The song “Could you be loved” by the legendary Bob Marley and “The Wailers” got an official video last year inspired by Cedeya Marley and everything she does for women’s football in the Caribbean and Latin America as part of the “Football is Freedom” initiative. These days, this song has more than 20 million views on YouTube, and along with Vanja Vikalo “Lynch”, who signs [visual style and] directing, there is also Nenad Mitrović, who was in charge of production, supervision, managerial work, and a whole series of “screws and gears” that bring to life the story of a girl in a “men’s sport”, accompanied by the energy and spirit of Bob Marley in the background.
That volume of work is not surprising because Nenad himself says that he could never decide on one thing but draws from everything he does, the new energy and inspiration for the tasks he is faced with.
Marley’s family is delighted with what Nenad and Vanja have brought as a result.
As we speak, his plans of going to Japan and adding his “spices” to the cultural scene there, but also to adopt the undertone of the local creative (and work) spirit into his own language, are becoming a tangible reality.
We spoke with Nenad about the secret of the success of local film and animator creatives, a whole galaxy of excellent experts behind the camera who make sure that the viewer gets the maximum quality and enjoyment of each shot.
The global film industry does not recognize too many faces from this area, but local names formed the backbone of this production behind the camera: from the make-up artist, costume designer, the only Serb who sat on the Oscar jury, etc… Is there an “x-factor”, the creativity that professionals from here bring to the world?
It has stopped surprising me how many people are there from our region I meet around the world, who work in the creative industry.
It’s hard to narrow it down to one reason, but no matter how cliché it is, I have the impression that a big factor in our success is also one that often gets in our way, our famous mentality.
It seems to me that we have a way of thinking that can sometimes be strange in a social context, but quite refreshing in a business surrounding, when it is an environment where people are not used to it.
That said, what did the big film productions, and more recently Bob Marley’s family, recognize about you?
I can’t say that anything happened overnight or with some hit-creation, over the years many contacts and friendships have been made, these are the people I am grateful to for still calling me to participate in big and interesting projects.
The video for Marley’s song specifically, came solely thanks to our phenomenal animator and illustrator Vanja Vikalo (Linnch), his drawings delighted Marley’s family.
A demanding project for a small team, but we knew it had to be perfectly executed, to go with such a legendary song. For this reason, we had to do a lot of different and non-standard tasks, for example, I also did the cleanup of individual frames (in this context it is coloring and cleaning lines), a little outside the comfort zone, let’s say.
There are numerous qualifications in your resume, from creative ones to those that directly affect the finances and functioning of a company. What was your real dream when you first set out on your professional career?
I knew from early childhood what I wanted to do, probably when I saw the first cartoon. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how lucky I was to discover a goal so early.
Drawing and later animation were definitely my first big obsessions, but to come back to Marley again – I couldn’t even imagine that one day I would be producing his official music video.
All this requires serious multitasking. Do you find this abundance of different tasks from different fields an inspiration or a burden? (and why)
It’s a double-edged sword, even though I was sure as a kid that I was going to be an animator, I quickly discovered many other things that attracted me. I’ve always admired people who find one career and then spend their whole life being that person, honing their craft.
Sticking to one profession is certainly better financially and mentally, but for me, there was no way, there are too many interesting things for me to ignore.
The positive side is that when I get tired of one job, I can switch to something completely different, and then find new inspiration.
20 years ago, this ability was considered an advantage that an individual brings to a team, while psychologists today advise the “one thing at a time” approach because it leads to overload and a decrease in the quality of work. What do you think about it and how difficult is it for your colleagues to follow you in all your work?
The way I’ve found it works is to „make the time longer”. Jumping from one ‘mode’ to another ‘mode’ every week would be very tiring for both me and my co-workers.
I usually do one thing for at least a few months, sometimes for 2-3 years, so my colleagues are often the same, for example, while a certain project lasts, or the studio I work with during that period..
(Universal Machine – Lead animator]
During World War II, we learned about the capacity of film as a medium for manipulation and agitprop. And what impact does (can) animation have on our emotions and subconscious?
Animation has long ceased to be a medium intended only for children, it exists in all forms, and you cannot avoid it. It is a very effective tool for conveying ideas and emotions, and you should be careful with it. That’s why if I can, I avoid working on advertisements, because we are constantly bombarded, by phones, TV, and moving billboards, everything is moving, colorful and tiring. I’m a bit pessimistic about it because there’s so much saturation that everything has become the same.
