Animation is not just kids' stuff anymore, and Nexus Productions Ltd. is in the thick of the changing creative and business market for animated films of all kinds. The London-based company, founded 10 years ago to create creative, family animation for commercials, music videos and shorts, has recently doubled its size, secured new avenues of funding, and positioned itself to take advantage of a revolution in the field. In addition, two recent short films produced by Nexus, THIS WAY UP and DAMAGED GOODS, have qualified for the 2008 Academy Award for animated short.
"It's a very exciting time for independent animated films," said Chris O'Reilly, one of the founders of Nexus. "We're finding that there's a lot more interest now from financiers and studios in making films that use animation techniques to tell stories. Not just big Pixar-style animated films, but films like WALTZ WITH BASHIR and PERSEPOLIS, which have opened up a much broader arena for animated features."
Adds the company's co-founder, Charlotte Bavasso, "Before, you had the manga books at one end, and 2D animation for children at the other, and there really wasn't anything in between. Apart from Asia, and Japan in particular, where anime was very strong, there wasn't a platform for this. But there is now an interest in techniques and approaches that are coming from commercials and music videos, which is where Nexus started."
Bavasso and O'Reilly launched Nexus more than a decade ago, determined to create an animation studio that would target adult and family audiences rather than focusing on children. Its first commission was to create animated content for the world's largest video screens on U2's "Pop Mart" world tour; since then, the company has assembled an international stable of directors to work on films, television shows, commercials, music videos and title sequences, including the acclaimed titles of the Steven Spielberg film CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and the 2006 remake of THE PINK PANTHER. The company works in a wide variety of techniques, including 2D, 3D, Flash, live-action and puppets.
With a 100-plus seat studio in London, Nexus develops its projects without subcontracting. Recently, Bavasso and O'Reilly produced the short film THIS WAY UP, a humorous eight-minute work from longtime Nexus directors Smith & Foulkes. The short, which follows two dour undertakers as they battle a series of misadventures while trying to get a coffin to the graveyard, was developed after BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD creator Mike Judge approached Smith & Foulkes at an animation festival in Portland, Oregon, and asked them to make a short for his annual touring festival "The Animation Show." Nexus gained support from BBC Film and BBC Comedy, the first time that BBC Film had itself commissioned short animation.
THIS WAY UP has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world, including the Public Prize for Best Short Film at the Ottawa Animation Festival 2008 and the Audience Award for Animated Short at both the Palm Springs International Short Films Festival and the Mundos Digitales in Spain. It also took home the first prize for Best Animation at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, was honored as Best Children's Film at the 27th Uppsala International Short Film Festival, and received a special mention at the Festival Opere Nuove in Bolzano, Italy. Its festival awards have qualified the film for consideration for the 2008 Academy Award for animated short.
The directors of THIS WAY UP, Smith & Foulkes, are part of an international group of directors who have worked with Nexus over the past decade. But the company is also actively looking for other artists, both inside and outside the traditional animation arena. O'Reilly, for instance, was attracted to the work of Barnaby Barford, a London-based artist who often worked with ceramic figurines.
"We noticed that in his work, he had long titles that were suggestive of narratives, and the ceramic pieces themselves were like scenes from films," said O'Reilly, who approached Barford about the idea of making an animated short, and then secured funding from the Arts Council and Channel 4. Produced by Bavasso and O'Reilly, Barford's short, DAMAGED GOODS, debuted on Channel 4 in September and has also qualified for Oscar consideration.
Nexus is currently working on a full slate of commercials, music videos and short-form animated films. The company was involved with the British television series MONKEY DUST, and is developing an adult animated series called ROCKET SCIENCE. But Bavasso and O'Reilly are also working with directors like Smith & Foulkes to make a move into feature films, where they find that audiences, financiers and studios are becoming increasingly receptive to work that melds different techniques and bends traditional genres.
"We're looking for directors and artists who can write as much with their eye as they can with the word," O'Reilly said. "There's a lot of energy in filmmaking now coming from people who are working across a range of techniques. And the audience's aesthetic tastes has developed as well -- they're interested in stories told in different visual ways. The mixed-media filmmaking techniques that people know from music videos and short films are starting to trickle into features, and people want more of that."