How Nick Cinelli's Bird With No Legs got him up and running
Studio Linguini director Nick Cinelli picked up a coveted Young Director Award last year for his animated short, A Bird With No Legs. He discusses the beauty of animation, the pros and cons of working within the school system, and how the YDA gave him a 'gust of confidence'.
Can you tell us a little about your background and your route into animation/directing?
I am from California and went all the way through undergraduate education there. After getting a degree in photography, I began working in the film world in LA, as a photo assistant, a grip assistant, an editor’s assistant, really anything I could get. Eventually I made my way into the art department learning how to build and dress sets.
I’d always been peripherally interested in animation, and since I was at a bit of a crossroads, decided to say heck it, and give it a try.
After four years of bouncing around different departments I’d built up a wide breadth of skills, though none of which really enticed me enough to pursue them further. I’d always been peripherally interested in animation, and since I was at a bit of a crossroads, decided to give it a try. I made some (very crude) puppets and sets, and shot a short film in my bedroom. Everything seemed to click, and so I decided to take the dive and go to grad school. I somehow got in to the National Film and Television School for the 2017 term, and it’s really been off to the races since then. That being said, I really still feel like a novice in this industry.
Above: Cinelli's award-winning A Bird With No Legs.
Where did the idea and inspiration for A Bird With No Legs come from?
I think the themes of connection and communication came about from the fact I was living so far from home when I made it. I spent two years in a small commuter town (Beaconsfield, where the NFTS is), making new friends, having a different routine, dealing with weather that is vastly different from California, going to different shops, seeing different landscapes...
Without going too far down the rabbit hole, I think I drew a parallel between that walled off feeling I had, and the idea of male communication.
It felt like there was a wall between my previous life and the new one I was living. No one from England knew anything about my California self, and vice versa. That being said, there were still plenty of expectations and presumptions on both sides… Without going too far down the rabbit hole, I think I drew a parallel between that walled off feeling I had, and the idea of male communication. In the case of the film, specifically between a father and son.
The music and sound design is obviously a very important aspect to the film; are you musical yourself and can you tell us a bit about the music and sound in A Bird With No Legs?
I, sadly, am not musical, but I’m captivated by it. Specifically, by the fact that music drives the emotion, rather than the images. We were playing around with that idea; how to bring two people who don’t, or can’t, communicate, emotionally closer. Communicating through music was the obvious answer, but the composer Tom [Ross Fitzsimmons], and I wanted to push it a bit further.
When it came to sound, we wanted it to feel like we were living inside the music.
We settled on jazz, since that is truly an unspoken conversation between musicians. Luckily enough Ben [Goodall], our sound designer, played the jazz saxophone and so could speak the same language. When it came to sound, we wanted it to feel like we were living inside the music, so we did just that. We deconstructed the music, and blended it into the sound spaces so you could move in and out of harmony, like jazz, like the communication between the father and son.
Above: Frames from Cinelli's short, A Bird With No Legs.
How long did it take for you to complete the film and what were the biggest challenges you faced in pulling this project together?
This film was made over the course of about 14 months. I think the fact that is was made at film school was both the biggest asset and the biggest challenge; everything had a kind of double edge to it. Some of the students on my team were incredible and I have worked with them since then, but others were a bit unreliable.
The fact that is was made at film school was both the biggest asset and the biggest challenge.
The school itself was a kind of exec producer, providing facilities, equipment, materials, etc, but that meant sometimes jumping through some oddly tedious hoops. I wasn’t allowed to use power tools, so we ended up about two months behind on our build. There was also no air conditioning in the studio during that very hot summer of 2018, so I spent a couple weeks animating in my underwear… Generally speaking though, the production went off pretty smoothly.
What about the medium of animation appeals to you most?
The tactility. The fact you can watch the story, but are simultaneously confronted with the ‘maker’ behind each frame, is truly incredible. I think that tactility of the animators allows animation to land, emotionally, quite differently than live-action. As well, I think it allows animation to be truly timeless. Old Fleischer Studiosfilms are incredible to watch, even now, because their quality is still so high and they feel contemporary. I think that’s because technique hasn’t changed over 100 years, it’s really a specifically honed skill. When people try to change or cheat, the animation loses that magical tactility.
I hope is that lasting legacy of this social distancing, though. That producers, brands, and content providers are willing to embrace a slower more methodical process like animation
There's lots of talk about animation coming to the fore in the advertising industry because of the social distancing rules on live-action filmmaking; do you think this could be a chance for animation to flex its creative muscles even more?
I hope so. It felt like there was an upswing in animation even before this Covid situation, and hopefully this really solidifies it going forward. It know there is a lot of animation being made, especially in music and advertising. Since it takes longer to make, I think we’ll have to wait a bit to see really how much starts coming out. That’s what I hope is that lasting legacy of this social distancing, though. That producers, brands, and content providers are willing to embrace a slower more methodical process like animation on a wider scale, rather than doing a one-off animation video.
Above: More frames from A Bird With No Legs.
What did it mean to win a Young Director Award last year?
It was fantastic! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make the ceremony in Cannes, but it has provided some fruitful connections and networking opportunities. It’s always great to be commended for your work, but it was especially meaningful for me, who still feels like a novice in the animation world. It was really the first time I was commended as a director of animation in my own right, and has given me a huge gust of confidence I have sailed on since then.
It was really the first time I was commended as a director of animation in my own right, and has given me a huge gust of confidence I have sailed on since then.
Above: Cinelli's film picked up a Silver Screen at the 2019 YDA in Cannes.
Do you plan to work in the advertising industry and if so, what most excites you about that prospect?
I love brands, and branding. I think it provokes a lot of creativity and ingenuity to work within the parameters created by a brand. Obviously, I have the brands that I like more than others, and it’s an incredibly exciting prospect to work with them on a creative level, rather than a consumption level. Wink wink, Campari. In fact, I directed an advert while in grad school for cat food [below], which just came out.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Hopefully quite a lot. I am currently waiting on the release of two music video, both in the beginning of June. I’m also working on a project with Ghostemane, with whom I did this video earlier in the year, and I’m also in the longwinded CG post production process of a short film. Beyond that, a couple music-oriented projects. And looking into the future, hopefully some more commercial work, as well as some original IP!