Web Designer Issue 143 – Behind the Scenes with Nicholas Da Silva

Web Designer Issue 143 - Behind the Scenes with Nicholas Da Silva

The fresh web content continues with an exclusive Nick Da Silva interview – We talk to the driving force behind digital powerhouse ZOOLOOK and countless success stories, including Hitless, Dread & Alive, FlashTV and the Cavedudez…

Since its introduction in 1996, Flash has been used in the mainstream for everything from adding a bit of interactivity, right the way down to online streaming. But in the 12 years since its inception, a small group of hardcore animators started seeing the benefits of using the software to bring a new style to their work: meshing graphic and motion styles to create an entirely new genre. Nicholas Da Silva was one artist in particular to adopt Flash from the beginning, spending over a decade defining and refining original techniques that have worked their way into a number of his projects. His groundbreaking use of the technology to deliver digital comic book-style animations has led the way in taking Flash to mobile devices; as a result, Adobe actually consult with him about new features to be introduced. His dedication to the genre has seen the launch of sites such as FlashTV (www.iwantmyflashtv.com) and The Greatest Story Never Told (www.thegreateststorynevertold.com), showcasing animation talent from around the world. Considered as the Stan Lee or Jack Kirby of the modern day, Da Silva is a true genius of the digital animation era. We got the chance to talk with him to find out exactly what makes him tick.

WD. What exactly is ZOOLOOK about, and where did the name come from?

ND. ZOOLOOK is the new media agency I launched back in 1996 to express and explore my creative design possibilities. It is here where I bring my imagination to life. My focus is on utilizing Adobe’s Creative Suite to develop original properties that can be cross-purposed for the web, video, television, film and mobile devices. My goal is to create compelling content that promotes a multicultural experience.

The inspiration behind the word ZOOLOOK comes from Jean Michel Jarre’s 1984 classic album, ZOOLOOK; an album in which Jean Michel combined an actual band and processed vocal samples, recorded in 25 different languages.

To see my first website, visit www.archive.org and enter ‘www.zoolook.com’ in the Wayback Machine field, press Take Me Back then click on Apr 14, 1997 in the 1997 column.

WD. We were all big fans of Dread & Alive, which was one of your earlier pieces of work. Do you think you’ll ever come back to finish the story of Drew McIntosh, the dreadlocked eco-warrior?

ND. Yes indeed! Dread & Alive is coming. I took a break from the comic book series to focus on the storyline. At the time of its introduction, Dread & Alive centred around Drew McIntosh as an adult living in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco and being the eco Yes indeed! Dread & Alive is coming. I took a break from the comic book series to focus on the storyline. At the time of its introduction, Dread & Alive centred around Drew McIntosh as an adult living in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco and being the ecowarrior that he is. Taking a line from Ziggy Marley’s Tomorrow People, “Don’t know your past, don’t know your future,” I decided to work on the first half of Drew’s life as a young Islander living in Jamaica. In the first book, In the Beginning, Drew is seven-years old when he travels into the Cockpit Country with his parents to live among the Jamaican Maroons. Now that this story is complete, I plan to reintroduce Dread & Alive to the public as a digital comic book series, but start from In the Beginning.

WD. What philosophies do you adopt when approaching your work?

ND. First, I strive to be original in my design process – to be an innovator and not an imitator. I don’t find pleasure in creating something that has already been done. Instead, I push the boundaries of my imagination to create something that has never been seen before. Second, I’m fuelled by my passion for design. I strive to give every bit of myself to the project to make it the best it can be, never settling for less. Last, but not least, I work to be independent – to be in control of my own destiny. Failure to me is simply a minor setback that takes me back to the drawing board to try again. A mistake to me is simply a happy accident.

There are two quotes that I work and live by. The first is by Albert Einstein. “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” (26 October, 1929). The second quote is by Ray Bradbury. “Put me in a room with a pad and a pencil and set me up against a hundred people with a hundred computers – I’ll outcreate every goddamn sonofabitch in the room.” (October 1998).

We’re only as a good as our last project.

WD. It’s been said that Hitless is inspired by your personal life. How so?

ND. In writing Hitless, I wanted to create a story that shared some of my life experiences. Having travelled all over the world at a young age and being one of the few who could say they saw the world before they became a man, I had a chance to see life from many perspectives and also experience many cultures. In the story of Hitless, I’ve included events and experiences that actually happened to me; some good, some not so good.

WD. We assume you were a pretty hardcore comic fan from an early age?

ND. Oh yeah! As a kid, I was an avid collector of comic books. My favourite characters were Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk. I was actually one of the many young artists who submitted their drawings to Marvel Comics only to never hear from them. In a way, that was a good thing. It inspired me to be independent and produced my very first comic book series, Dread & Alive!

WD. Tell us about the infamous Ford moment…

ND. As a kid, I spent most of my time drawing in my room. Fascinated by car designs, I was an avid reader of Road & Track and Car & Driver magazines and would spend my time drawing the cars I saw in them. I think I got it from my dad who owned a red 1967 Mustang Fastback, like the one Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. One day, I set out to design my own sports car. I really got into the project, designing all perspectives of this unique automobile. When I was finished, my dad took a look at it and suggested I send it to Ford Motor Company, so I did. Lo and behold, a few months later a blue envelope arrived in the mail addressed to me bearing the Ford logo. It was stuffed pretty thick, so at first I thought it was just being returned. I carefully opened the letter and began to read it. Ford thanked me for submitting my work but stated that it was against their policy to accept outside materials. They encouraged me to continue my drawings and included a cheque for $1,500 to pursue a degree in car design.

