Introducing the animated astute observations of Nata Metlukh and her latest film of awkward encounters
Finding a balance between indie and commercial, Nata's animations range from the joyful, relatable and poignant.
- 16 June 2020
- Jyni Ong
- Reading Time
- 3 minutes
It’s often the case that animators first came to the medium through illustration, and for the San Francisco-based Nata Metlukh, this is no exception. Having studied illustration in her birth country Ukraine, Nata initially taught herself the basics of animation in order to make short films. However, she tells us, “My knowledge wasn’t enough” and she later enrolled at Vancouver Film School then Estonian Academy of Arts to study animation and filmmaking authorship further.
For Nata, “illustration is a very powerful medium” which can be made even stronger with the added dimension of time. Like many before her, she naturally evolved from working with illustration to animation, fascinated with the differing variables that can arise out of animation and its breadth. “Besides the character design and backgrounds,” adds Nata, “timing and movement itself can have their own personality and help to set the mood.”
In turn, the animator’s joyful portfolio of works are brimming with unique personality and are instantly engaging through atmosphere and character. She aims to make one film per year (she’s just started working on a new film and is in the research process), the most enjoyable aspect of the production for Nata. In between working on the film and to keep energy up, she also regularly makes gifs which act as a testing ground for style, techniques, workflows and ideas.
With a common theme running throughout the majority of Nata’s uplifting animations, she focuses on the absurdity of everyday urban life, often drawing out comedic elements accentuated by timing, sound and expression. Light hearted chuckles are never far when viewing the talented animator’s snappy narratives. From a playful take on the story of evolution where various creatures rapidly shape shift in a whip of colour, a hypnotically rocking animated short of the home workout and a happy goose rotating in the water, Nata’s smooth shorts are nothing short of delightful to watch.
“I like experimenting with technique and all my films have different aesthetics,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I’m still struggling to find a balance between the indie and commercial look.” But with every new animation, no matter how short or experimental, Nata continues to hone her distinctive style. A significant marker for this came with Nata’s first independent film, Paper of Plastic. Her first film since graduating from the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2018, the film collided with Nata’s ten year anniversary of having moved out of Ukraine.
“I decided to honour the anniversary by making a film about immigration,” she tells us. “Paper or Plastic became a reflection of my experience. It’s a film about an immigrant with an ambitious dream who has to deal with bureaucracy, prejudice and alienation.” Desperately trying to adapt to a new reality, the protagonist experiences xenophobia which forces him to go back. A poignant film, Nata dedicated it to “all the immigrants who are stuck in-between the worlds: not quite fitting in with a new country and becoming strangers in their homeland.”
Alternatively, in Nata’s latest film Awkward, she steps outside the formal traditions of narration and compiles the film out of unrelated and of course awkward encounters from everyday life. Soon to be released, us viewers can feel a hint of the much-anticipated film through the trailer, as it reveals some annoyingly relatable circumstances that no one likes to be subject to. Bumping awkwardly into a stranger as you turn a sharp corner for instance, weaving in and out of empty lines at the airport, knocking over a pile of fruit at the supermarket. All tedious. All awkward. To collect all the awkward moments shown in the film, Nata’s sharp observations came into hand. Looking around her acutely, she made a note of anything that could be good material for the film. “Thus,” she finally goes on to say, “the scene of a man with a live lobster on the subway happened right in front of me.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.