Long before I knew it was him, Nik Ranieri has been entertaining and inspiring me with his character animation. Nik is a talented artist whose bold personality has translated into Lumiere, Hades, Kuzco, Buck Cluck, Lewis Robinson, Charlotte La Bouff and my dad’s favorite animated character, Meeko—all characters he supervised. I first heard Nik on Clay Kaytis’ Animation Podcast and I have been an ardent fan of this passionate animator ever since. I asked him if he may be game for an informal interview over Facebook about various topics related to the state of animation today and he very kindly agreed. Nik is such a kind person, yet he will not sidestep the truth to appease popular sentiment. It was an absolute pleasure getting to interview one of my heroes.
Jessica – Do you have a favorite animated feature that has come out lately (like last 5-10 years)?
- Nik – Kung Fu Panda, The Incredibles, Wreck-it Ralph, Princess & The Frog.
J – What is your take on the evolution of animation—specifically the turn most companies have made entirely to CG?
- N – Is it evolution or just another style? Evolution supposes that the former dies out to make way for the new. Is hand-drawn animation dead? Was hand-drawn animation created because they didn’t have computers yet? Or is it an art form unto itself? Most people feel that, as with silent films to sound films, Hand-drawn animation has been replaced with the more sophisticated CGI work. Maybe a better way to look at it is a comparison of black & white films to color. No one makes silent movies anymore but black & white films are produced once in a while. B&W has a different feel to it and a different look. It can set a different mood to that of color film. It’s a technique that’s still valid today and it is my hope that hand-drawn animation will be thought of in the same way.
J – What major strides do you think CG has made toward believability? What pitfalls do you still see it falling into?
- N – The amount of detail is incredible. Movement can get so subtle that even slight eye darts are possible. Unfortunately, I feel that the exaggeration and caricature of traditional animation is abandoned in favor of realism. In some cases, the “magic” and fun are lost.
J – Personally, I think the characters (girls specifically) in ‘Tangled’ and ‘Frozen’ could have been so much more, well, animated if they’d been done in hand-drawn. This is largely based on Glen [Keane]’s gorgeous concept art and sketches, not to mention some elements in sequences like “Let It Go” that I found somewhat boring and lifeless. What’s your take on those films specifically and maybe Disney Animation generally?
- N – Both drawings and computers have a place in film. There are positives and negatives to both CGI and traditional. It all depends on your preference. I don’t think these films would have been better in hand-drawn. They just would have been different. I heard some people say certain hand-drawn films would have looked amazing in CG. They might have. Hey, “Casablanca” would have looked amazing in color….or maybe not. Maybe black & white suited the tone of the film better.
J – What’s your favorite animated film of all time?
- N – Impossible to answer. That’s like asking, ”Who of your children is your favorite?” The same goes for, “What’s your least favorite animated film of all time?”
J – What are your top three favorite animated sequences or moments?
- N – Difficult to narrow it down to 3 so here are a few…Honest John scenes with Pinocchio, ‘All the Cats Join In’, ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’, King Louie seq. from ‘The Jungle Book’, Friend like Me from ‘Aladdin’, Chuck Jones’ shorts: Chow Hound, One Froggy Evening, Much Ado about Nuttin’, Daffy Dilly, and the Rabbit Season shorts, Popeye in Goonland and the 3 Technicolor featurettes… and much more.
J – What’s your favorite sequence/character/moment that you animated?
- N – I don’t have one top favorite but here are a few…Hades’ intro from ‘Hercules’, Kuzco’s intro from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’, Buck Cluck’s talk with his son in the car from ‘Chicken Little’, intro to Charlotte from ‘The Princess and the Frog’, Roger waving a gun around in the warehouse in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ and Meeko’s intro in ‘Pocahontas’.
J – Are you working on anything you’d like to share?
- N – Not really. It’s a little too early to talk about what I’m working on. I am working with Roger Allers (‘The Lion King’) on a movie he’s directing. It’s called ‘The Prophet’ and that’s all I’ll say for now.
J – Do you have any advice for animation students/hopeful animators?
- N – Be true to the art form. Try to keep that sense of fun, of exaggeration and caricature. Realism is for live action (or CGI characters in live action – but if that’s what you want to do, then by all means, go realistic). Get your ideas from life, not past animation. Be inspired by past animation but make your own mark. Remember, first and foremost, the goal is to entertain. Art is a close second. If you can entertain with beautiful art, then you’ve succeeded.
J – When can we open up our own traditional animation company?
- N – Two words: Mega Millions