That Crazy Thing you Do! An Interview with Animator Nige Ward

EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, so I’ll be honest here. It’s the end of the year and I’m beginning to get lazy as hell. So, I decided to give Strange Kid his first shot at handling an interview all by himself. His (un)lucky guest? Indie animator and “drawist” Nige Ward hailing from parts unknown (aka Aukland, NZ). Ward is a bit daft himself, in a “Jimmy Stewart meets Zach Galifianakis” sort of way so between him and Strange Kid this should be interesting.

The following is based on real events. Absolutely none of the places, locations, and events have been changed to protect the innocent. Screw the innocent… let’s have some fun.

Thanks for taking time to join us… Nige, is it? Why are you here again?

I’m here because I adore the shit out of cartoons and am about to enthuse. Oh yeah, I MAKE cartoons as well, so there’s that…

That’s right! You’re the “cartoon man.” So how long have you been in animation?

Animation has thrilled me ever since He-Man first had the power on TV and I was scribbling comics from a young age too (the earliest one I have found is in ballpoint pen on the inside cover of an Asterix book, a fat joke at the expense of Obelix from memory). By 17 years old, I was an aspiring no-hoper, so Dad put me and my love of cartoons into Animation School in ’95 to get me out of bed and it actually worked (THANKS DAD)!

I dropped out of that school before a year was up (their fault this time; the course wasn’t that great back then and I was), immediately took on an apprenticeship at a three-man studio just starting out and ended up staying with them for almost seven years. Been out on my own for nine years now, phew!

Since you do just about everything solo, what are some of the challenges you’ve experienced?

Time is definitely more of an issue with less hands, but the dudes I’ve worked for have always been happy with the timeline I set out for them in the beginning. I find it’s more streamlined with less cooks in the kitchen; no communication fuck-ups, you’re always talking directly to Th’ Guy (that’s me), working one on one with your own personal cartoonist. Folks seem to dig that I work like that. I’m crazy-good at taking an idea I’m given and turning it into a bouncing, full-color hi-def cartoon masterpiece(ish) all by my lonesome. Besides, I concentrate better in a wall of music and co-workers tend to have bad taste in tunes.

Actually that reminds me, I am pretty shit at CREATING sound, which is perhaps why my Ultimate Goal is making music videos, ’cause the sound’s already taken care of (I realize that I’m making them ALREADY, but I’d like to make MORE, PLUS wads of cash at the same time; that’s called multi-tasking). I’m terrible at voices, don’t have the recording gear and have to befriend musicians so I can ‘borrow’ their tracks. S’pose my solo plan falls down a little there, but otherwise…

These magical, moving peep shows you claim to make… what tools/software do you use?

I’m a pencil guy through and through, the idea of drawing straight into the computer makes me grumpy. I actually use a digital tablet instead of a mouse for everything I do on my computer, EXCEPT drawing. (Go figure). Pencil on paper is where it’s at, ink that shit up with black marker, rub it back with a good ol’ eraser and THEN scan it in.

But even once it’s inside the machine, I still keep it fairly old-school. I prefer to color the frames in Photoshop (mmm, pixels) and run ’em together in After Effects, but for most of the stuff I do, Flash works much better so I often just live in there. And finally, I can’t do ANYTHING without my WESC headphones cranked, those’re essential tools.

Your scibblins are sorta like that of John Kricfalusi and Ralph Bakshi. Have either of these artists had an influence on you?

Dude, I learned to draw by chucking tracing paper over the TV while Ren & Stimpy was on pause. I recall John K. said something like “cartoons should be made by cartoonists” once… I think it was in reference to the Studio Machine that had been making the artists manufacture dopey product for years and that quote had an effect on me fairly early on. I was always a bit shy around Bakshi – I’m a little odd in that respect due to a churchy upbringing, though the ludicrous female outfits never stopped me falling for Fire & Ice as a kid.

I’m pretty sure I was gonna marry John K. at one stage. D’you ever see that Yogi Bear thing he did?!? Effing masterpiece, it’s still King. I ain’t huge on the more juvenile, crass elements (aka Stimpy), but I
was addicted to how the dark, twisted stuff (aka Ren) creeped the fuck outta me. I’d even blame him (John, not Ren) for my eventual love of things like Æon Flux, Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, Japanese shit like Mind Game, REDLINE or FLCL. As well as giving me my drawing style. That fella taught me to love the ragged, bizarre fringes of the animation universe. One day, when I’m finished drawing what I’m told, I’mma do that myself…

You recently released a teaser for an upcoming animated project featuring the band Invader Cain. Can you fill us in on any of the details or will they cut out your tongue?

