Adult Swim is the iconic channel from Cartoon Network that has been the home of Rick & Morty and The Boondocks. But as well as showcasing adult animated series, the channel is also home to Ambient Swim, a late-night compilation of creative animated loops and shorts paired with music, serving as the perfect background viewing to unwind and relax to.
One of the many contributors to Ambient Swim is Nikolaos Finizio, a 2D animator who has also worked on titles and franchises from Legends of Runeterra to Love, Death + Robots. His expert eye on 2D FX animation caught the eye of the show’s creative director, who tapped Nikolaos for a collaboration, resulting in these stylish loops and idents that feature on the show. Featuring references to classic anime, his hand-drawn, frame-by-frame loops make use of Toon Boom Harmony’s textured-vector brushes to create consistent line art.
We caught up with Nikolaos to ask questions about his work on the project. He tells his story about how we came to work for the show, and provides some insightful advice for animators looking to hone their abilities in 2D. He’ll also be sharing news of his current projects and an educational resource for 2D FX that animation teams will soon be able to get their hands on. Read on for our full interview!
Nikolaos: My name is Nikolaos Finizio and I’m a 2D animator based in the UK, specializing in 2D FX animation. I got involved in the Ambient Swim project because Shane Dering, the show’s Creative Director, knew that I have deep respect and admiration for 90s anime shows. When he decided that the episode was going to be a love letter to vintage anime aesthetics, he invited me to contribute with a short animated loop and I gladly accepted.
Nikolaos: While working on the first drafts and looking for ideas, my mind immediately went to the iconic finale of the original Neon Genesis: Evangelion TV series, specifically the morphing bit animated by Yoh Yoshinari. Even if I later found out the look of it was the result of budget constraints, I always loved that they kept that section so dry, letting us see the pencil sketches and crude marker strokes that perfectly complement the stream of consciousness of the character, Shinji. So simple and yet so powerful.
So I tried to go with something similar: a boy sitting in front of a tv set loses himself into a never-ending morphing loop. Every stage of the transformation is reminiscent of different anime archetypes, like robot transformations and androids jumping into action. I even managed to sneak in a tribute to manga, anime’s spiritual ancestor, with the katakana/onomatopoeic sound effect!
Nikolaos: I’m always attracted by stylizations and modernist/expressionist uses of drawing. In the 90s, everything had to be more graphic/stylized because the post-production techniques and technologies were not as advanced as they are today, resulting in that warm-organic look. Motion blurs and lens distortions for example had to be drawn in, naturally favoring the artists’ unique interpretation of these optic phenomena over their photo-realistic nature.
Nikolaos: Well, that’s a good question! Wouldn’t know, it certainly isn’t anime but it definitely has some anime genes in the mix. I normally call it, “2D animation.” Maybe I should find something more accurate. The technique I used was just traditional, hand drawn frame-by-frame animation.
Nikolaos: Timing, anatomy, perspective… Sometimes it feels like there’s a never-ending list of skills to train constantly! From a 2D FX perspective I will say though that there are two fundamentally important things that get often overlooked: shape design and frame spacing.
Nikolaos: I treated it as a normal traditional animation, where one would start with the keys and then breakdowns, inbetweens etc. So I started with the key moments, I wanted them to reflect some Classic anime archetypes. An object transforming into a robot, some martial arts moves, and then it was a matter of finding a cool way to transition between them. Some came naturally, like the TV turning into a robot skull.
Others were the result of a couple of freestyle forward-animating sessions. The shadow looming on the skull, for instance, was a very last minute addition. I had done a first comp pass and noticed that transition wasn’t working as I wanted it to.
Nikolaos: Shane has been super-helpful at the beginning of the process, when I was looking for the right direction. I sent him 3 or 4 brutally sketched ideas and he helped me focus on the right one, after that he’s been hands-off, pretty much trusting me to bring the loop to completion.
Nikolaos: I love using Toon Boom Harmony’s textured vector brushes for the line art. When brilliant animator/clean-up artist Paola Costigliola stepped in to help me with the in-betweens, that tool definitely helped us keep the line-art consistent in its sketchiness even with different sets of hands working on it.
Nikolaos: In the latest couple of years I’ve been mainly the 2D FX animator for the movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse. It’s been so good having the chance to experiment with all the different styles and techniques involved in the show and seeing it grow from its early production stages to the end. It’s going to be out very soon and I really can’t wait for everybody to be able to see what we’ve been working on all this time!!
I’m also working on more personal animations: some time ago I did a little tribute to the silent-movie classic Nosferatu and I got an incredible response. I’m now close to finishing its natural follow-up: a tribute to Lugosi’s Dracula. It’s a much more ambitious animation, hopefully people will like it!
I’m also trying to develop an original short film and I’m putting together an archive/asset pack of spare 2D FX animations I’ve done over the years that I’m planning to release soon as a free-download educational resource… Hopefully it’s going to be a busy year ahead!
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