Few artists could be compared to a neurological phenomenon, yet there is no more perfect wording for the art of Nikolas Ilic than “synesthesia”. When gazing at his work you are not only hit by visual beauty, but a euphoria of the senses, where you can taste the swirl of color, feel the texture of design, and hear the heartbeat of each character on each page. Inspired by the gift of giving life and sharing untold beauties with the world, Ilic stands as the creator of one of the most diverse and uniquely stunning bodies of work that combines the charm of classic titles with an avant-garde approach to form. It thus comes as no surprise that he has worked for a range of leading companies including Sony, JibJab, ToonBox, Arc Productions, MarbleMedia and more, and yet still finds time to offer fresh creations to his ever growing fan base. If you feel your mind begin to alter as it dives into his work, fear not, for this is one of the most inspiring changes it could ever undergo.
What is it about animation and design in general that most strongly appeals to you?
- The ability to give life to a drawing and make that character a believable living thing is what makes animation and design appealing to me. As a kid growing up I loved watching animated cartoons and as a kid you really believed these characters you were watching and connected with them. That to me is what still makes animation something so great and appealing!
Had you always known that this was the career path you wished to take?
- I have always enjoyed art throughout my life and stuck with it throughout my schooling.I don't think I always knew animation was for me until after high school.I actually was very close to studying computer engineering.It wasn't until after taking a tour at Sheridan College and seeing the animation program I knew art could be a actual career I could see myself doing.
Are there any artists, series, films etc that you feel greatly inspired you in the past and/or continue to inspire you today?
- Lots of older classic disney films for sure! Jungle Book, Robin Hood, Lion King to name a few. They always got me inspired to draw as a kid. The Warner Brothers animation shows like Bugs Bunny, Tazmanian Devil were also very inspirational for me. There are endless artists that are inspirational but I would say there are two particularly that I greatly admire. Both Miroslav Sasek and Cliff Robert’s are exceptional illustrators. They have such distinct and appealing shape language that is just so eye pleasing to look at. Every time I see some of their work it gets me excited, inspired and reminds me why I love what I do.
How do you feel the path of being a self-taught artists compared to attending classes and having a live instructor? Do you feel one is more favorable to forging a career in animation?
- I don't think either choice is more favorable and they each have their own benefits. Really it just comes down to what suits you best.
- I attended classes and had live instructors which was great but also ends up costing lots of money. I would say one big advantage with taking actually live classes is that you are surrounded with others that share your same passion and you learn so much from your colleagues. I feel that at the end of the day I ended up learning more from my friends around me during my studies in College.
- That being said I feel that if you are self-taught you have to be exceptionally disciplined and dedicated which are fantastic traits to have. In today's world the internet has opened up so many opportunities for artists. With online classes at a much cheaper cost and many of the times the instructor is someone you admire and inspire to be so who better to learn from. There is also live feedback and even pre recorded video critiques now available so you can get that personal interaction from being self- taught.
Your thesis film ‘Sheared’ was accepted at multiple festivals including the TIFF Kids and Ottawa International Animation Film Festival, do you have any plans to create future animated shorts and similarly enter them into the festival circuit?
- I would absolutely love to. Of course since making Sheared I have learnt so much more being out in the industry and would go into making another short film quite differently. I would love to work on a film with a small crew of two to three people so it is a little more collaborative. But the idea of making another film and submitting it to film festivals all over the world is exciting to me and hope to make it a future plan.
What inspired the creation of ‘Sheared’ and did the original concept change much throughout it’s development?
- Going into my final year of Animation at Sheridan College, my main goal was to make a thesis film that was visually appealing to the audience. The question was what story would I create to accomplish my vision. I knew I wanted to make a film that was going to be light hearted. I first started creating characters from different time periods. From the Vikings to the Romans to the Greeks since history is a great interest of mine.
- I kept on drawing pages upon pages until I came across some Scottish characters I enjoyed and started putting them into a scenario. At first I was going to have a Scottish rock throwing competition between two Scots. I then drew a sheep and something clicked. I thought to myself wouldn’t it be funny to see a Scottish farmer struggling with his sheep and that is how the idea evolved.
What was your first job in the animation industry and what is your current role?
- My first full time job was in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment as a Junior Designer. After school I did some various freelance and I didn't land my first in house job until about six months after school. Now I am currently working full time at JibJab Bros Studios in LA working on their preschool show “Ask the Storybots” which is streaming on netflix and freelancing for Illumination on one of their upcoming features.
Congratulations on the Netflix release of 'Story Bot's, which is an exceptional show, was it exciting to first see your work air on the service or more nerve-wracking? Are you someone who enjoys looking back at work they have created?
- It was definitely a great feeling seeing it out there in the world for others to see. It's also rewarding to see the final product with audio, and final edits. It makes for a complete different viewing experience compared to just seeing the animatic for months. I generally don't really look back on the work I created as I love creating new things and to keep learning from previous work I made and constantly trying to improve myself.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the animation industry and the artists who work within it?
- I feel like the biggest misconception about the animation industry is that you as an artist can do what you want. No matter what stage of a professional you are I feel like this is not true. People tend to think that they can draw whatever they want and that's that. Where in actual reality there are notes and revisions and your onceoriginal design changes drastically over the production.
