Nicole Russin-McFarland : Animating Her Way to the Top


American filmmaker/score composer, Nicole Russin-McFarland is set to announce herself on the scene with the release of two short animation films before the year ends.
Titled O GIRL OF A DREAM and THE EYES OF OLD TEXAS, the two are a culmination of, not only a lifelong dream but years of hard work.

Urban Craft sought to find out in a recent chat with the belle, just where her journey began and she was more than happy to oblige.....
"I started attending film and music events and/or red carpets when I was a teenager in Illinois and NYC. When I was 11, I so badly wanted to make movies and do the music to them. All I wanted was to be a movie director. I watched movies all the time. Still do. When I turn on the TV, I never watch shows or news, I just flip straight to HBO and those movie channels", said Nicole.

Before she became involved in film animation, Nicole had dabbled into modelling and had also found relative success in freelance journalism.
"Journalism was something I did as an excuse if I weren’t invited somewhere, “I’m covering this for a publication.” Enjoying journalism was unexpected! I today still do freelance journalism", she said.

The transition from modelling and journalism was however to prove harder than Nicole had imagined......but out of those frustrations, her animation career was born.
"Whenever I tried to transition into film scores and filmmaking, there were always issues. My only choice was to begin making my own films because clearly, nobody was going to hire me as a film apprentice, assistant of some sort, or help train me in any respect. I always wanted to make sci-fi, action and animation, and of those three, the easiest one for me to do on my own was animation", said Russin-McFarland.

"I had to learn how to animate on my own when I’ve never studied art apart from the childhood art classes I took after school and summertime during elementary school years. Using the computer to animate. Developing my own style. I do a lot of green screening stuff for cartoons. Transferring hand-drawn materials onto the computer and building upon those. So much. It did not happen overnight. I thought, “Hey,” in 2015, “I can animate this. I can probably draw. I used to draw well as a child.” "And no, it’s so much more than picking up a skill you have not touched in years. It took me about two and a half to three years of me pounding away making mistakes, researching how to’s, and all I can say is no way will you learn from any book, video how to, anything unless you do things yourself a million times messing up until you find your way and retrain your brain to be crazy about animation", she added.

Her love for animation is something that Nicole can trace back to her formative years where she was exposed to a lot of Hayao Miyazaki VHS movies that showcased Japanese culture, the language, kawaii artwork and fairy tales. Her musical background helps as well when it comes to her animation work.
"I have the music part covered as well because I always studied music throughout my youth. My parents would be very angry with me had I not learned a thing when they spent time driving me to lessons and paying for stuff.
"I love putting the feelings of the characters I created into music. When you hear the song “Dream’s Finale” off O GIRL OF A DREAM, I strongly believe you can “feel” it’s a fairy tale. The movie has the male bird saving the female bird from her curse. I love birds. Animating them is irresistible. And then here’s the part you hear, my music only, I know in my heart I did the best I could conveying whatever is going on if you didn’t see the visuals with it only knowing the music. I hope so!", said McFarland.

After having laid the foundation for a career as an animator, the next step was of course, how to get the work out there.
The advent of Amazon Prime, a paid subscription service offered by Amazon came to the rescue of the filmmaker.
"Amazon Prime is one of the grandest blessings bestowed upon me. I hope to include video journalism, a talk show, a show where I eat food with actors, any kind of journalism related thing on Amazon Prime in the future. It’s going to open doors for me!
"People are going to be able to see my movies. I’m having an audience. Guaranteed! I want to make my work more exciting. Before, the pressure and excitement wasn’t there because I didn’t really know how people were going to see my movies", said the film animator.

In the coming months, McFarland will be releasing her animation projects using the same platform.
"I am, one by one, dropping animated shorts onto the Amazon Prime streaming service. My first short dropping on Amazon Prime is O GIRL OF A DREAM, which is a name taken from a real poem we read in the movie. The second short is THE EYES OF OLD TEXAS. Definitely those two are happening this year.
"I really want to say that LEXINGTON AVENUE and EMOJI MOTEL are appearing on Prime this year, but I can’t make any guarantees because I’m going back into them, re-animating, getting dubbing for German so they can be available in Germany, so forth. Once I have those four shorts out on streaming, I plan on moving ahead to features", she said.

As breathtakingly beautiful as the visuals to the final product always are, behind the scenes the whole situation is a lot different. A process that Nicole describes as being 'painstaking' at times!
"Others think that animation is something you churn out like applying sunscreen. Five minutes and go. In reality, a minute of animation is like many minutes of hard work thrown into that. For me to show the heart breaking in O GIRL OF A DREAM when she explains the curse, and it’s a reversal on Beauty and the Beast where the girl is cursed with beauty, I have to painstakingly draw in shatters on green screens, the heart on paper, the heart moved to the computer and painted in, the backgrounds moving because it can’t be a dull solid pink, the movement of the heart turning to ice before it shatters, and then move the green screen cuts one by one layered on top of the frozen heart so it leads to where it shatters. Then you have to add the part where it actually shatters into shards. Those two areas are probably no more than six seconds, maybe ten seconds, something like that, and it’s all this work that goes into it.
"Whereas a live action movie like what Lena Dunham made, this lovely indie movie, Tiny Furniture, might be a lot less time consuming but then she spent all her time taking apart the script as her movie depended on strong writing and relationships. I feel you have to decide where the emphasis is. Of course, my movies will always have writing but the majority of rom com and indie cinema is built on relationships or the building of them. And animation, action, sci fi, more the stuff I want to do, is built on the special effects and visuals", she explained.

Nicole also spoke glowingly of celebrated Spanish filmmaker, director, screenwriter, producer, and former actor, Pedro Almodóvar's style of writing.
"My life, this whole thing we call life, in it I feel almost like I could be a Pedro Almodóvar movie character who’s gaining depth and changing. He writes about people like me. I adore him. One day, I want to have lunch with him and have my Spanish all perfected to speak entirely with him en español sobre las peliculas que me han inspirado. Nobody I know is friends with him or has any connection to him. He has no public social media I can contact him on where I can slide into his DMs. My only resource at the moment is to establish myself more as a filmmaker and contact him by pigeon. A bilingual pigeon, specifically, because I can’t take a chance on the bird getting lost en español and delivering a note to someone called Pedro in nearby Portugal", she said lightheartedly.

To the former model, there's no greater honor than scooping an Academy Award for her efforts and one day doing what she loves for some of Hollywood's biggest animation studios.
"In the long term goal, I would really love to make animated films for DreamWorks Animation, direct cool sci-fi movies with strong action and brilliantly thought out plots so not the standard action movies, do a film score for a filmmaker who is not myself, change the world through my art.
"Since I was 11, I always wanted to win Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Director. Because I have had to work harder to prove myself, winning those two awards to me means I’ve finally won in the game of proving myself", said Nicole.
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