What is your name and your current occupation?
Nick Fredin. Currently working as an animator at Weta Digital.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
The craziest jobs I had were actually in between animation jobs when I was just trying to get my foot in the door in the animation industry. I worked for a movie theatre cleaning up popcorn kids puke, but mainly I switched off my radio so no one could find me and watched the films that I would one day help make. I fully recommend to newbies to get a job related to your craft whether it’s working at a video rental store or an art gallery. I would also suggest learning to cook or make coffees. Once you’ve broken into the industry you’ll have a full wealth of movie knowledge, know how to feed yourself and stay caffeinated.
What are some of your favourite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Rango won the Oscar for best animated feature this year so I’d have to say I’m most proud of that project. Not only was it amazing to work on but the team was incredible as well. It was also amazing to be a part of The Adventures of Tin Tin under the direction of Steven Spielberg. I felt like a little kid when I was a part of my first telephone conference with Steven Spielberg. Any time he approved a shot it was spine tingling. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was pretty special too although I didn’t get to work on it nearly as much as many others. 2010-2011 was a pretty great year for me in terms of working on some great projects.
How did you become interested in animation?
Jurassic Park! After seeing that film I needed to somehow be involved in the movie making process. I wasn’t sure exactly how though. After a suspicious lack of support from my parents to become a pyrotechnic I found out I could make movie magic happen with a computer instead and they happily encouraged me to make explosions digitally instead. I chose animation though because of the ability to tell a story.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from a small town near the Canadian Rockies called Invermere. They had a really great arts program along with a computer science class where I learned about animation. While everyone was learning C++ I discovered a flip-book type program I could make lewd and graphic animations to make all my friends laugh. The teacher wasn’t as excited about my animations and nearly failed me but that experience solidified the course of my future.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Everyday is different but it always starts with a coffee. A day at Weta can be really different than some other places I’ve worked. Each shot depends on so many different departments working together simultaneously that it’s more like a relay race. When you have the baton your run your ass off then you get to have a bit of a break from that shot. But it’s never too long before you’re running full throttle again. Other studios I have worked at are a bit more consistently paced and predictable. But that’s no fun right?
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The best part about my job is having never once woken up and said “Shit… I do not want to go to work today.” Having a whole theatre respond emotionally to one of your shots is pretty amazing as well. And the people, and the free food. Ok there’s not much I don’t enjoy about my job except….
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
… the crunch periods on a project. Luckily I work in a great company that treats you well when we are asked to do overtime. Most likely at some point in your career you will be asked to stay late with no pay or work for vacation time or just be reminded that there are 20 people lined up around the block to do your job because they are passionate about it. That’s a bullshit and it has to stop. Make sure you’re taking away something from that experience, whether it’s a great shot for your demo reel or just learning you’ll never put yourself in that position again. That being said it’s always nice to help out on a friends project or put your energy into something you believe in. Just don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. It happens too much.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Nothing out of the ordinary. Maya, dual monitors. That is all I need. One piece of cool technology I got to try out was the mocap suits for Tin Tin. Getting to play around on one of the best mocap stages in the world is quite thrilling. Watching yourself on-screen in character, real time is really fun. Sad to say nothing I did on the stage made it into the movie. It’s hard to compete with Andy Serkis.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Managing your money. I’m just starting to get the hang of this. The majority of my work has been on a contract with little to no benefits. Just an hourly wage. You quickly learn the tax system or to hire an accountant. As a contractor there is no retirement plan, no vacation pay and no job security. If you learn to plan for this you’ll be fine but it is a bit of a rough ride at the start. This is why when you start it is important to have a fall back skill or be willing to do shit jobs in between contracts. Never give up though, if you want it you will get it.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Everyday! I’m lucky to be working amongst some real animation giants at Weta. I was also lucky to work with Hal Hickel and a new generation of amazing animators at ILM. When I was just starting out I was also lucky to meet Don Hertzfelt which was a huge inspiration for me at that point in my career.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I moved to Australia a few years ago to get away from the Canadian winters and work for a studio in Melbourne. Long story short the owner of the company had no clue how to run an animation company and screwed a lot of decent people out jobs who had moved their families and lives to Melbourne for work. One day the company just told everyone to go home. My visa depended on me having a job so I had to move unexpectedly but luckily I stole a beautiful Australian sheila on my way out who is now my fiancée!
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Not so much a side project as it is the other half of my life. I am currently starting an online film and game training school called CGSpectrum with my business partner and good friend Jeff Pepper. We are concentrating on an exclusive education with incredibly small class sizes (1-5 students) so we can really focus on teaching quality and not quantity. We are also offering something for everyone from demo reel critiques, shot critiques, to one on one mentor-ship if you want personalized training. The response has been overwhelming and we’re struggling to keep up with the demand. We’ve been at it for a year now and it’s amazing how far it has come. Starting a school isn’t something you do part-time but we’re incredibly passionate about it and we believe that shows in our school. The main reason we started this was we never wanted anyone to have to go through what we did in our schooling. So many just waste incredible amounts of money on an education that gets them nowhere. We are changing that.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
When I was working on Space Chimps, one of the most incredible ground breaking feature film animations of all time….. I learned how to juggle. There were a couple scenes in the movie that involved juggling so pretty much everyone in the studio learned on the assumption that they’d animate a juggling scene.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Animate, animate, animate and never stop animating. Even when you get a job, go home after work and animate. Continue learning and creating and you will never be bored. These days the more you know the more you have an edge over someone else that wants it just as much as you. That being said no one likes a hot shot know it all so respect your supervisors and always do what they say even if you think it might not be the best way of doing something. It’s a small industry and a good recommendation can go as far as a great demo-reel. Be prepared for disappointment, and use those experiences to your advantage and learn from them. Also…. ANIMATE!