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Nik Daum, artist and animator, lists favorite books

Nik Daum said he was no expert in art or animation. “But I have fluctuating levels of enthusiasm for both and want to get my visual ideas out into the world.” NIk Daum grew up in Dallas, Texas, studied illustration in Pasadena, California, and has moved to Thailand because of the inexpensive cost of living there. I asked Nik Daum about his animation and literary project Meatland, currently in development, and asked about some of his favorite books.

Before you read the interview you can see the Meatland art work at http://nikdaum.com/meatland/

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you come up with the setting of Meatland, the animation/novel you’re working on?

NIK DAUM: The setting of “Meatland” is a mixture of the rural country, forest, megalopolis. It is mostly inspired by the worst parts of Dallas and Los Angeles: sprawl and soullessness, the bland tract houses, the congested roads and dependence on cars.
It is left ambiguous as to whether the city is part of our world or not. There is no reference to anything real, nor does the city seem connected to other communities.
It isn’t land-locked, but the coast is inconvenient to get to and in pretty bad shape.
Being more like a bay than an expansive coast, it is home to an abandoned port and traces of dirty industry.
The bay is dead, made shallow and muddy by silt deposits and thus not a good shipping port.
Massive luxury steamships are mired and rusting, a fading memory of prosperity and growth.
The outskirts of the town are a confusing sandbox of experiments: rolling country hills not used for agriculture, roads that seem to go nowhere or circle into themselves, pilot housing developments are abandoned next to new ones that seem to be doing fine.
It feels like the excitement to expand became confusing to the developers, like an airplane builder who is trying to assemble a plane while looking up at the sky. Because they are so insular, the citizens don’t really even realize how unique a life they lead.
The town was founded by both “bear” and man. And although “bears” have not been seen in the town since the beginning, they still hold all of the governmental power.

Daily life is affected by the whims of the “bears”: taxes are levied to build massive salmon streams, there are community honey bee hives, large swaths of land are left undeveloped as habitat for the bears. The whole town has to constantly act and react to the moody whims of the bear government. The story is mostly about the protagonist discovering his roots, family, and true connection to the town.
Ultimately, it answers questions about where the power in the town really resides. There is also love and adventure, death and honey, but these are tools to keep it interesting.

RV: What would you say would be the final form of Meatland? A full-length animated feature or a novel?

ND: Hopefully Meatland will be both a novel and an animation. Both are equally long and difficult final forms that are daunting to think about right now.

RV: Is it possible to create a full-length animated feature on your own, and if so how long do you think it might take?

ND: I certainly think that it is possible to create a full-length animated feature alone, but it would take a lot of time and energy, and you would never be able to capture the visual splendor and consistent quality that a team of artists can achieve. Don Hertzfield could make a feature I bet, but I don’t know if I could watch a ninety minute version of Rejected.
It is far easier to make an animated short, and even that is hard. I abandoned my first three shorts that I tried to do in school, and I feel like a failure for it. But the style and substance of what can make a good short doesn’t necessarily provide enough meat for something longer.
There are a few successful hybrids between individually-made animated shorts and committee-made bores.
Les Triplettes de Belleville comes to mind.
Writer/director Sylvain Chomet and art director/designer Evgnei Tomov accomplished a very magical and focused animation that felt like an individual creation despite being made by an international cluster of talent.

The mood and visual style was a primary inspiration for Meatland.
And the movie, while technically in French, was crafted without the need for subtitles or complicated dialogue to tell the story. Animators, like Brian Taylor of rustboy.com, seem to be trying to build their own feature length animations…These are projects too big to think of as anything more than a hobby and an eventual goal.
If I sat down at the computer and thought, “I’ll make a feature length animation!” I would never get started. But it is much easier if lots of little visual experiments and thoughts can lead to something bigger.
And I can’t know from the onset if these pieces ever will fit together the right way. But that’s okay too.

RV: What sort of cost would go into making an animation like this? Could you finance it with income from your commercial work?

ND: I don’t think this is my goal, and if it was I think it would kill me to do it. I am not working right now, but I remember that all of my creative energy was sucked up by my last full time creative job.
I think the social sacrifice would be too high for me, and I’m already a recluse. I actually quit my job and moved to Thailand to give myself time to work on personal projects, but this solution is a little extreme.

RV: Could you recommend about five books, fiction or non-fiction, that you’ve particularly enjoyed, especially if they are titles people might not have heard of, or just your favorite books of all time?

ND: In no particular order: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (or any book by David Foster Wallace), East of Eden by Steinbeck, Naked (or anything by David Sedaris), The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (or anything by Haruki Murakami).

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