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A not so far away future reality is the one portrayed in the animated short film “Best friend”, co-directed by the Italian Character Designer and Visual Development artist Nicholas Olivieri.

After studying a master’s in computer graphics and working two years as an art director for an independent video game company, Nicholas started his journey in the world of animation attending the master of Arts in Character Animation and Animated Filmmaking at Gobelins in Paris. There, he directed “al di la”, a 3D short film, and “Best Friend”, his graduation movie that won the best student film at the Annie Awards in 2019.

In approximately 6 minutes, the short animated film explores our relationship with technologies, specifically smart devices and social networks, and how we’re depending on them. Furthermore, it analyses what happens when people replace real human relationships with virtual ones, falling into becoming addicted to them and feeling more lonely every time.

The first idea came from an unfortunate event that occurred to Co-Director Shen Yi. During his first months in Paris, someone robbed his phone and he described it as losing the key to his survival in a foreign country.

The team started to think about possible ways in which smartphones could be replaced in the near future and how this new device would affect peoples’s daily lives.

After, they developed the main character, Arthur.

“We tried hundreds off clothes, hairstyles, and head shapes”.

concept art for animated short film "best friends"

Arthur’s main inspiration came from Buster Keaton, a character that could be happy, sad, and absurd at the same time.

On the other hand, Cami, the best virtual friend, was also another challenge, according to Olivieri. She had to reflect a middle point between a human being and fake but had to be beautiful and lovely, so the audience could fall in love with her right away. Her colour palette was the same as the app in order to emphasise that she didn’t belong to the human world.

Other references they used were the movie HER, featuring Joaquin Phoenix, for the idea of the future as an evolution of society, and the Italian designer Joe Colombo concerning the architecture and furniture design for the spaces.

After his graduation, Nicholas has worked as a character designer for several animation studios such as Nexus, Blue Spirit, Disney TV, and Illumination Mac Guff.

Nicholas’ creative process

Nicholas gets a lot of inspiration from movies, paintings, illustrated books for children, and daily life. He likes to emphasise the funny aspects of them: pushing proportions, shapes, and the way they behave.

Art director and graphic designer Nicholas olivieri's digital drawing of a monster drinking tea

“When I’m working on a character I like to observe people around me and see how they behave, especially if they do something funny. Usually, the director has the idea and my job as a character designer is to develop the characters by collecting as much information as possible from the script, storyboards, and references from the internet. Making it original and captivating”.

Once the personality of the character is defined, Nicholas draws it digitally using photoshop if he’s working on the computer or using Procreate when drawing with his Ipad, since the process is faster and allows a big range of possibilities.

In the future, Nicholas would like to illustrate children's books and become director of animated and non-animated films.

Art director and graphic designer Nicholas olivieri's concept artwork for two samurai beetles

Art director and graphic designer Nicholas olivieri's digital drawing of a samurai insect

If you want to check Nichola’s work, follow him on his Instagram account.

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