Interview with David Nasser – 2D & 3D character animator

When and how did you discover animation? How did you start out your professional career?

I started to draw when I was a kid. My Dad is a cartoonist and artist, my Mom was a filmmaker and is now a producer. My Dad’s bookshelves were filled with comic books, most French and Belgium and we had one of those early Beta VCRs, all of „Tom & Jerry”, „Star Wars” and lots of other animations and movies. My Grandfather collected super-8 animations since the late 40’s.

In 10th grade we had to do a two-week internship. I got the opportunity to do this at the „Trickstudio” in Cologne, Germany. Aside from flip-books, this was probably my first time getting in touch with „real” animation. I got to animate a little piece and shot it on 16mm. This internship and the opportunity to receive a scholarship from the „Filmstiftung NRW” (film fund) was probably the ignition to take on a one year internship after my high school and my mandatory civil service at „Tag/Traum Media”. Aside from producing CG commercials, TV productions and presentations, this studio was working on the real-time character „Cactus”, in collaboration with the „Kunsthochschule für Medien” (KHM, Art College of Medias), Cologne.

I got introduced to production and had my hands on several projects, started to animate, learned some modeling, did some character designs and storyboards.

After that, I continued with a three-year apprenticeship in „Mediadesign Screen & Sound” at the same company, in a rotation of two months at work and one month of school. Through school I was also trained in editing, storytelling and film grammar. Even though other classes like camera, sound etc., were quite interesting, I still felt like something was missing.

While I was so engaged with drawing characters I started to go to animation film festivals. I soon realized I wanted to learn animation the „classical” way, but didn’t know where to find a proper education. There was not really a developed traditional „character” animation school in Germany at that time.

Contrary to my first decision to go to the „KHM”, I was searching for alternative schools.

In London, at the „Royal College of Arts” I got the advice, due to my character driven portfolio, to apply at the „California Institute of the Arts” (CalArts). I wasn’t thinking at this point to go that far, but „CalArts” was a long time established school, specializing in character animation.

Through lucky circumstances, I had the chance to go to California with my portfolio and visit three schools and as well as studios like „Walt Disney Animation Studios” and „Dreamworks”. The Studios also recommended me to „CalArts” and in fact, it was the one that impressed me most. Aside from their major of character animation, it felt like a „real” art college offering dance, experimental animation, film, photography, fine arts, theatre, sound design and music.

I had the chance to show my portfolio and my few little animations to some faculty members in order to get some feedback on how to optimize it for my application at „CalArts”.

They said it needs more figure drawings, which at his point, didn’t exist. Back in Cologne, Germany, I took any figure drawing class I could find for about three months.

My application got sent out and three months later I received positive feedback!

I finished my apprenticeship after two years, with my more or less self-taught animation skills, and an animated thesis project. I sold everything I didn’t need, got financial support from my family and was lucky enough to get some scholarships: one from the „Filmstiftung NRW”, another one from the „Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft” and in the following years of my study, from „CalArts”.

I enrolled at „CalArts” and I’d say from here on my career as an animator „really” started.

What projects have you worked on?

Boy, there have been quite a lot, a lot of different ones.
From personal to real-time character animation and the early stages of mo-cap to traditionally hand drawn TV shows and commercials, Storyboards, character designs, animating on animated features and VFX films and then traditional flash animation again, as well as teaching and giving workshops…

I’ve never really aimed for only one direction. I’m happy, appreciative and dedicated when I get the chance to do what I really like, but I’m always tempted and eager to do something new as well. I just love visual arts, the same for music. Unfortunately I don’t make music myself, but music has always been inspiring while I’m not locked to one genre of music.

What does Animation mean to you?

Ha, such a short, but broad question. I think there are many answers to it. I’ll try my best 😉

I spend so much time of my life with it, in and outside of my official work time, so it means a lot to me.

It has never been just a job, still it is a means to pay my bills and as many, or most of us are freelancers, we should probably bear that in mind as well.

It is also something emotional. Animation is an art form: a universal language. The piece can be funny, sad, exciting, sexy, crazy, informative, etc. It is an endless repertoire, like our imagination. To me it has a never-ending capacity to translate/communicate your stories, ideas, fantasies, dreams, wishes, humor, cheesiness and whatsoever…

In my case it started out with drawing, as a hobby, a passion and a way to communicate.

When I first got into animation, it was just something fun, somehow important and right for me to do. I don’t remember if I realized it would become a profession.

Drawing and animation is just as expressive as any other art form. I think I’m quite expressive personally, not loud, but still expressive. Drawing and animation gives me a chance to be like this in a particular way, in my way. I don’t mean to necessarily express my personality, or what so ever. I think I have got a lot of empathy, I like to exaggerate, to jump into roles and to be a clown sometimes, etc. I can do all of this more or less and put it into my work.

There is also a difference in doing your own stuff as opposed working for someone else, and that is a major distinction. For example, doing your own stuff can be fun, but also kind of lonely, etc. For sure you’d need some of your kind around to not lose the bigger picture. When working for someone else, doing contract work, it may become „just” a job, but even from that you can learn. Then, when you get to work on a nice project and with a „cool” team, it’s just great! I really enjoy that. You give and get back, get pushed and inspired by each other. And you may find new friends.

