Nexus Studios collaborates with 22 drama pupils in a one of a kind, digitally animated school play

Written and directed by Oscar-winning Nexus director Patrick Osborne, the animated film uses facial recognition technology to bring a middle school play to life.

7 May 2021


The pandemic has affected school kids in a myriad of ways, particularly for drama students unable to perform. As schools struggle to get back into the full educational rhythm of life pre-pandemic, many extracurricular activities, including anything deemed “nonessential”, have been sidelined. To the dismay of some students, this includes school plays. The students at Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts Middle School were particularly disappointed with the news that there would be no school play due to the pandemic. But luckily for this acting-enthusiast bunch, Nexus Studios decided to collaborate with Cox Communications and 180LA to reimagine a school play through innovative animation technology, featuring the pupils of Thurman White Academy.

Written and directed by the Oscar-winning Patrick Osborne, the new animated film titled Drawn Closer, released a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the new production earlier this week. Patrick – who is known for his work on Pearl, Nimona and Feast – directed 22 school kids virtually over Zoom for the film, which will hit screens this May. Debuting on Sunday 9 May, coinciding with America Mother’s Day, you can check out local listings to watch the film here.

A first of its kind production, animated characters based on the pupils were drawn from life. Digital characters were then programmed to automatically mirror real time movement and expression so the kids could act at home, able to view digital simulations of themselves on screen. Facial tracking technology was used to record each of the students performances, making their film debuts as true to life as possible.


Nexus Studios in collaboration with Cox Communications and 180LA: Drawn Closer (Copyright © Nexus Studios, 2021)

Candy Wilder, a drama teacher at Thurman White Academy, says in a statement of the unique project: “We are grateful to Cox for recognising you can’t dim the lights on creativity and passion. Cox has provided our students with a once in a lifetime opportunity.” According to a survey conducted by the Educational Theatre Association, 85 per cent of schools cancelled performances in 2020 due to the pandemic, meaning many drama kids, like the cast of Drawn Closer, lost out on a crucial chance to develop and showcase their creative expression.

Thurman White Academy are just one of the countless other schools trying to find ways for students to keep creatively challenged from the safety of their own homes. Rather fortuitously, Cox Communications “heard their story,” says Mark Greatrex, the company’s vice president, chief marketing and sales officer. “We wanted to do our part to help. Hopefully this will ignite the imaginations of students across the country.”

It’s been a hands-on process for all the students involved, stepping into virtual booths to record their lines while Patrick directed over Zoom. The film’s release will also culminate in a Hollywood-inspired virtual premier party where students can walk virtual red carpets and celebrate their work with fellow classmates and family members. Patrick Osborne goes on to say of the momentous project: “Working with these kids was easily the best part of the project. They were endless wells of enthusiasm and natural performers. Each student brought a unique sensibility to the characters that elevate the story to a hugely entertaining and emotional plain.”

GalleryNexus Studios in collaboration with Cox Communications and 180LA: Drawn Closer (Copyright © Nexus Studios, 2021)

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Nexus Studios in collaboration with Cox Communications and 180LA: Drawn Closer (Copyright © Nexus Studios, 2021)

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann 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. She went freelance in 2022.

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