Ala Nunu Leszynska: “I always wanted to create”

Ala Nunu Leszynska is an animator and illustrator from Poznań, Poland. She started with volumetric creations from a very young age and continued with great collaborations for animation festivals. A while ago the internet brought it to me. I leave you here with a very entertaining and enriching interview talking about her past and all those tedious processes that an artist must go through to the final point.

 

Before all, thank you so much to your kindness and be part of our project it’s apleasure find people so talented and emotive as you.

Oh wow, thank you for your kind words. Thank you for reaching out to me!

 

– Tell us about how did you begin in this animation world, a bit of biography.

I always wanted to create. Even though that word may seem big or epic, for me it is not. It all goes back to me being 4 years old and playing with plasticine. I have a picture of me, a 4 year old, sitting in front of a table with an extremely focused face, covered in paint and sculpting something that was supposed to be a dinosaur (but clearly isn’t). And that’s how I also see myself today haha. I am an only child, but I didn’t mind that. I loved whenever I could just sit for the whole day and draw flying lions.

When I was 15 I think, I first went to Animator International Animation Festival in Poznań Poland and I just fell in love with animation. I got to meet Bill Plympton, see panoramas of animations from all around the world covering different techniques, it was incredible. Ever since then it became my tradition – to go to Poznan for Animator festival for my birthday every year. On one of the festivals I got my courage up and went to George Griffin to show him a storyboard I created on the train based on a Cortazar’s novel. I was like 16, maybe 17. And so I went up and asked him “hey, I did this storyboard and so what do i do now?”. “Well now, you take it and you just animate it”. That sentence just blew me away. I didn’t know what does it mean “just animate it”. I didn’t know anything about peg-bars nor animation softwares. My brain couldn’t comprehend it. I could draw, I could do some simple things in photoshop, but I couldn’t “just animate it”. I knew that animation is difficult, but from that moment on, I started to think that animation is some sort of black magic, that can only be understood and made by people who had traded their souls for the incredible talent to animate with the devil or something hahaha.

I went through my whole education dreaming of becoming a graphic designer. First – it sounded cool, second – what else can you do if you like to draw and want to make a living? For 6 years, during gymnasium and high school I have been preparing to exams at the most important graphic design school in Poland – Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Finally the exams came… and I didn’t get in. I was accepted the same year to go to University of Arts in Poznan (the same town that hosts Animator). And it was the best thing that happened in my life.

During exams I had to animate for the first time in my life. I remember my brain boiling, when I was trying to figure out how does it happen that a human runs? What happens to the legs and what about the shoulders? After few hours of running around like a crazy person on the school halls, I think I got it. And then I “just animated it”.

I am so happy that I am not a graphic designer. Look, instead of arguing with the client about possibly moving something from right to the left, I can sit all day on my own and play with dolls!

– You have a vimeo’s account for your animations/stopmotions, but what was first, Illustration or movement?

That’s a tough question. I think that plasticine! But seriously, I always liked illustration and creating dolls. That was and still is my favourite way of spending my free time. But I used to be synesthetic until late adolescence. It is said that all of the kids until the age of around 6 are synesthetic in one form or another, but only few of them continue to have that past that age. Sadly I don’t see colours and shapes anymore when I hear the music, but I remember that it was very vivid for me. I think that that’s why I enjoy making music videos so much, it allows me to see things when I hear the music again hahah.

 

– I’m in constant research of new artist and then I found you. One of the things I loved about your art was the different faces and development of your line with no colours. Which line represents you better? And your future plans include more colour for your 2D animations?

Oh, thank you! I think it all started with Inktober. It’s a 31 days challenge that happens every year in October, for which you have to draw something daily on a set theme with ink. I love when the internet tells me to try something I’m not used to. I didn’t make it to the end but I’ve found a new way of drawing. I really like creating detailed pieces, it’s like animating. You have to do loads of tiny little things for a long period of time, brick by brick, and only when you have put them all together you can see the whole image. But I also love colour, I wish I had more time and space to do more actual paintings. I’m currently developing an animation in 2d combining those black shadows with neon like colours. We’ll see how it turns out.

– I saw a full of various materials in your videos like felt, collage… Explain us which is your favourite technique and the process which you feel more comfortable with.

Oh, that’s another hard question. Every technique has its advantages and drawbacks. I also think that every project has its own technique suitable for it. Previously I mostly had been focusing on stop motion. It allows you to play with different textures, you can create actual worlds and play with dolls, which is amazing. But it is a very technically complex type of animation. You need to create a doll that will be able to stand, you need to figure out a rig that will allow it to move, you need to have a stabile lighting, different lenses, in order to make any camera movement you need to have access to that huge and complicated motion controlled slider… At the beginning stop motion seems like simply playing with dolls. But the more you get into it and want to develop it, you find how complicated it is. It took me 2 years and 4 shorts just to create a walk cycle that I would be satisfied with. For now I feel that strong need to focus on playing with the movement itself, so I’m focusing more on hand drawn animation. But I’ve been just asked to create a stop motion animation again. It’s a secret for now, so – shhhhh! But after a 2d short I’m developing right now, you can quietly expect something with puppets again.

– The sound is so important in your final work, so what inspires you to find the perfect combination?

