Interview with director/animator Nick LeDonne (HANGING)

Nick LeDonne’s short film “HANGING” played to rave reviews at the March 2017 Animation Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nick LeDonne: I was motivated to make the film after almost attempting to hang myself back in 2014… I know this is starting off cheery. But later in 2015 I had transferred schools and felt somewhat secure in my life. So I wanted to try to re-tell my experiences in the hopes that it would resonate with someone else. To both show someone that they are not alone in what they are feeling and illustrate what suicidal thoughts feel like to those who have never experienced them. It also helped me validate those negative experiences that I felt were holding me back. I wanted to make something that would turn my negatives into a positive for someone else. So I could say I had to go through ‘this’ so that I could pick myself up to be able to help someone else up going through the same.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took me about six months. This was during my junior year film production class in college. We had one month to storyboard the film at the end of the fall semester. Than about 5 months of production in the spring semester.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Hang ON!

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Oh gosh. Well I was fine during the first month of storyboarding. It was sad to “re-live” all of these memories that brought me to almost killing myself but I was able to look forward through it. But at the very start of the animation production, just after christmas my dad passed away of a heart attack. It completely threw me off my “secure, I can do this feeling”. Once that happened things in my life just escalated. I was grieving over his passing trying to handle that. Than we found out our banking situation got messed up. We had to sell and move from my family’s childhood house. We were packing, cleaning, painting, replacing walls, showing people in and out, the whole deal. Than when I wasn’t doing that I was animating this 6,000 hand drawing film documenting my suicidal thoughts and how I wanted to kill myself back in 2014. Animating for myself is essentially trying to “get in character”. So you sit down at your desk thinking for 24 frames per second what would a suicidal person do? What did I feel when I was suicidal? What events pushed me to suicidal thoughts? After 5 months of that I can honestly say it will probably be one of the hardest moments of my life. When I started the film I had this stable life and family. By the end everything was different. My house was completely empty packed into boxes, my dad wasn’t there anymore, and all I had was this film about suicide. It just became this situation that everywhere I turned something was falling apart.

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Oh gosh again. Really emotional. I mean I put so much of myself into the film. And to see the initial man’s reaction. And the initial audience’s reaction. Just that they got it. And it hit them. To think I was some student in Philly making some pencil marks on a piece of paper and than a year later in Toronto people are being impacted by my work. It really is a surreal experience. To be able to physically see and hear the audience feedback was really was rewarding to me too being that the film was so personal.

AUDIENCE FEEDBACK VIDEO:

How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Well most of it was straight from my personal experience. I took the step by step moments of how I broke down, to finding the belt, building the noose, the torn thoughts, stepping into the noose about to attempt to the stop. Just step by step retold it. But the thing that pulled me away was the guilt of what my death would do to my mom. So infused throughout the story I thought of this mother character desperately trying to pull her son away. And when I was suicidal I felt this outer urge pushing me to make the noose. I remember saying out loud “this is wrong” the entire time I was building it in the closet. But my body just kept moving. So I created this fog “character” that would drag and pull the son into the noose. So the mother and fog became this battle for the voice of reason within the actual events of my personal story.

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Hmmmm. I’ve probably seen Monster’s University the most. I know. Really sappy for the depressed suicidal film director. But MU came out just as I was going to college myself. I was initially rejected from all my top choices and had to do the whole, take a year off and try again routine. I eventually got into my top choice college the next year on my second try. But to see Mike Wazowski stumble and fall in college really hit a cord with me. Especially after growing up watching the original Monsters Inc movie and than getting all these rejections from art colleges. Than all of a sudden I finally got accepted to my top school. I’m finally going to college and What?! Mike Wazowski is going to college too in a new movie! Ugh. It just hit me in the heart. Than my college experience kinda went south once I started. But it’s all good now. Wazowski went to college dropping into the mail room worker spot at the end until he got to Monsters Inc right? So I think I’m still on track with him.

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Oh gosh anything Bruno Mars. “Just the way you are” makes me melt. I know really sappy. I would also mention Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold” especially live too. That was my go to song when I was animating “Hanging”. So many feels in it.

