An Interview with Former Disney Animator – DJ Nicke

Interview with DJ Nicke

Hello to all the awesome readers of Animationalerts and welcome to AnimationAlerts Interview Series. Learning Animation without proper guidance can be painful, but there are few animators who are self taught animators and are inspiration to many people around the world. That is why we have today former Disney Animator from Germany, DJ Nicke. DJ is a former animator from Disney who has worked on numerous big projects and has a great reputation in Animation Industry.

He is running a company in Germany Zeitlos Media where he is providing Animation and Branding services to clients from all over the world. He is also running Online Animation community Animation Salvation and helping students from all over the world realise their dreams.

DJ Nicke

Also read: Interesting facts about Walt Disney World

Please introduce yourself to our blog readers and share something about your journey from Animation and Graphics world?

My name is DJ Nicke, I was one of the youngest animator ever hired by Walt Disney Animation, and I am completely self taught.

What is your normal day routine and tell something about your brand

My routine is actually very chaotic at the moment. As an artist, I can only work on what gets me excited, and I’ve suffered from a chronic lack of excitement for many years – which basically means I’ve done as little work as possible. But the passion and excitement are coming back. With practice and training.

How was your working experience at Disney at such an early young age?

It was amazing and terrible all at the same time. It was amazing because I was surrounded by some of the most talented and professional artists in the world, and I was able to really learn and grow thanks to them and the atmosphere there.
At the same time, I was the only CG Animator in the studio. That caused a lot of friction which ultimately lead to me resigning. Remember, this was in 2001 to 2002, and Disney were still publicly avoiding CG Animation. Pixar did that, and so the studio was very skeptical of computer animation.
When I was there, the backgrounds department still physically painted all the backgrounds with acrylic paints. CG was viewed as a “fad” and I was working on a secret project that threatened many of the traditional artists. So, I got attacked and really hurt (as such a young man) by all of those politics.
So my experience at Disney really taught me a lot, both about art and about politics. In many ways, my current depression is a result of that experience and many more like it. But learning from your mistakes is the secret to success!

What are the challenges you faced while learning animation, working for different companies in your long career, moving to different countries and building reputation in this competitive industry?

When I learned computer animation, there were no courses for it – none. We are talking about 1995, and I was using 3D Studio (before Max). It didn’t even run in Windows, so I had to reboot my machine into DOS mode just to run it. For those who don’t know, DOS was computing with only a command-line interface; meaning you had to type every command.
Of course, 3D Studio had a Graphical User Interface, but there was no realtime shading, so all you could ever see in the viewport was wireframe.
Also, when I started, there was no IK. That means I had to rotate every joint from the pelvis outward. Just having your character shift its weight from one leg to another was a lot of work, animating and counter-animating to get the feet to lock in position.
But the biggest challenge was that I was completely on my own. There was no searchable help file, and I didn’t even have a copy of the manuals. I literally had to just experiment; see what a button or command did, and then learn the next one – until I figured it all out.
I was 15 at the time, and I had never even heard of a polygon, or Cartesian space, or Euler rotations… I had to guess, experiment, and then work to understand what I had just learned.
This was even before Google, before Wikipedia, before YouTube. I literally had to go to the public library to research things like Cartesian space, polygons, etc…
Of course, now I know this learning method is called the Trivium Learning Method, and it was taught to every Roman Citizen back in the day. Yet, you could be killed for teaching this method to a slave – because it is so powerful!

Who is your motivation and inspiration in animation industry?

It used to be Glen Keane. I actually got to become personally acquainted with him, but even he was against CG, which is why he quit when his film, Rapunzel, was turned into a CG Feature rather than a Traditional Film. Now I’m more into storytelling, so Miyazaki would be a huge influence, but also live action filmmakers such as David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock.

Could you please share something about your experience from meeting with Master Animator and Instructor Keith Lango?

Keith released some of the first online tutorials for animation. So we became internet friends way back in the days of online forums and messaging boards. We met in person only one time, in a hotel lobby when I was passing through his city. He drove out just to meet me, which meant a lot to me! His tutorials are still in my bookmarks to this day!

Often people struggle with animation to get right information and knowledge. So, how anyone can break into the competitive industry of Animation?

Just do it. Honestly, don’t wait for someone to show you how to do it, just do it. If it’s truly your passion, then you’ll figure it out. If not, then you’ll never have what it takes to make it to the top anyway. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be doing something that you’re passionate about anyway? So, if it is your passion, you’ll never get up – and you’ll find your own way to break in. The secret is passion!

What are the challenges you see in 2017 and in upcoming years in Animation Industry and how today’s animators/ cg artists should prepare themselves for it?

Software and technology seem to be changing so fast. At the same time, budgets seem to be getting smaller and smaller.
You really need to have a plan B, but not in the way you think. Make it first. If animation is your passion, then there should be no plan B and no alternative until you make it. I don’t mean starve, but I do mean that your aim is to break into the industry and nothing will stop you.
But once you make it into the industry, start saving, start planning. Don’t rely on any company or country to take care of you in your old age. Plan to take care of yourself – whatever that means to you.

Any dream project?

I’m actually working on it right now! My dream is to make Ultra-Capacitors into a viable alternative to Lithium-Ion batteries. I’ve discovered a material that is unbelievable in its performance and in its environmentally friendliness.
Now I’m working with an engineer and scientist to develop it into a working prototype. I’m filming the whole thing and making a documentary about it too. That’s my dream project, and it’s what I’m doing – so go after your dreams!

Any message for audience at Animation alerts?

Maintain focus on your dreams and goals. Passion is the only thing that will set you apart from your peers.
There is something that you are uniquely passionate about. Maybe it’s a combination of technical and artistic skills, maybe it’s cartoony action, maybe it’s ultra-realistic creature animation…
You can be good at all of these, but focus on what your passion is right now and do that. It might change next week or next year, but in the meantime, you can effortlessly become the best at whatever you’re currently passionate about. So focus on that!

I am a former Animator and Graphic Designer who has worked on many International and Domestic projects and Tv series and E-learning projects. I created Animation Alerts so that people who are struggling to learn animation can learn this craft and grow together.