Courtesy of Nicholas De Fina
Growing up in different parts of Maine and Illinois, Nicholas De Fina was not unlike other kids — he loved watching animated shows. Although Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons got him interested in the craft, in a recent interview he admitted, “I couldn’t draw for my life.”
It wasn’t until college that filmmaking and animation became potential career options for De Fina. He studied English and Italian in college in Chicago but he joked that upon graduation he found “none of the big English and Italian firms were hiring, apparently.” So he pursued his interests in sketch comedy. That led to short films and ultimately helped him circle back to features and animation.
De Fina made his first short in 2008 and 2009 but admitted that he didn’t learn proper puppet animation until 2013. He detailed the technique saying, “Puppet animation is basically taking a perspective shot of a character and rigging it up via a hierarchy of articulation points for movement. For example, the character's arm could be rigged up as follows: articulation points are the shoulder, elbow and wrist. In the hierarchy, I could move any of the points individually or in groups such as bending the elbow (which moves the wrist and hand as well) or rotating the shoulder (which moves elbow, wrist and hand as well). It's like taking a cut-out drawing from a piece of paper and then putting push pins at the major joints (ankles, knees, hips, wrist, elbows, shoulders, head/neck) so you can rotate them.”
That new knowledge led to his first full-length film, LeSeurdmin. De Fina described the plot of the film saying, “After Peter LeSeurdmin gets dumped by his girlfriend, he dresses in one of the few remaining things she leaves behind – a lizard suit from a Halloween party – and goes out for a night of heavy drinking. He wakes the next day believing he is half lizard and must deal with attacks orchestrated by a mysterious barbecue enthusiast.”
Courtesy of Nicholas De Fina
He characterized his style of animation as a cross between the FX series Archer and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s iconic show South Park. He noted the inspiration he draws from each as “the motion and animation of Archer and the simplistic illustration of South Park.' He cites South Park as his main influence, adding, “That show proved a concept I’ve always believed in: content over style. They achieved so much while using very crude techniques.”
Not surprisingly then he explains the tone of LeSeurdmin as “comedic — perhaps dark comedy, but one that you would actually laugh with.” Still, spending five years to create an animated film all by himself, is no laughing matter. De Fina explained why he chose to do all the work himself. “Part of it is selfish,” he conceded, “that I wanted it to be as much ‘mine’ as possible. The bigger part is that I’ve always felt that if you want something done, do it yourself, which is why I didn’t feel comfortable using any crowd-funding.”
As for his process, De Fina said, “It was all puppet animation using four basic perspectives of each character, and cheating when I didn’t need all four for a character. Each perspective was rigged like a human skeleton – articulation at wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, hips and head/neck. It is a cruder form of animation, at least the way I did it, so most of the expression of emotion/characters was through the face.”
When asked what he hopes viewers take away from the film, De Fina gave a simple reply, “Some good laughs and poop jokes that really make you think.” That seems to be working considering that LeSeurdmin won the Best Feature, Actor and Director awards at the Houston Comedy Film Festival, Best Animated Film at the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival, and Best Animated Film for Screen Critix 2017 Film Awards—with more festivals on the horizon.
De Fina already has plans for his next project which is a spin-off sequel derived from a character in the film that was created years before LeSeurdmin called Roofcop. This will be the second in a trilogy of films pulling from the LeSeurdmin universe.
To learn more about Nicholas De Fina and LeSeurdmin visit his website at www.leseurdmin.com.