Nigel by Natasza Cetner

Nigel by Natasza Cetner

A short film based on the true story of Nigel, the lonely gannet of Mana Island who hopelessly fell in love with a concrete statue. His tragic tale of idealisation and delusion shows us a reflection of our own misconceptions in love.

In February 2018, Nigel the gannet was found dead after years of solitude next to the statue that enraptured his heart on Mana Island, New Zealand. 2 weeks before he passed away, he rejected company of newly arrived real birds. The statues were put on the island in the 80s in order to attract colonies of gannets and after 40 years one bird came and chose one statue he fell in love with. Nigel was grooming the statue, he was building nests and truly hoping for a future together.

This is the story behind Natasza Cetner's Nigel, a strong statement on the extreme idealization (leaning towards a delusional view of the world) when we fall in love.

Watch Nigel 

Inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodprints of landscapes, Cetner tried to capture the sense of space she experienced in Michael Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle. In order to solve the problem how to picture a man stuck on the island for decades, she gave him a walrus face, so he started becoming part of the island ("from old, wrinkly fisherman with long moustaches it then became a humanoid walrus"). It was also done in order to step away from the literal representation of the story.

Being a student film, time was limited. Film development took 3 months from October 2018 to January 2019 (storyboards to animatics). TVPaint animation was used in a rough time schedule (to check time and pacing); all frames were subsequently printed out to then be traced in pencils and crayons on the other side.

This proved to be an intensive job, at Natasza Cetner tells Zippy Frames. "I was working on everything at the same time. If I was so tired I could not animate, I was drawing backgrounds. If I felt creatively dead, then it was time to sit down and colour some birds on paper while watching people playing video games on YouTube or Eurovision-binging with my colouring assistants".

The whole process lasted around 9 months, and early infelicities in the sound design were luckily substituted by sound designer Yiannis Spanos and sound mixer Lee Yin ("they decided to step in and save my life"). Sound design had to be modest and yet realistic to convey the spaciousness of the environment, and to capture the loneliness and constant presence of the sea, but also to emphasize the character of Nigel, the goofy bird.

The statue destruction was Cetner's own idea ("It has never happened in reality, and the volunteers take such good care of Mana Island for all these years").

Film Review (Vassilis Kroustallis)
There is a certain intensity that manifests itself in Natasza Cetner's works (also in Baraa -watch it here). It probably has to do with a constant willingness and need of the direcotr to change our viewing points, so that the storytelling process can penetrate one or more characters' angle and thoughts. In Nigel, birds fight with walrus-like humans in an affecting film that doesn't even try to be so. With a technique that incessantly wants to gets the best view of its subjects and a limited color palette, Nigel is not a sentimental film about a delusional state of affairs: it is a restless depiction (and sometimes, celebration) of delusion as something that we are all prone to, if we have our eyes and ears wide open enough. With an ambient sound design that gives the island its proper sounds of solitude, Nigel is an adept animated statement on our love with artificiality.

About Natasza Cetner
She is a Polish Animation Director and Illustrator with a BA in Animation from University of Westminster and MA in Animation from Royal College of Art from 2019. She is fascinated by the absurdity of the world around us and the surreal. Most of her works focus on conveying the unconscious and its desires, and the fears and the anxiety of the insomniac mind. Occasionally, she likes to make films about weird birds. She's currently developing her new animated short in collaboration with Cardel Entertainment in Ireland.

Nigel, Natasza Cetner (2019)
Direction & Animation: Natasza Cetner
Script: Natasza Cetner Production: Royal College of Art Personal | Tutor: Joe King | Sound Design: Yiannis Spanos | Sound Mix: Yin Lee Animation
Assistants: Kyle Peyton, Joao Gonzalez, Cassie Amis, Tanaka Tiriboyi, Sahanshil Dangol, Melanie Campbell, Becky Vickars, Gary, Wilson, Silvia Zubrinic, Voltaire Joshua Gonzalez, Asheila Amara, Flora Caulton

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