Studio profile: Mighty Nice

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Published:  January 21, 2011
Brendan McKnight
Studio profile: Mighty Nice

Tall and Mighty

Many great things start out in London – think jigsaw puzzles, canned food, the Christmas cracker… and then of course there’s Mighty Nice. Yes, Mighty Nice, the Sydney-based animation studio that grew from an idea that started out in good old London town. You see, Darren Price (the creative director at Mighty Nice) was heading up 3D at independent production company and animation studio, Nexus Productions, working alongside all the different and various animation directors that Nexus represents. Here, Nexus made award-winning and internationally acclaimed work such as Honda’s ‘Grrrr…’ TVC and the titles for the movie Catch Me if You Can, which became a huge success. This then led to doors being opened and offers of work on many different projects, in various styles, rolling in. When it was time to move back to Australia, Price and the two owners of Nexus, Chris O’Reilly and Charlotte Bavasso, created Mighty Nice. Though still holding a firm attachment to the work created at Nexus, the Mighty Nice team wanted to create something a little different, and so it became both an animation studio and a ‘director’ represented by Nexus.

Lucozade

Lucozade

Price, who grew up in various Australian suburbs, attributes his love for all things design to his creative childhood. “I’d say I am like a lot of creative people in that my childhood was where it all really happened for me – drawing, painting, lots of games, imagination, good friends and wild experiences. My father was in the air force, which took us overseas a little, too. Living in the Bay Area in San Francisco as a teenager in the early 90s was a very exciting place to be – especially with all the computer graphics and animation that was happening there, and the exciting dotcom hype.”

With so much creativity from an early age, Price liked the idea of creating his own little worlds and having people like his drawings. Yet it was a chance meeting that really kicked things off, when Price was hanging around a street busker with an airbrush who was painting planets and other fantasy motifs. “He let me have a go – and I got a bit hooked on spraying paint around,” explains Price. “Looking into where people did this sort of thing commercially (with my mum’s help. Thanks Mum!), I did some work experience at a graphic designer’s studio when I was 14. My aunt, who worked at Singleton’s advertising at the time, had me in there for some experience too, and took me over to The Drawing Book illustration agency to see what they did there. This was just amazing stuff to me, and exactly what I wanted to be doing.”

Melbourne Writers Festival

Melbourne Writers Festival

The leap from working with still images to the world of motion graphics was one that Price fell into almost by accident. With an obvious love for storytelling, he was drawing lots of comics with sequential action sequences and no dialogue. Through the enthusiasm of his colleagues, short courses he did with great animation mentors and, probably more than anything else, the internet, he became truly inspired to make the move into motion graphics. “I love creating interesting looking animations using the amazing tools we have at hand these days,” he explains. “I like getting a gag across, or creating an atmospheric or emotional moment. I also take a lot of satisfaction in creating just the right style and tone for the brief at hand – throwing in a few extra razzle dazzle bits for good measure.”

Based in Sydney, the Mighty Nice team has settled into their studio inside a very old building, which is an inspiring place for all of their creativity. Think lovely wooden windows, concrete floors and, of course, a whole bunch of computers. And while the studio may not have an Aeron chair just yet (the accountant says, “Not today”), Mighty Nice aims to keep its team small, while working with the best. “Our trusty coffee machine has been alongside every short film we’ve made, and stood with us in the wee hours crying at the renders. Mostly we have desktop machines. A mix of PCs and Macs, and a render farm of PCs. It’s a smallish studio – with generally between five and 10 artists at any one time” says Price.

Dominos

Dominos

SBS

SBS

When working on a project, whether it be a Domino’s TVC, an SBS ident, or a beautifully animated music video, Mighty Nice always puts the emphasis on the design, and the animatic, from the start. Once the look is pinned down, the team then works on the structure and timing in order to set their minds and those of their clients at ease. “It gives us a way to explain our ideas upfront to the client – rather than surprise them later,” says Price.

After this pre-production stage the project will then take different directions depending on the technique. With advertising being Mighty Nice’s ‘bread and butter’ it has become the expert at sticking to schedule and ensuring that the animation process is very efficient and flexible, as these things can often be pushed and pulled around a fair bit before they hit the screen.

Leaseplan

LeasePlan

A recent project that Price and Mighty Nice had a lot of fun putting together was a series of three advertisements for fleet and vehicle management company, LeasePlan, on which they worked with Melbourne-based agency Hunter, which was very open to ideas and had great plans of its own. “It stands out for me as a solid live action piece, as opposed to our usual animation heavy work. The actor was great and the set was styled nicely,” says Price of the shoot. “We had lots of fun with in-camera effects, and also tried some new things in our compositing pipeline to make a CG (computer generated) man-eating plant believable as a tactile rubbery puppet. Fun stuff to make, and a good result in the end.”

Another standout project was the music video Mighty Nice created for Paul Dempsey’s single ‘Bats’, based on the original album art of illustration duo We Buy Your Kids (WBYK). “We love the illustration work of WBYK, and also Paul Dempsey’s music. It was all hugely inspiring to have WBYK’s directing animation with us, working from their original album art, as well as a lot of new imagery in that style.”

In this project, Mighty Nice’s main aim was to do the illustrations justice, and not break them in the animation process. The imagery for this album (and in turn the video) was inspired by 1960s and 70s Penguin sci-fi book covers, and these metaphysical themes were brought to the table by both WBYK and Paul Dempsey, who talked through their ideas together and found they were on the same wavelength. All the lovely texturing seen in the imagery reflected the age of the Penguin book covers that they reference. All a little worn, perhaps a little dog-eared and well read.
If all this talk has got you a wee bit excited, and you’re thinking Mighty Nice sounds like an ace place to get involved with work-wise, there’s good news – Price and the team are always on the lookout for, and wanting to connect with, talented and like-minded people.

Paul Dempsey, Bats

“We look at people’s show reels and images mostly,” says Price. “Experience shows in your work, as does talent. It’s great to have a nice introduction to yourself, expressing your particular skills. A polite and friendly approach is always good. It’s also great to have a link to your work online that we can access easily and see if you fit the bill. When we are hiring, we are usually looking for a very particular skill-set to match the job at hand. Good timing, and checking in with us regularly, always helps to keep you in our minds when something comes up.”

With great work always in production, Mighty Nice is going to be mighty busy over the next few months, with some grand plans falling into place. Currently in production are some more fun Domino’s pizza animations, as well as the title sequence for a film about the environment, and what we can do about the changes ahead, called Coalition of the Willing. There’ll also be some more of their red, black and glowing Lucozade spots, and some animated info-graphics for a project in the US called ‘The Girl Effect’. “All are very different and enjoyable to work on,” says Price. “We’re some lucky guys.”

Coalition Of The Willing

Coalition of the Willing

mightynice.com.au

All images copyright Mighty Nice.

From Desktop magazine.

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