INTERVIEWS WITH ANIMATORS: Nick HilditchBlake Harris 04.26.2016
In this week’s installment, we speak with Budapest-based animator Nick Hilditch…
You might remember Nick Hilditch from our PICK OF THE WEEK series, when we featured his explainer video 5 Tips to Improve Your Critical Thinking. To learn more about his wayward path into animation, his approach to crafting explainer videos and why the evolution of Twitter (or his own personal pickiness) ended a popular illustration series, we spoke with to get the inside scoop.
Blake Harris: Thanks so much for speaking with us. You’re in Budapest, yes? How long have you lived there for?
Nick Hilditch: Cumulatively, about eight or nine years. I used to live here a long time ago, and then I moved back a few years ago. My wife’s Hungarian. It’s a great city.
Blake Harris: Where did you grow up?
Nick Hilditch: Various bits of England. Mostly the north of England.
Blake Harris: So tell, as a kid in England, were you interested in the arts? Or did that passion come later in your life?
Nick Hilditch: I can honestly say that as a very young child, I knew that I wanted to be an animator. BUT—and it’s a big but—I didn’t really pursue a career in animation when I left school.
Blake Harris: Why not?
Nick Hilditch: I always drew and I always loved drawing. But I grew up in a small, seaside-resort town and the animation industry just seemed like something totally impossible. So it wasn’t until my mid-twenties—actually when I was first living here in Budapest—that an opportunity arose.
Blake Harris: What was that initial opportunity?
Nick Hilditch: This was around ’99 and I was working for a gaming company called Uproar. It was a gaming company, kind of ahead of their time, a company called Uproar. They got a contract to do a game that would involve a lot of animation and one of the guys who worked there said, “Hey Nick, you can draw. Learn flash!” So I learned flash and, actually, still use it to this day.
Blake Harris: [laughter]
Nick Hilditch: That’s how I got into animation. And when I did that job, I realized: I can do this animation thing! So I kind of pursued it from there.
Blake Harris: Flashing forward a bit, you’ve now animated several explainer videos. The one that first caught my attention, 5 Tips to Improve Your Critical Thinking, was made in conjunction with Ted-Ed. What’s it like working with Ted-Ed?
Nick Hilditch: It’s great. I’ve done six explainer videos for them now.
Nick Hilditch: I love doing those films because there’s a lot of creative freedom. It’s my favorite way to work, really. When you’re just given a script and a voice-over and told to animate it. Obviously it’s got to back up the educational message of the film, so it’s got to make sense in that regard, but aesthetically they give you free reign.
Blake Harris: Given—to your point, that the sky really is the limit—what is your process when you receive a script. How do you go from script to fully animated explainer video?
Nick Hilditch: It’s hard to say, because the process can change. And many of the explainer videos that I’ve done cover very different areas. But generally I read the script and I straightaway start to try and visualize things. Get images in my mind of how I see the universe that this story could be told in. Then I look around at a few things in that sort of field, get an idea of the visual world that it’s set in. From there, I kind of try to distill down the color palette. I find that useful, to make those decisions before I start.
Blake Harris: That’s interesting. Where does that strategy stem from?
Nick Hilditch: Well, I’ve had a lot of experiences working with brands in the past and I guess you realize how useful that stuff can be. To have those decisions made right at the beginning. Isolating colors and making certain decisions ahead of time, it makes everything after that easier and more fun. You can kind of refine it as you go.
Blake Harris: I never thought of the branding aspect, but I can see that being helpful. Of the six videos you’ve done, were any particularly more challenging that others?
Nick Hilditch: Perhaps the trickiest one was How to Detect a Supernova. I had to keep asking myself: how am I going to render a supernova in a way that’s appealing to look at in this limited 2D style? But I think I found a way in the end, to create it in a simplified, stylized way.
Blake Harris: One final question for you. A few years ago, you created a series called irkafirka, in which you’d illustrate tweets. The series became very popular, receiving coverage from the BBC and national radio. How did irkafirka start and what was that experience like?
Nick Hilditch: We did that between 2010-2012, with me illustrating tweets on an almost daily basis. I started out as almost a joke, but it kind of took off. And the more I knew that people were looking at these illustrations, the more effort I put into it. It just sort of grew and grew and yet I never made any money off of it. And I guess that was sort of its death knell in the end. I was putting so much effort into it, but there was not really any good way to commercialize its popularity. From the beginning, the rule I had made for myself was that if I stopped enjoying it, then I’d stop. So that’s how it ended.
Blake Harris: Why do you think the enjoyment was gone?
Nick Hilditch: It was the looking for tweets that was the chore. Finding the content to illustrate was becoming increasingly difficult. I don’t know if that’s because Twitter changed or because I became pickier. Probably a little bit of both!
To learn more about Nick Hilditch and stay up to date with his work, visit his website at nickhilditch.com.
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