As I said before, I used to be synesthetic until the age of 13 or something. It meant that music and numbers had specific shapes and colours for me. I don’t have that anymore, but I can remember the feeling of experiencing it. Sometimes it was awful, because for example whenever I heard a certain piece of music, I saw purple, unpleasant mud and I couldn’t stop seeing it. But most of the time it was really fun. I cannot dance, I do not feel well when I have to even speak to a larger group of people. Animation allows me to perform without revealing myself.

– T/Aboret chose you to film a music video to them, what a honor! What could you tell us about this experience?

Oh it was lovely, they are really nice people! They messaged me and send me the song only saying that it is a story about people who are afraid to live. I walked around the city for a week with the song on my headphones and I just knew that it is about something that comes out of nothing, goes through those extreme changes, tries to create, to become something… ends up dissolving into nothing again. We met up and they really liked the idea as well as concept sketches so I started developing it. They have a very strong idea about the imagery of their work, so we went back and forth for quite a long time. It didn’t started as a black and white thing, it was actually going to be blueish and drawn with black pen instead of pencil. But I’m really glad that they pushed me to come up with a variety of different solutions. I’m actually quite proud of what we created together 🙂 It was also an opportunity for me to develop my first longer form in hand drawn animation. I really love animating to music so doing hand drawn animation that doesn’t cast any technical boundaries on you I think allowed me to quite accurately grasp the song. Now T/aboret is developing an art project with people, who have intellectual disabilities and I had a pleasure to create a set of jingles for their visual identification by the awesome Nat Zaremba.

– And all animation has a story, What is the development of your storyboards usually look like? For example, there is a lot of routine inside of them. Would you like to make a movie or is it fine to extract the little things in a short film?

I think about it a lot. Would I like to create a live action short or even a feature? I don’t know. I think that animation allows you to speak about things without using words. It forces the audience to experience an image in the here and now. If I was to make a live action, I would like it to be co-directed by Michel Gondry hahaha. Most of my stories are inspired either by music or a simple idea, that popped to my head while shopping or washing the dishes. Even if I don’t show it to the audience, I try to have the whole universe planned out. For example the Mama Bear in Ponura Tresura, who is shown for 5 seconds in the final video, is a single overprotective mom, who is trying to prove to herself and to the world, that she can make it. But her son doesn’t mind that it’s only her, he loves her and he is having the time of his life at the circus. I love creating details that nobody would ever notice. But I know they are there.

– And the most important part of the final result is the editing. It’s like magic, because sometimes people do not realise the effort that has to be put in it. How many hour do you spend transforming the frame by frame into movement?

When you are creating a hand drawn animation, after months of work, you end up with a huge pile of papers. Even though it would be really cool to create a flipbook out of 3000+ frames, it wouldn’t be very handy hahaha. So you have to scan it all. I’m a cheater because I’m impatient and I wouldn’t stand waiting 30 seconds for a scanner to go through one page, so I use stop motion software called Dragon Frame and I just take pictures of my frames. Once they are in the software, you press play and you’re good to go! The same with stop motion! Well, no. I lied. After that you have to spend loads of hours editing and compositing every shot together with all of the effects and the sound. Because animation is so much work, you have to have everything planned before you shoot, so editing is usually not as bad as editing live action (because you usually don’t have any extra footage). Actually for Ponura Tresura, before even creating any of the dolls I created a hand drawn animatic:

So editing is not really that bad for animation. But post production is a real pain in the ass. For example – have you ever imagined how do you make a doll jump? Well, since it’s not touching the ground, something has to hold it. All of my dolls are shot with a rig helping them stand, walk, jump or do whatever they do.  And when the shoot is finished, you have to go through every frame once again and mask the rig out…

– Ponura Tresura is a song by Makabreski animated one year ago which you sent to an animation festival and won 4 awards, 1 honourable mention and more. What do you say to us about this? All I can express after watch it is that was an incredible combination of story, music, art and craft and scenarios. Congratulations, Nunu!

Oh wow, thank you! It was screened on the other 5 continents (I’m not counting Antarctica) on more than 40 festivals, which is a real honour. A huge thank you, to all of the lovely people who were in charge of the selection! Ponura received an audience award, 2 best music video awards and one for the best soundtrack. I still cannot believe that.

I was asked to create the music video in late 2015, and I knew that it had to be finished by May 2016. It was a really hectic time, as at the same time together with Colombian e-publishing Manuvo, we received an award Crea Digital 2015 to create an interactive book about a young cryptozoologist Celestino Patente. It meant that I had to create an entire interactive book in 3 months and then I had to create Ponura Tresura in no more than 4 months… It was intense, but I loved that! After planning out every shot (110 in total) in the animatic, I created a book of characters, where I designed and described every character that was to star in the music video. There is more than 20 of them. Then I had to create all of the sets and props, figure out what kind of lenses to use for each shot, etc. The animating itself was the best part. I had a real luck, that the promoter of the piece was professor Hieronim Neumann, who is an incredible director of experimental films, and who is quite blunt. He kept honestly pointing out the flaws of what I was doing and thanks to that I created something I quite like. It is always good to have someone else to look at your work in progress. When you are doing something, and especially when you are animating, you tend to get so accustomed to your idea, that sometimes you may miss that you created something completely incomprehensible.

I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to contribute to this project. And I’m looking forward to what the future will bring!

You can find more information here:

www.vimeo.com/alanunu

www.instagram.com/ala_nunu

www.fb.com/obrazkinunu