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A Maverick in the Making

15 year old Nick Mastrangelo’s ‘Trash Encounters’ Flash short selected for competition at the Burbank International Film Festival.

Kids will be kids…unless of course, they’re making Flash animated shorts. It’s a rare 15 year old with the patience and perseverance to create seven animated short films, let alone one. But Nick Mastrangelo is one such “animated” teen, driven at the age of 10 to study animation and produce his own animated shorts. A Regular Show fan with a taste for anime as well as the films of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, Nick’s most recent film, Trash Encounters, was selected for competition in the upcoming Burbank International Film Festival. I recently spoke with Nick to get his take on getting bitten by the animation bug at such an early age, what he’s been working on and what his plans and goals are for the future.

Dan Sarto: What originally got you interested in animation? What inspires you as an animator?

Nick Mastrangelo: What originally got me interested in animation was definitely when I first saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. These movies inspired me to begin drawing their characters, so much, that my teachers at school began complaining to my mom that I spent too much time drawing instead of paying attention in class. I couldn’t stop.  I’d go with my family to fancy restaurants and ruin their nice menus because I’d draw Storm Troopers on them! So eventually it made sense for me to get into an animation class...I was 10 years old when I started taking classes twice a week. 

I originally was enrolled in the CAP animation program, which is a partnership between Cal Arts and Sony Pictures. It started with stop-motion and then got into 2D animation. Now, since I’m in High School, I’m in a different program called Inner City Arts, run by the same people.

I learned about storytelling skills, choosing music that helps tell a story and what people “see” when they hear a certain melody. I’ve learned some shortcuts in Flash to help me finish my backgrounds faster. I also have been learning about the use of storyboards to stay organized and so everyone knows what the final film is going to be.

What inspires me as an animator is showing people the finished product of what I've done.

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

NM: I mainly wanted to make a film about visitors from space, and when I later got into it, I started to develop the story about two characters from different planets who needed each other to survive. The dog was abandoned and attacked by wild hounds, and the space alien had crashed landed into a junkyard and saved the dog. But the space alien can’t survive on Earth much longer, and so the dog helps him “rebuild” his suit.

I’m really fascinated with science fiction and the chance to design the alien’s outfit for Trash Encounter was a highlight for me. I also wanted to create scary animals and so the wild vicious dogs reflect that.

DS: How long did it take to make this film? What was the most memorable or interesting aspect of the production.

NM: I’d say it took around 5 or 6 months, and the reason it took a while was because I was still in the process of learning more animation techniques. Also, I was balancing school finals, so that way I’d be able to keep up with my grades and still pursue creating my films. 

I'd say what was memorable for me was casting my Grandfather to do the voiceover of the person who kicks the dog out of the car in the beginning of the film.  He lives in Philadelphia and so I gave him a script of things to say and he sent the recordings back.  He has a really cool "East Coast Italian accent" and was perfect. I can't wait to use him in something else again.  And he'll definitely have more lines next time.

Another thing that was interesting to me about this project was the chance to use the music track "Chimera." The piano parts are slow and mysterious and then suddenly everything turns wild, gritty, and industrial. It has a "Nine Inch Nails" mood vibe to it and I knew immediately when I heard the track that it was going to sound incredible in a theatre.

DS: What tools did you use to make the film?

NM: I used Macromedia FLASH Professional 8, which is an old animation tool but never fails to deliver. I sketched my characters digitally with a Bamboo Wacom tablet. I’m learning how to use Photoshop as well. I edited with iMovie. Later this year I hope to start learning Final Cut Pro.

DS: Did you start with any script or storyboard?

NM: On this film I first sketched out my background so I could visualize the shots I’d be using, then did very simple storyboards because I didn’t want to waste too much time detailing them. Then I started to animate my movie.

DS: What were the biggest challenges you faced making this film?

NM: To be honest it was just balancing school and production. There were times I had to put the movie making process on hold for a little bit. Then I’d later pick up where I left off and get back to work.

DS: What are your favorite animated films or shows?

NM: Style wise, right now I’m really into Attack on Titan, Bleach, and Naruto.  But for entertainment it would have to be The Regular Show on Cartoon Network.

DS: What are your future plans and goals?

NM: Right now, my goal is to entertain people with visually exciting and daring films. If someone is taking time out of their schedule to visit my film screening, I owe them a great show! If people remember my film while they’re driving home, then I’ve done my job.

As far as my future plans, I want to work non-stop making more short films because they keep me booked in film festivals throughout the year, and I enjoy that because I love interacting with the audience during the Q&A panels. For example, I'm on my 3rd year screening my films at San Diego Comic Con and it's because I always have new material. So it's great to show off the new film, and even show them the old stuff because the promoter knows how well the audiences responded to the old material, and that becomes part of the conversation. I also want to be aware of other filmmakers work because that keeps me sharp and motivated to always improve on my new work. I’m 15 right now, and so I want to build a really unique reel so that I can become a legitimate professional animator and work on science fiction projects.


Vist Nick's Maverick Animation website at


Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.