One more thing, apart from animation, I have always observed and was fascinated by all sorts of objects, moments, movements, behaviors, characteristics etc. Animation gave me and still does, a creative possibility to translate these inputs. These and many other things make animation something very special to me. I don’t think there will be an end to it. It is this „kid-like” and somehow playful experience and you just never stop exploring and I always seeing things as pictures and stories, if you know what I mean.

You recently worked on the animated feature film Hotel Transylvania. How does your contribution as an animator at „Sony Pictures Imageworks” looks like?

The animation for a feature film is a huge process. On „Hotel Tranylvania” at „Sony Picture Imageworks” (SPI), I got assigned to animate shots with main characters. Aside from the character, who I had to understand in and out, my guide and inspiration was the storyboard, the approved visuals. Then, on each new sequence we started, we got a briefing by director Genndy Tartakovsky. It was great working with him, he had a very clear vision of what he wanted and at the same time he left us enough creative freedom to translate his vision – one of his requirements was that it had to be „nuts” and „crazy” 😉

„Hotel Transylvania” has Genndy’s animation style signature, which refers to „traditional” animation e.g. from Tex Avery and shows like Bugs Bunny etc. and it was a great challenge and fun to approach the animation in a more traditional way. Whereas „normally” in animated CG films you’d treat the characters more like puppets, on this film we’d think and act more traditionally, as in a drawing. Combined with this animation style the result is quite outstanding for CG animation. And with me coming from traditional animation and drawing, this blew new wind in my „CG sails”.

As much as I enjoyed working on it, I’ve never had so much fun watching at my colleagues work.

Here are some important keys to my work and the work of an animator on a feature film in general:
1. Understand and get into the characters, their relation to the other characters and their context to the whole story.
2. Develop the ability to execute the animation in a versatile way and make those characters believable throughout the whole movie.
3. Have the capability to adapt the desired style to have the film look like it came out of one hand.
4. Work on the ability to take critique, develop changes and execute them.

The way to a final result is rarely „short”. It is still a creative process for all of us involved, from the director to the supervisor, my lead and to me. It’s teamwork and new ideas come sometimes in the process, always with the eye for a better shot, to support the story and to make it even a better movie.

What can you tell me about „Sony’s” upcoming picture Hotel Transylvania?

The trailers promise a fun picture and I think this will be fully realized. Aside from the „cute” and funny story and the jokes, this is truly an animation-driven movie.

Do you think this Movie will improve the tourism in Transylvania, implicitly in Romania?

Well, this is an animation about fictional characters, but you never know. I wish it for you, if that is what you want.
I think you could win a trip through Sony. So, a few more tourists are guaranteed 😉

What do you know about Transylvania and Romania?
To be honest not much more than the Dracula movies that I saw, sorry. Unfortunately I’ve never been there yet. It still maintains a mystical place to me.

What do you think about American and European animation?

How I would compare the difference? Oh, I think this could be a question to be answered on a long evening with wine, crackers, research and „endless” exchange ;).

First, there are so many different styles and genres of animation. Which one are we talking about?

I couldn’t even say I have an idea of „all” European animation to speak for it and the same for American.

Second, there are major differences to get a projects fund on these continents.

Generally and simply speaking, I think Europe has a better market and support for short films and a broader style using animation as an art form. This might be simple because of the fact, that Europe has so many different cultures within. In the US, animation is perfected, it is a big market and the business of the entertainment industry. Please, don’t get me wrong, in the US you may have just as many independent animation filmmakers, but it appears to be more of a niche. In Europe I think, animation is a niche in general 😉 and sometimes I’m quite disappointed about the fact. France for sure, the UK and maybe Spain are some exceptions. The French and Belgium for example, have a great cultural comic book background while Germany for example has not and the acceptance rises very slowly, if not too slow. But there are many more factors why things are, the way they are.

Romanian animators have worked on Jasper at Dacodac Animation Studio in Bucharest, Romania. What do you know about Romanian animation?

Not too much. I was a senior animator on the project and didn’t deal or work directly with the crew in Romania.

What future projects do you have?

As much fun as I had on Hotel Transylvania, it was some hard work and long hours. For now I take a little break and look forward to work at Blue Sky Studios on their upcoming feature film „Epic”.

At the moment I’m working on my friends Max Maleo’s and Aurelien Predal’s super-cool short film „Batz”. Behold! 😉

Other than that, I still have lots of plans. I would like to get more into drawing again, maybe do a short film at some point. I also have fun teaching and enjoy the social contact and exchange with new talents. And I’d enjoy working in a more responsible position again, on a challenging project.

But just as I mentioned earlier, I also love to stick with what I like so much, and that is just animating „away”. All these activities/workings are still challenging to me! The idea and the feeling, to never arrive at a point where you think you know everything is somehow exhausting and at the same time the driving motor to continue and make my experiences.

Thank you for the interview and with best wishes to my friends and colleagues worldwide and all the luck to those starting out I hope, I have left a useful little insight into my world of animation.

And I hope everyone enjoys Hotel Transylvania as much I did!

For more information, please visit my site:
As well as another interview I did with CG-Advertising back in 2010:–david-nasser

And of course Sony Pictures Imageworks, „Hotel Transylvania“: