Justin A. Nixon is a director, animator, motion designer and artist, who constantly pushes the boundaries.
Recently, he wrote and directed the short film ‘Battery Life’, bringing it to life on shoestring budget.
Using stop motion to tell the story of a father and son in a robotic universe, Nixon demonstrates just what he and his filmmaking team are capable of.
We caught up with Justin to talk about ‘Battery Life’ (which you can watch below).
What’s the inspiration behind ‘Battery Life’? And tell us about your background in film. What made you to get into the field? Do you remember making your first movie?
“I was always into movies growing up, but I never realised what role they would actually play in my life until I was on set for the first time. I worked at a bookstore with some filmmakers, and they had me come on set to act once – seeing how it was pieced together really made me want to get into it.
“I found a local film program at Point Park University and spent the next three-plus years directing, shooting and editing short films by myself and with teams of other students.
“After school I kept making things on my own with the resources that I had, and I ended up helping a friend on a stop motion film called ‘FADE’. Working on this film I had my first visions of what would become ‘Battery Life’. It started out as a fun adventure piece, but as I started to flesh out the script it became a lot more personal – a film about struggle.
“I was going through a big transition in my life at the time, and while I wrestled with the script I was also wrestling with some personal things. I wanted to humanise these robots, and the best way to do that is showing relationships, because relationships are what continue to get me through whatever struggles I’m having.”
Walk us through the creative process for the film. How long did it take to make? Any challenges along the way?
“The film, from conception to completion, took three-and-a-half years. The creative process really came out through our limitations. We did this movie on $5000 (some out of pocket, some crowd funded from Indiegogo and local fundraisers), so our gear wasn’t plentiful. A lot of the look is based on what resources we had, and how we could take minimal elements to create a large world.
“Even though we couldn’t get what we originally wanted out of a shot, we could find a way for it to speak to the audience. A lot of times, this would work out better for us in the end because we were thinking on our feet, having to throw away a previous plan.
“This was also our greatest challenge, though. Towards the end of the film a lot of the pieces were falling apart, but we would find ways to shoot around it or take from other pieces. For example, the mother robot is entirely stripped down. Her parts are used between the other three characters. Preacher’s hands, the father’s feet and the boy’s joints were all the mother’s before we started production.
“There were the predictable perils of stop motion as well. A lot of long nights being thrown away due to a power surge or one of us bumped the camera or the set. But that’s what you sign up for, and when the inanimate puppets come to life on screen, the hours fade away.”
If you could make any film with any budget, what would the film be about?
“I’ve been thinking about a pirate film for a long time now… something gritty and intense like The Revenant or The Last of Us, but a little more stylised, like Drive or perhaps The Assassination of Jesse James.
“It would have a female lead who’s strong, like Rey from Star Wars and Furiosa from Mad Max. A lot of morality defining moments… someone trying to be good while always being presented an opportunity to do evil.”
Any future projects you can talk to us about?
“As far as what’s next, we’re moving forward with ‘Battery Life’ by pitching it as an episodic show. We’re also going through a pile of ideas that we came up with over the course of ‘Battery Life’ to see if any are worth pursuing right now.
“Some of us that worked on ‘Battery Life’ have also formed a company called MajorMajor, where we take on client animation work and will be releasing future collaborations under. You can see our projects and reels here. We’re always looking for new people to work with!
“I’ve also been enjoying taking on smaller, short-term projects. For example, some friends and I pulled some resources together to make a Gotham City micro short called ‘Who’s Laughing Now?’ that will be released in the next month or two.”