Jigsaw x National Film and Television School

Meet Nick Cinelli, NFTS Directing Animation MA student and the creator of our first Christmas advert. Celebrating togetherness at Christmas, Josie Johnson met Nick to find out more about Caspian and Isabel’s love story.

20th November 2017
Tim Burton lover and winner of our latest competition in collaboration with the National Film and Television School (NFTS), Nick was set the challenge to create a Christmas advert based on togetherness. The result? A heart-warming piece that sees love between stop motion puppets with impeccable taste in Jigsaw clothing…
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What attracted you to Jigsaw’s Christmas film brief?

First of all, I’d never done any commercial work before and I love the fashion realm so I figured it was the perfect match. Second, the brief on ‘togetherness’ just seemed so relevant and interesting for today’s climate. We went back and forth with the team at Jigsaw to bounce ideas and come up with something really great that was all about being together at Christmas. It was my first commission for animation where I was the director so I jumped at the opportunity.

Tell us a little about the story.

It’s a pretty classic growing-up-together love story, just in a Christmas setting. They’re neighbours and they have this tendency to miss their chances to connect. They grow to love each other over the years, and the gifts finally give them their shot at the end.

What brought you to the NFTS?

I’m from San Francisco but I lived in LA for eight years. I graduated from my undergraduate degree in art and media in 2012 and then went straight into the film industry in LA. I was a freelance Editor and Photo Assistant and then kind of got sick of sitting at a computer all day, so I got into animation and decided to take it seriously and go back to school. The NFTS is really the best at stop motion animation–Wallace and Gromit’s creator, Nick Park, was a graduate–so I applied and moved over to the UK earlier this year.

Was there a particular style you were going for with the Christmas advert?

Jigsaw’s look is so clean and well finished that I felt something like Wallace and Gromit plasticine wouldn’t meet the brief. We made the sets out of paper to keep everything looking sharp and then worked with the fabric puppets to create this really cool look that would match the clothing and colour choices. I really like the fabric on the faces of the puppets. It adds a lovely warmth to the whole piece that works really well with Jigsaw’s aesthetic.

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How do you go about making the puppets?

There’s a whole team behind their creation. We have wardrobe designer. We do character design. I made the heads and then mouths get drawn in later. It was kind of happenstance, but when I was in LA, I met this friend of a friend who was a milliner and she was wearing this amazing hat. I asked her about how she’d done it and she explained how to steam and bend and manipulate felted fabric. It was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I immediately thought that I needed to make puppets out of it.

How did Isabel and Caspian’s personalities develop as you worked with them?  

When I was animating them, their personalities pretty much followed the storyline we’d set out. Caspian is more of a quirky, geeky, awkward kid, which I think is personally really relatable! Initially, Isabel was more of a quiet type, but once we started to go into doing portraits and photographs, I started to see that she actually got much more flamboyant and confident as she grew up. She’s definitely come out of her shell.

Is there a story behind their names?

Our 2D animator has a son named Caspian and he’s the coolest kid on the planet. Then one of my course mates at NFTS is called Isabel and we just thought the two names had this really lovely old romantic feel about them when they were put together.

How did you work to carry pieces from Jigsaw’s collection over into the film?

For whatever reason, I think miniature clothes are really cool. For a project that I did previously, I made this miniature leather jacket and I just thought it was hilarious to have on a puppet. It was one of the things that really attracted me to the project, to be honest. When it came to designing the clothes for the characters, I was in contact with a pattern maker, Islea Pelle, who obviously knew how to make everything correctly, and we went through the Jigsaw catalogue and designed equivalent miniature clothing like the Fluffy Mohair Coat and the Pressed Flannel Trousers.

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What are the major challenges of stop motion animation?

It depends on what kind of scene you’re doing. If you’re working in a confined space, it can be really difficult. I have these mitt hands that are not very dainty and delicate–they’re more like a carpenter’s hands–so trying to get giant hands into a tiny set to move an even tinier puppet can be really frustrating. You’re just clunking around and knocking the set about.

Do you use any tools?

Tweezers. Scalpels to move the eyes around. All kinds of things.

What’s your favourite animated film?

I’m really looking forward to Wes Anderson’s new film, Isle of Dogs, but my favourite is probably Corpse Bride. Tim Burton is obviously amazing.

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