It may surprise you to hear that despite sounding like the plot of an animal-themed mumblecore film, Natasza Cetner’s latest animated short, Nigel, is inspired by real-life events.
“The story was loosely based on the story of Nigel No Mates,” says Natasza, referencing the heartwarming tale of a gannet (Nigel) that fell in love with a concrete gannet model created by conservationists. He courted this concrete gannet for four years, eventually going on to shun real birds for his one true love. “Three other birds arrived on the island and Nigel still decided to stay with the statue and was eventually found dead next to it at the beginning of 2018,” says Natasza.
A heartwarming and bizarre story, Natasza and many others around the world empathised with Nigel’s plight. “For everyone, there was a moment in our lives when we idealised, to an extreme point, someone we had feelings for, or when our feelings were not reciprocated and yet it did not stop us from pursuing them,” she says. “That feeling of hopelessness in Nigel’s situation is what makes us feel connected with him and the reason why I made this film.”
Her story is not a direct reconstruction of this though, and she has created an alternate character, a jealous “humanoid walrus obsessed with arranging statues of birds. He’s been there for years, if not decades,” she explains. When a bird arrives and falls in love with a statue, things begin to unravel: “it develops further on as it is really hard for the Walrus to let go that the things are not going the way he planned,” says Natasza. “But to see what happens you gotta see the film!”
Natasza, who created the film for her MA animation graduation project at the Royal College of Art, was inspired visually by landscape wood prints from the Edo period: “What I love in such masterpieces by Katsushika Hokusai or Utagawa Hiroshige is the way people pictured in their works just seem like those tiny elements lost in the world of nature,” she says.
In a more general sense, she says she is also inspired by “surrealism and the absurd,” as well as some more process-driven stylistic aspects too. “My works show my fascination with the fragility of the line on paper, the richness of textures and an exploration of contrasts,” explains Natasza. “I enjoy working in an organic style, playing around with images and skewing the realistic representation of the world around us in order to emphasise certain elements of the narrative or emotions designed to be evoked.”
When producing the film, Natasza was not blessed with a long timeframe, something that subsequently meant that she had to re-think her approach and carry out tasks in an order she would not normally consider. “The speed of the project was insane,” she recalls. “I was working on everything at the same time, even though in film production you should officially first work on storyboards, then animatic and then animation etc. But as the production time was so limited I was working on animation even when the animatic was not finished.”
This intense period of work over seven to eight months now seems worth it now though, with Natasza achieving so much in this short space of time, and the film making it onto Short of the Week and Vimeo Staff Picks. “The film already surpassed my expectations when it comes to the reception of the audience and festivals,” she says. “It allowed me to visit the festivals I have always wanted to, like Animateka in Slovenia or PÖFF Shorts in Estonia, and I am soon going to Tricky Women in Vienna and Anifilm in the Czech Republic too.”
The success of the film has also meant that Natasza’s message has proliferated far and wide. “In the end, the message I attempted to convey with this film is to question our opinions about other people’s actions, and decisions about leading their lives in unorthodox ways,” she explains. “In today’s world, we are just overwhelmed by people’s harsh critiques and lack of tolerance or even an attempt to understand others.”
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.