What is next for you? A new film?

Well right now I’m finishing up my senior year in college. I’m animating my senior thesis film “Silent Night” which will start touring festivals this summer. Can’t say much about it because I want it to be a surprise. But it’s about Christmas. After that, I graduate and start moving into the animation industry. So shameless plug if anyone wants to get in touch with a spunky young animator who’s good at emotional scenes and makes poor hair choices, let me know. And I’ll certainly be excited to see my next short take another shot at the FEEDBACK Film Festival!

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Interview with director/animator Stephanie Davidson (SNOOT IN THE CITY)

Stephanie Davidson’s short film “SNOOT IN THE CITY” played to rave reviews at the March 2017 Animation Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Stephanie Davidson: As a film student who was about two years into understand CGI animation, my motivation at the beginning was to simply create a short piece of entertainment centred around my dog. I’ve always found dog body language to be clear and so easily readable, and so thought this was a good place to start. It began with my character, and as Snoot developed and changed so did my reason to make the film as I realised I was making something about ‘home.’

Visually, I was motivated by the architecture and rooftops of Paris at night, also looking at theconcept artwork of Walt Peregoy from 101 Dalmatians. In terms of design style I looked at thefantastic stop motion animation that is sprinkled throughout the film, ’The Little Prince,’ and also french films such as ‘A Cat in Paris’ by Jean Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

About a year. The idea began alongside the character and world design which I used the first half of the year for, also modelling and rigging Snoot during this time. The storyboarding and animatic took a month or two, then the pure production time began. It took me about 5 months to create environments, animate, light, render and edit.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

(Very very) Short, and sweet.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The intent of my character was hard to make obvious to fresh eyes. I kept on showing friends the versions I had but so many people came back and told me they didn’t understand what was going on, why this giant robot was coming for Snoot or how Snoot felt about this house crusher. I had to solve this through further brainstorming the story, and adding in a lot of reaction shots from my characters.

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was completely thrilled. The audience took so much from my story that I hadn’t considered, likening it to ‘David and Goliath’ and The Pink Panther. I was also so excited to see that they understood the message I wanted to communicate and the tone of the film, showing me that I had succeeded in the parts of the film I’d thought I hadn’t.

AUDIENCE FEEDBACK VIDEO. Moderated by Matthew Toffolo:

How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

After designing Snoot I took another character design my friend had done, The Robot, and was given the task to put them together in a conflicting situation. Throughout the development process I
got to know the two characters and tried to understand how each of them would react to various situations, which helped me create the story, eventually resulting in a film largely centred around
one objects, Snoot’s house.

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Ratatouille.

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners

What is next for you? A new film?

Right now I’m collaborating with another artist on a new film for my Honours in Design and Animation. We’re currently in the story development phase and are looking forward to releasing it at the end of the year.

WILDsound’s 25 Top Animation Movies of the millennium (2000 to present)

To watch Spirited Away feels like a special gift. It is a film of such startling imagination, originality, intelligence, and emotion that I feel inexplicable joy when the opening title card fades in.

Christopher Runyon, Movie Mezzanine

Animation movies are so much fun to watch as most of them attempt to tell a story that crosses generations. It’s the art of showing a kid and their parents the same film and each loving it for something different when the lights go up. Easier said than done.

In this era, animation films have gone to a whole new level. I’ve been fortunate enough to screen many animated short films at our WILDsound Festival through the years from many different countries and I’m amazed each time by the brilliance. Many of those filmmakers go on to work for major animation studios where there seems to be an ongoing assemble line of creative people working on any given film.

Here is the Top 25 Animation Movies from 2000s to present:
http://www.wildsound-filmmaking-feedback-events.com/2000s_animation_movies.html

And the debate begins. We have Spirited Away (2001) as our top film. It’s actually one of the best movies of this era no matter what genre we’re talking about. The French film Les Triplettes de Bellville (2003) comes in a close second.

Have no fear as there are many mainstream films on the list including Frozen, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, and Ratatouille to name a few.

Enjoy

Matthew Toffolo