WD. What are you currently working on?

ND. I’m currently developing the world of the Cavedudez and their football club, Rockers FC. Working with Maren Barros, Diego Misina and Ariel (Argentina) and David Magliocco (Driscal Designs), we’ve already introduced the Cavedudez creator, a Flash-based engine that allows members to sign up to the Rockers Football Club site for free and create themselves in the likeness of a Cavedude or Cavebetty. Visitors can pick their hairstyle, hair colour, skin tone, outfit, nose, mouth and accessories and have their character appear as their avatar when they log in to the site. I’ve also released the first in a series of songs from the Cavedudez entitled She’s Ultrafunkular for our members to download for their personal listening pleasure. In March, I will reveal the Rockers FC foosball table that will be given away to one lucky member of Rockers FC.

On the comic book side of things, I’m staying digital (saving one tree at a time) and producing the next two episodes of Hitless (issues #3 and #4) along with developing the Dread & Alive series for digital platforms.

I don’t want to forget FlashTV, which is getting a face-lift and a relaunch. I’m definitely looking forward to working with Web Designer to bring FlashTV to its readers. Included will be a new show entitled From Russia with Belov, which I’m producing with Kol Belov, one of the most amazing animators in the world! His storytelling and animation style is simply wicked. You will be amazed!

WD. Do you work alone or as part of a team?

ND. When developing my original entertainment properties or creating design concepts for clients, I tend to work alone on the creative process. When it comes to the production side of things, I work with a cool group of artists from around the world who I’m very proud to know. On the Rockers Football Club and community, I’m very grateful to be working with Maren Barros, Diego Misina and Ariel (Argentina) and am looking forward to bringing the Cavedudez to the masses with these guys. In France, there’s Osmoze, who use to be part of TeamCHmAn. He is an amazing 2D animator, as is Andrea Rania from Verona, Italy. Cristiano Seixas (Bigjack Studios) and I have been working together producing comic books for clients as well as our own series for over six years now. We are two Brazilians who are living away from home but enjoying life and comics. I also work with two amazing animators from Russia: Belka, who is a 2D Flash animator and Pavel Osminon, a 3D animator (Hitless 3D work). Another good friend and business partner is the illustrator/ animator, David Magliocco of Driscal Designs, who I’ve known since the inauguration of FlashTV!

WD. How do you manage your projects, seeing as some of them are completely disconnected?

ND. As a multitasker, I love the challenge of having multiple projects going on at one time, especially when they are completely different in nature. Being an artist, I find that multitasking can help fight designer’s block. A technique that I often practise is to actually start on one design and when I feel that I’ve reached a halfway point in the design, I walk away from it and do something else. I then come back to it later and find that it’s much easier to complete.

WD. Do you see any crossover projects?

ND. Yes. As a matter a fact, now that I’m going to be bringing Dread & Alive to the digital platform, there is a bit of crossover element to the story. I’ll explain. In the first novel, Dread & Alive: Night of the Animals, our hero, Drew McIntosh, is crouched on the rooftop of his building as the story begins. Drew’s inspiration for his late night rooftop vigils comes from a comic book that Anthony (Drew’s little brother) is reading. That comic book … Hitless. I’m planning to do the same with FlashTV and Cavedudez. The two main Cavedudez, Nigel and Leno, will be the hosts of the FlashTV show.

WD. Where and who do you get your inspiration from?

ND. Inspiration comes to me in many forms. From listening to music, watching films, travelling, spending time with my daughter, snowboarding, going out to eat in San Francisco (so many cool restaurants) and just daydreaming. I do think music is probably the most influential for me. I have some killer monitoring speakers on my desk and I’m always listening to something different. I’m inspired by such artists as Kitaro, Bob Marley, Carlos Santana, Jean Michel Jarre, Moby, TCM, The Cure, The Cult and The Police. Television is also an important source of inspiration for me. Michael Mann is my favourite director and a big influence on the Hitless series. All his films are in my personal library, including Manhunter. TV channels that inspire me include the History Channel, the Travel Channel and National Geographic.

WD. Maybe a silly question, but why Flash?

ND. One word… cross-purposing. I enjoy working with Flash because it is the only program I know of that allows me to take one design element and create a website, a game, a film short or animation, even a mobile application based around that element, all within one application. And the export possibilities are endless. Let there be Flash!

WD. Finally, what does the future hold, both for ZOOLOOK and yourself?

ND. For ZOOLOOK, the opportunity to take Hitless, Dread & Alive and the Cavedudez to the big screen. I also want to get into the gaming industry with these properties. For me, travelling is definitely on my agenda and more new projects, I’m sure. I’m already planning a new project for next year, a children’s series dedicated to my daughter, Mariana Mai Da Silva.

(This article originally appeared in Web Designer 150, written by Mark Billen)

ZOOLOOK

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