Awards get bigger each year. All the best!

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