Thursday, November 5, 2015

Interview: Meredith Nolan

Hey, Hello kith and welcome Ms. Nolan, Meredith Nolan! As always I am Mr. Forte your host for these interviews and there was totally no form of dark magic nor corrupt science used to persuade you to this location to talk about your career and details of your life. Most would know you from your two award winning animations, though you also have a webcomic that's currently being updated as we speak. We knew each other way back in our first year at SVA, back when crying wasn't in baseball, though there was plenty in animation.

A theme that seems to pop into both our work is the noir, mystery stories about protagonists taking on personal complications. Pulp heroes diving into the world with only a guiding thought and a direction to follow, in a way it reflects the path that all artists take. Though our conversations through the years have diverged and followed the absurd on many occasions as well as dour. Walking with the undead has to be a high point in my life, I'm glad you joined me within this yearly journey through the City. Before we initiate the interrogation, conference, dialogue, yeah, dialogue, I'd like to thank you for your support and agreeing to this interview. It means a lot to me that you gave your time and the readers your words to treasure and inspire, your support is invaluable, again thank you.

Q: What was it like moving from New York State to New York City for school then work?
A: As stressful as moving and apartment hunting in NYC is expected to be haha. I moved from Westchester NY to Brooklyn to be closer to my current (and future) job, and I was kind of done with commuting after doing that to school for four years. I moved into my apartment then started working two days later so I was at least busy, plus I am still close enough to Westchester that visiting isn’t much of a hassle. Since my commute to work is now 20-40 minutes instead of 2 hours, I have a lot more time to dedicated to personal projects and artistic growth - needless to say, I am in a happier art place.

I commuted from Westchester to NYC for school/work for four years out of financial need. SVA is/was expensive, I received some financial aid, but not enough to cover tuition and DEFINITELY not enough to live in the dorms. My 18-year-old self begrudgingly agreed to commute to save money, disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to live in the dorms and experience NYC but knowing deep down that this was the right move to prevent being in overwhelming amounts of debt. I could not solely rely on my family for money, so any loans I took on had to be my own, which meant on top of this lame commuting situation, I was going to have to work my ass off so I could have a successful career upon graduating. There was a lot working against me. I had multiple jobs throughout to cover my commuting expenses, I never was able to hang out with people or go to events because my commute was so long and any spare time after that had to go to school work.

My family drove me to and from the train station, staff helped me find jobs on campus, friends gave me places to sleep when I had to stay late and so I could stay and have fun too. I went from feeling completely isolated to the sense that people saw how dedicated I was despite everything else and were rooting for me. As an employed 23-year-old looking back on this, I can’t say that I would enjoy commuting again, but it was an extremely humbling experience and it set my priorities straight as far as starting my career and coming out of it with less than 30K in debts. Anyone who is starting school, in any subject but especially the arts, your situation may help or hurt you, but it doesn’t matter as much as your drive to succeed in your field.

Gom, Professor Steeping, and Tea Steeling welcome our guest.
As do I, Mister Forte, in my most formal wear.
Salutation, Meredith Nolan.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?
A: I have been drawing and taking an interest in art for as long as I can remember, I don’t think there was one specific event in my life that put me on the path to becoming an artist, I just was. Drawing was my main interest for a while, but it wasn’t until probably the age of 15 that I found out that I wanted to tell stories, and since I was not a confident writer and had no idea how to animate (at the time), drawing comics was the way to go.

Usually people have a really specific thing that inspired them to become what they became. I became an animator because drawing sequential still images was cool and all, but what if they moved. I became an animator on a whim (later backed up by the fact that the animation industry at the time was a little more stable than the cartooning industry). Now that I am a successful animator, I’ve reverted back to making comics in my spare time.

Regardless, I’d say my inspiration to keep doing what I do is because I do love telling stories, even if it’s in quick gestural sketches and I love getting reactions out of people. If I am unable to find pleasure in my own work, the next best thing is seeing that someone out there enjoys what I do.

Q: Where did you learn to animate? What was your first experience with animating for yourself? How does it differ now, animating for commissioners? Or studios?
A: I learned how to animate for real while I was at SVA. Prior to that, I used to make tiny flip books on post-it note pads and in my notebooks. There may have even been one or two simple animations I drew on paper and cleaned up in photoshop, I remember being satisfied with them in the sense of, accomplishing the necessary steps needed to create a “finished” thing. Animating assignments for school was fun for maybe the first year and a half while I was still too excited that my drawings were moving to care that they were assignments. Once the assignments started feeling like work, DEFINITELY when I made my first ever finished film was when I realized that playtime was over. However, as my skills progressed I was able to complete assignments faster which left me some time to make things for myself again. I will from time to time animate for myself, but the standards I hold myself to mean that even doing a simple animation is a time commitment that is hard to afford these days.

Animating for studios/commissioners can be very different between jobs. I had the opportunity to animate some scenes in Golan the Insatiable, but since the style of the show was very different from my style of animation, I struggled with that aspect of it. While working on The Last Witch Hunter campaign videos required a lot of negotiating, communicating with the client and staying SUPER organized so I could complete the project on time.