- There are many stages and eyes that oversee you work so by the end of it's a collaborative effort to get to the end result. It's something that doesn't just happen overnight.
Had you always wanted to specialise more in the areas of character design and what do you feel has influenced your preference in artistic area?
- During my time at Sheridan College I really enjoyed all aspects of traditional animation, to storyboarding to painting and design. It wasn't until my final year I realized what my real interest wasfrom making my thesis film. I felt that animation was very tedious and stressful. But when it came to the production of the film I realized I loved painting backgrounds, designing the characters and making a visual language for the film. Since graduating I have stuck to it and just focused heavily on design and painting.
Are there any particular designs you enjoy doing most - such an animals vs humans, more imaginative vs realistic, or a particular geometric basis of characters?
- I am really into more bold and graphic shapes. Apart of that would be some of the shows I was really into growing up and even into college. Samurai Jack being one of my all time favourites.
- In terms of animals vs humans I don't really have a preference. I love drawing dogs and medieval themed characters that's for sure. I definitely lean towards more imaginative characters rather than realistic as well. I like to just draw from my head as I feel like you can really get some unique ideas and characters that way. Not to say reference isn't important but I like to pull that in once you let your mind to the initial thought.
You have recently created exceptional pieces for both a Roald Dahl and Manga tribute show, were you a fan of either of these prior to becoming involved in the exhibits? if so, what aspects of each resonate with you most?
- Roald Dahl is also a great inspiration of mine. So making a small tribute to his work was awesome and a great opportunity to study his work. He has such a distinct look and unique line in his drawings. They are very loose and filled with tons of personality which are really fun to look at. I have been doing gallery pieces for Q pop for quite some time now.
- The Manga tribute show was another fun one to be part of. I generally never grew up watching anime, or reading manga. So for me drawing this new subject matter is fresh and kind of untouched for me. It forced me to draw something I generally wouldn't and learn about a whole other side of art and animation.
You have also contributed artworks to a range of charity events, is this something you specifically seek out and enjoy being a part of? How do you come across these events and become involved, as in do you approach the organisations or have they sought you out?
- I would say it's about half and half. Sometimes places approach me and other times I will see other friends participating or see a gallery/organization call out to artists. I think being part of charity events are a great thing. Its one of the ways you as an artist can use your artistic skills to help others in need and who are not as fortunate as you.
Your work displays an incredible use of texture and coloring, is this a trait you feel has been inspired by other works or outside influences, or just a style you naturally have gravitated towards?
- I think it is definitely a trait inspired by other works and inspired by a lot of older material such as UPA and Hannah Barbara cartoons. Where both simplicity and certain use of texture was evident. One of my all time favourite artists is Miroslav Sasek. He is a perfect example of this.I like how little he shows to get the idea across to the viewer. His use of texture and simplicity in his designs is something I very much inspire towards.
You are quite active on social media and have gained a large following, but is this an area of the art world that you enjoy being part of or more one that you simply feel comes with the role of an artist in the modern world?
- I personally enjoy being part of social media. Not only just for me but to support and see other artist's work! I create art for myself and for others to see. Getting work out there has many benefits. In my opinion it's a opportunity any artist should really consider. Anyone in the world can enjoy your work and share it with others. It can lead to job opportunities which can further your career and experience. It also gives you the opportunity to be introduced and connect with artists you admire and look up to. It ultimately makes the artists community feel a little more connected.
What do you think is the biggest aspect of design that goes overlooked by many younger artists?
- I would say they general idea of making mistakes. I feel like most younger artists are afraid to make mistakes, and to make bad drawings and want to just make those pretty pictures we see in the art of books. Its great to be inspired by those images but you cannot expect yourself to produce that every time. I am sure every professional artist has his and her off days.
- Structure is another aspect of design that is sometimes lacked by younger artists. This is more of a fundamental thing that you must learn and eventually it will become a subconscious thing you do when you design. You first have to understand why things work a certain way, there are no shortcuts in the long run.
Is there an aspect of the animation process that you enjoy the most and/or least?
- When it comes to character design I think the initial phase of playing with the characters proportions and characteristics to get the personality you are after is a very enjoyable part of the process. Its when your designs can be nice and loose and you don't have to worry about tying anything down.
- That being said the last step of the process is also very enjoyable too where you already have the design and now you just gotta make it look pretty. It is a little more mindless so to speak but very relaxing and rewarding.
Do you have an ultimate goal for your career, and if so, what is it?
- I always thought my long term goal would to just be a freelance artist for children's books and animation design. But as I get further into my career I think my ultimate goal would be to open up my own small studio or collective of artists making original content and pitches. I think it would be an amazing experience where everyone could learn and collaborate from one another and make amazing things together!
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt since being involved in the world of animation?
- I think the greatest lesson I have learnt in the animation industry is to be friendly and respectful of others you work with. It is such a small industry and you don't want to give people the wrong impression as it can come back to you. Be humble, respect others opinions and ultimately know your place and role. The people that arearound you are super talented, you may take it for granted being around them all the time, but there is much to learn from your colleagues!