Why we're loving: John Nolan

This week, Campaign is loving Jonathan Nowlan, the owner of John Nolan Studio. Here's why...

Tell us about the McVitie’s project. We got involved at the pitching stage and it was clear that Owen [Trevor, the director] wanted to tackle the scripts with a practical mind, also with a nod to 80s film-making, using movies such as ET and Gremlins in his director’s treatment. From an animatronics and creature effects point of view, this was really exciting.

When reading the script, it was clear that these commercials would only work if there was the perfect balance between using a real animal, an animatronic version and something computer-generated, creating a seamless blend where one takes over from the next.

For the puppy and kitten spots, a team of eight technicians, including sculptors, mould-makers, silicone artists, painters, hair-punchers and animatronic engineers, were used to build two puppets that would break out of the packets of biscuits, cutting to or blending with the real animals. This was our main challenge: creating animatronic duplicates of very young animals, predicting what size, shape and colour they would be at the time of filming to double and sit into a film where a real animal cannot be used.

The Jaffa Cakes tarsier script was our favourite as it was completely animatronic. We knew that the production couldn’t source a real tarsier, so it was up to our team to build one from scratch, using visual effects to paint out any puppeteering rods and enhance its pupils.

How did you get into animatronics? I studied make-up at the London College of Fashion. After graduating, I got on to the Harry Potter films as an animatronics trainee. Eight years later, I started my own company in North London where, for the past four years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best freelancers this country has to offer.

What other work are you most proud of? The film I’m most proud to have worked on is Where The Wild Things Are and one of my favourite animatronics is my trap-bench-pressing mouse.

What is your favourite piece of animatronics? As far as design goes, I still think that Rob Bottin’s RoboCop (the original one) is one of my favourites; it’s untouchable.

What are you working on next? We’re working on a horror film called The Woods, shot by the music-video director Corin Hardy, and also a short musical I’m writing and directing, set in a butcher’s, called MEAT.

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