Q: How intimate is your work? Do you get personal with you art?
A: Aside from personal stuff, I can’t think of any works of art that are intimate that I haven’t shared with the world yet. I also don’t express my deepest feeling in that way, I express and interpret things literally. For a very long time I was shy and unwilling to share my personal projects out of fear of other people not getting it, not liking it, etc, but I feel I’ve long since overcome that or am at least willing to share. The fear of people not liking these precious things is legitimate, but learning that you don’t need other people’s approval is also legitimate.

To speak to my experiences with my webcomic, it has been eight years in the making (since conception), the last two years being all I have to show for it so far.  The Underground is probably the most intimate thing I am making (for now), it is a story I’ve wanted to tell for eight years, its character have gone through a lot of development over the time and the most I can hope for is that I am presenting the rules of this fictional world in a way that people understand and are interested in. And if not, that is cool too.

Q: How long does an average page of Underground take you?
A: From sketch to completion each page takes up to six hours. First thing I do for each page is a very rough sketch of what is going on and how I want the page to flow then I will refine that sketch as needed, correct perspective errors and flesh out background elements and character expressions. This stage usually takes the longest because it typically requires last minute research and reference and many revisions. From here it's straightforward, ink, color and prep it for the web.

Q: Not many webcomic, let alone hardcopy comics, have a one person doing all of the work (Coloring, writing, and drawing), how do you stay motivated and update on schedule?
A: I try to dedicate at least one day a week to work on pages (usually leaving it to the last minute and working on them on Sundays). It can get really hard to stay motivated sometimes, my schedule is constantly changing and I usually end up with less time than I originally had, but I would say at this point it has just become part of my weekly routine. It’s not so much about “being in the mood” as much as it is something I just have to do, like paying the bills but more enjoyable. Of course there are some weeks I skip updating because life happened or I just don’t feel good about the work I did, I am only human after all.

A lot of the heavy world building and story arc work happened in 2013, so I know ultimately how the story ends and a general idea of how to get there, but each chapter (page really) I script as I go, working off the six pages of bullet notes that are the story. From there I’ll script out dialogue and actions per page. Am I worried about getting stuck because I seemingly have no plan with this system? Not at all. I have the general direction I need to go in, but this allows me to take the more scenic routes and focus on one character or aspect of the world, which is a fun problem solving exercise for me. I think I would be less motivated had I written everything out word for word before hand, in a way each update is as much a mystery to me as it is to everyone else.

I think someday (when I can afford it) I’d like to possibly get someone on board to help with backgrounds and/or coloring, but not until my schedule is more consistent and I can manage to stay a few pages ahead. HOWEVER I have made offers for other people to write a story within the world, but not related to any of the current cast, if they are interested. I hope to start publishing the first side story within the next 2 years.

Time to flip the tape, good teamwork, couldn't do with without each of you.

Q: Are you thinking of publishing your webcomic into a book?
A: Perhaps someday! For now I don't have plans to publish with anyone HOWEVER I do plan to release a digital PDF of the  first chapter in the next six months and I am considering getting it printed for MoCCA and other possible conventions in the near future. I am also in the process of creating informational companion PDF’s that would be concept art/ideas about the characters and/or the world.

Q: While attending SVA what was your experience with academia, creativity, and community? Speaking of SVA, specifically how was your Thesis year?
A: In general, I tried to make the most of my experiences at SVA. Some were good, others were bad and I learned and took away what I could from them.

Thesis year was… challenging. I created a unique problem for myself by being extremely ambitious but not adequately prepared to deal with this ambition. I guess I could say, with the tools and skills I learned at SVA I did exactly what they prepared me to do, which was maybe 75% of what I needed to complete that project. Knowing what I know now in the way of organization and production, thesis would have been ten times less stressful.

Q: What was the most challenging point of your life?
A: Life throws many different challenges at you throughout, I can’t really say that one is more challenging than the other, they are just different and you have to deal with them individually. Keeping it art related though, there have been at least two occasions where I was (at least what I would consider compared to my normal temperament) depressed, they differed according to what was going on in my life at the time, but both affected my ability to create, which is the worst feeling for me. The first instance ended after a toxic person left my life, the second after I had my first real job after graduation.

Q: Can you talk about your process or the process of working with a team?
A: Like working for different studios, working with different teams will present their own set of challenges but overall, communication is key. Things run very fluidly if you know exactly what your job is and what is expected of you, there is no confusion and no second guessing. For something like animation, this is non negotiable because backtracking and redoing unnecessary mistakes due to lack of communication is a waste of precious time.

Q: If you have any inspiring words or a quotation that you'd like to tell future artists or animators or filmmakers?
A: I’ll share this quote that I found on the back of a tea bag and that I’ve had taped to my computer monitor for 3 years:

“Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything”
-Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)

If you'd like to see more from
Meredith Nolan
Check out these links

Ms. Nolan's Home Page
The Underground
The Boxer  - Award Winning Animated Short
Skeleton Key - Dusty's Awarded Animated Short
Demo Reel

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