There’s the challenge of making something that stands out. On the other hand, animated films and series are much more enjoyable for me, regardless of the genre.
You mentioned “cheating” in the layout – aesthetic emphasis on details that more precisely affect the viewer’s attention and emotional state. Tell us about some little secrets through examples… How do you make certain details affect the reception of ideas in the desired way?
That was the topic of my lecture at one of the CGA conferences in Belgrade. The idea is that, if the shot looks right from the camera, it doesn’t matter what the actual setting of that scene is, from other angles.
The frame must fulfill its purpose, and the director’s vision and our job is to make it possible, with all the tools we have at our disposal. In 3D animation, it is often the case that character models are completely disassembled to make them look a certain way on camera for a specific purpose.
Parts of the body are separated, and furniture is “dipped” into the floor or through the wall, just to get an image through the eye of the camera that will have the desired reaction of the viewer.
It is a lot of fun to come up with new ways to create the same scene because in animation we are not limited by the physical attributes of objects and characters.
Those methods are also used in the film, where sets are made with moving walls, etc. but in 3D everything is much easier and faster, the freedom is much greater.
Of course, all while respecting the principles of film language.
Does that mean working side by side with a behavioral expert or is it based on the emotional capacity of the animator?
Animators study behavior and movement, but we don’t specifically work with psychologists and experts unless it’s a very specific character where it’s necessary for authenticity. It is mainly the task of the animator himself to breathe life and character into the characters.
Considering recent events in Belgrade and widespread speculation about the influence of video games and other animated content on the behavior of children and adolescents, do you believe that visual content as such can cause such extreme, aggressive, and destructive behavior or is it necessary to plant it on “fertile” grounds?
I’m far from an expert, but it’s my opinion that music, video games, and movies can’t bring that about. I can imagine a scenario where they have some influence on a person who is already capable of an act, but cause the person to physically act – no, I don’t think it’s possible.
Even before, certain video games and even television content (from Sandokan to Teletubbies) were accused of children’s behavior that led to tragic outcomes. Can you help us identify the “red flags” in content like this?
I have never encountered such alarming content, or at least not in media that is easily and publicly available.
The worst offenders, in my opinion, are poorly designed content for children, without any instruction and that do not stimulate thinking, they are only ‘pretty’ and work to kill time.
Animation is big business, and not all productions are motivated by quality or any kind of audience education.
A new challenge is ahead of you – Japan is calling you! Tell us about the new engagement and expectations.
The business connection between Tokyo – Belgrade is something I have been working on for several years. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic, as for most people, disrupted my numerous plans and now, after several years, we are trying to restart that cooperation.
I don’t expect much more than the possibility of working on new interesting projects, because everything we’ve done so far has been a lot of fun, like a presentation for a leading manufacturer of karaoke machines on a 10-meter-wide LED screen.
The industry there is huge, and the competition is fierce, so we had to take special care to hit the specific sensibilities of the target audience.
Nenad got his first job as a character animator in 2004. Since then, he has been involved in a wide range of roles in productions in Serbia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Austria.
In 2015, he took what appeared to be a temporary position as a layout artist at Arx Anima studio in Vienna, quickly became obsessed with the work, and soon became a department supervisor, spending about three years working on the animated TV series Talking Tom and Friends.
His affinity to explore all aspects of the manufacturing process later earned him the position of Project Manager, leading the last 11 months of the project to completion. He is currently in Belgrade, where he collaborates on new projects locally.
We are talking about a different culture and a completely different work ethic – how do you expect to cope and what do you see as the biggest challenge in this regard?
The whole work process is very different than in the West and requires a change in thinking and approach.
Language is a significant barrier here, so speaking Japanese was a big help. Most Japanese clients don’t want to communicate in English at all, so knowing the language has allowed me to secure projects that would otherwise be unavailable.
Even so, the first project completely confused me because of the way clients communicate, but once you get used to it, it becomes interesting, among other things because it is so different.
Perhaps I would describe it through a contrast with our work style, where it is expressed very directly whether we like something or not, on the other hand, in Japan, indirect suggestions and abstract terms are used to avoid offending the co-worker.
And what will always bring you back to Belgrade?
Apart from the obvious answer that my family and friends are there, Belgrade has a long list of positive and negative qualities, but it is still undoubtedly unique.
Some of the experiences I had here, I certainly couldn’t have had anywhere else. That’s why everyone comes back here, wherever they are based around the world. You start to miss that mentality that I mentioned at the beginning.