Fuck those guys, I say what I like; they NEED me. Either that, or we’re mates and I have their permission. Definitely one of the two… it’s a little weird having a teaser for a music video, huh? Like we’re Lady Gaga or some shit! But Invader Cain earned themselves sponsorship and some commercial-time on music television, so why not, right?? That’s brilliant!

So, the teaser is for their upcoming single Back Of Your Mind and we’ve written this video where the band’s practice-room gets flooded with animated water. This “cartoonifies” them, like Kim Basinger in Bakshi’s Cool World (that’s call-back, bitches!) in reverse. The chorus goes “It’s like we’re living underwater” which gets taken literally and the cartoon-band go about their adventure under the sea. It’s pretty fun to work on because they’re letting me go for it and to be honest, I’m more accustomed to drawing within much tighter guidelines.

I have yet to break out with my own dark characters and twisted stories that really go for the prize, conventions be damned; so stay tuned for that!! But in the meantime, this is a fantastic stepping stone, as the boys are saying yes to most of my suggestions and have put zero restrictions on the animation style! There’ll be odd sea-creatures, a bit of a fight scene, plus I get to play with live-action/2D transitions! It’s due early next year and then I’ll be looking for my next project! That’s a hint, readers…

you currently live in Auck-land. That’s over somewhere near Narnia, right?

Nope. That’s a common misconception held by a lot of humans, or so Aslan says. We’re that big city on the top bit of New Zealand (there’s like 1.4 million of us, not including centaurs or fauns). I was born and raised here, though I’ve been living overseas for a number of years; England, Australia and most recently Japan, but I’m liking Auckland more this time ’round.

I kinda thought being ‘back home’ would be a drag, but there is always great films playing, brilliant bands touring and decent local beer. Not sure how long I’ll stay this time, I go wherever the work is – as long as they serve decent beer there (that was a shot at you, Japan). But for now, I’m rather happy in Auckland!

SAKE!!! …oh, sorry. So what’s the animation community like there in Auk-land?

I only just found out that we HAD one! I’m only a stone’s throw from those Mukpuddy boys and they organised this evening called Flipbook recently, where they gathered all the local animators together at the pub. We watched each other’s stuff on the big screen over a few pints – Ned Wenlock’s “Apache” and things like that – and what a turn-out!

I’m still in love with the good ol’ days when animator chums’d gather to discuss new episodes of The Critic, The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police or The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley‎. Liquid Television was always my favourite, it was like an MTV version of all those cool animated segments from Sesame Street – y’know, Sally Cruikshank, the Pinball Number Count and whatnot… I DREAMED of my class compiling our oddities together like that but it
never happened, we all went our separate ways instead. Flash forward to present-day Auckland… seeing a pub full of animation nerds sittin’ there with their creations and their beer brought a tear to my eye.

You pansy! …I mean, that’s really touching, Nige. In conclusion, what’s the strangest thing you ever did as a kid?

Okay, just remember – you asked. When I was a kid, we had a broken fridge lying around in the basement, busy doing nothing. The door didn’t seal properly and the shelves had been removed, so you could climb into the fridge, close the door behind you and let yourself out again safely. Which is what I would do, for ‘fun’.

Not strange enough for you? Well, I’m not finished yet. When I was ten, I coated every inch of the interior with pictures of Paula Abdul torn from Mum’s magazines and TV Guide. Then – when I was feeling a little dramatic – I would go hide in there, probably pretending that Paula ditches MC Skat Cat and lets ME hold her hand. Straight up now, tell me, that’s not healthy. But it got me to where I am; years later, my quest to out-cartoon that fuckin’ rapping cat continues…

Keep on keeping on Nige.

Written by Strange Kid

Strange Kid is the kind of monster-loving, trouble-making adolescent that refuses to grow up or give in to any of those other boring "responsibilities" that comes with being an adult. He likes to collect Garbage Pail Kids, always has a "monster in his pocket" and ritualistically devours an entire box of Frankenberry cereal for breakfast.

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