School of Motion

Get Weird & Get Paid: A Q&A with Nick DenBoer

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On this week's podcast episode we dig into the bizarre mind and wacky work of Nick DenBoer.

Today we talk with Nick DenBoer about his unique entry point into the professional world of motion design, how he landed a dream gig working for Team Coco, and how his short passion project landed him at the Sundance Film Festival.
Nick is a Toronto-based animator who works mostly by himself out of his home studio. Nick has produced quite a few pieces of motion design work that can only be described as infamous.
He's done work for Conan O'Brien including a series of supercuts, but he's probably best known for a parody of The Shining that he and a buddy produced called The Chickening. Rather than attempt to describe it here, I suggest watching it before moving forward. This will help you know what you're getting into here...
There is a lot for you to geek out on in this episode! We hope you enjoy it!

Nick DenBoer Show Notes

EXPLICIT
ARTISTS/STUDIOS
PIECES
RESOURCES
MISCELLANEOUS

Nick DenBoer Transcript

Joey Korenman: I am so excited to share this episode with you. If I still lived in Massachusetts, I might even say I'm wicked excited. Today on the podcast we have a guest with the weirdest real I've ever seen. If you're into the bizarre, if you're into laughing at inappropriate things, if you're into gratuitous nudity then you are really going to love Nick DenBoer.
Joey Korenman: Nick is an animator who lives in Toronto, works mostly by himself out of a home studio and he has produced a few pieces of work that might be best described as infamous. He's done work for Conan O'Brien, including a series of super cuts that have made the rounds in the mo graph world, but he is probably best known for a parody of The Shining that he and a buddy produced called, I kid you not, The Chickening.
Joey Korenman: Rather than attempt to describe it here, I suggest pausing this podcast and watching it before you continue just so you know what you're getting into here. I'll wait.
Joey Korenman: All right. In this episode, Nick and I talk about his unique entry point into the professional world, how he landed a dream gig working for Team Coco and how his short passion project landed him at the Sundance Film Festival and on the radar of gigantic brands and ad agencies.
Joey Korenman: There is so much geekery and wisdom in this episode, and also a bit more cursing than we normally have but hey, it is what it is. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Let's get to it right after hearing from one of our amazing alumni.
Adam Bolen: My name is Adam Bolen, I work in Springfield, Missouri and I have taken Animation Bootcamp from School of Motion. I've gotten from this course, an eye for detail that I didn't have before. I can also think through my movements a lot more. I was relying heavily on plug-ins like Ease and Wiz and now I've learned to graft where if I want it to move a certain way, I can make it move a certain way.
Adam Bolen: Now I can really pay attention to every frame and be proud of it. I would recommend this to really anyone that wants to get more comfortable with the animation principles. It's going to help you in many ways, no matter what level you are.
Adam Bolen: My name is Adam Bolen and I'm a School of Motion graduate.
Joey Korenman: Nick, it is a pleasure to have you on the podcast, man. Thank you so much for taking time.
Nick DenBoer: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Joey Korenman: Just so I know and everybody else knows, how do we pronounce your last name?
Nick DenBoer: DenBoer.
Joey Korenman: DenBoer, okay. Because I saw it when you booked the podcast, you booked it as like Nicholaas, with, I think, two A's.
Nick DenBoer: Yep.
Joey Korenman: I thought that's a little Dutch sounding. I thought it's probably not DenBoer.
Nick DenBoer: DenBoer.
Joey Korenman: Got it. Noted. I like my [hackaslach 00:03:39] like everybody else.
Nick DenBoer: You know your stuff.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I sure do. All right. Let's, first of all, I want to dig into your background a little bit. Anyone listening, if you're not familiar with Nick's work, we're going to link to it in the show notes and right before we started recording, I described Nick as [cyriak 00:03:55] Canadian brother.
Joey Korenman: It's very weird. When I watch it, all I can think is, I love this. This speaks to me. This is exactly what I want to be watching right now, but I cannot really put my finger on why I like it. It's just that bizarre and awesome.
Joey Korenman: Where did this style of yours come from?
Nick DenBoer: That's a bit tough to kind of because ...
Joey Korenman: In [crosstalk 00:04:19] or less.
Nick DenBoer: You know, styles kind of evolve over years and years, but it really does go way back to teenage days. In high school, I started out taking old magazines and cutting them up and using multiples of the same magazine so I would have extra material to stretch out people's arms and legs and faces and kind of did some cut and paste stuff to make these kind of mutant freaks when I was super young.
Nick DenBoer: I think that kind of ... now I see I'm doing that stuff with 3D models and buying these high res, high-end scans of people and I'm doing the same kinds of things by stretching their heads and faces and arms and making these weird freaks out of things, so it's kind of always been there to tell you the truth.
Joey Korenman: Are there any like, you know, because it's funny. I was trying to wrack my brain to think of things that I'd seen in my childhood that were like this and I couldn't really think of too many, but you know there's like this bizarre quality to what you do and it reminds me of another artist, Albert [Omoss 00:05:22], who he kind of takes these very realistic humanoid 3D models and stretches them and has naked, like just a bunch of dicks flopping around. All kinds of crazy stuff.
Nick DenBoer: Wicked. I've been seeing so much cool stuff on Instagram, like people doing Houdini stuff, which I haven't really dove into yet, but just all that crazy soft body mangling of people, it's like awesome.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so I mean when you were growing up, I mean were there like weird cartoons or movies or anything like that?
Nick DenBoer: I grew up on a farm in the middle of rural Canada where we had an aerial on our property and we could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning and they were from the 1960s. Other than like Rocket Robin Hood and such, I didn't see much. I was out in the back forty, playing in the manure pile.
Joey Korenman: Got it. I guess this was just a gift you were born with to love the bizarre. Cool. So you said you were doing collages and stuff like that and sort of photo-bashing, I guess, is what we'd call it now.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Did that sort of persist all the way from teenagers up until your career or was there a break in the middle?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, there was a bit of a break. I was doing that collage stuff. I went to art school here at Ontario College of Art and Design for a semester and a half in Toronto. I was like I kind of wanted to get into integrated media, video stuff but I already had my dad's old digital camera Hi8 machine and a computer that did not really do video but barely. I get to school and they're like nah, you still got to do like two years of VHS before we let you go digital. I was like, this is ridiculous.
Nick DenBoer: I actually ended up dropping out just for just a bunch of reasons I just thought it was kind of lame and I needed to make money. I kind of stopped there, but I kept doing my collages and my 2D work for years, but then I stopped and started a construction company and did that for nine, ten years. Just only at the tail end of that I was kind of making videos again and started to learn to make videos and learn after effects.
Nick DenBoer: Then yeah, just kind of took a hard turn from renovating and building additions for people to doing like some original motion graphics.
Joey Korenman: Right. To doing weird things with Stanley Kubrick. Where did the ... you mentioned you went to school for sort of a mixed media-ish education, where did the animation side come in? What made you think, I should learn after effects?
Nick DenBoer: Honestly, it probably wasn't ... I dabbled a little bit just with friends doing some projects in early art school, but not really too much until later on I was like I was managing a band called Run With the Kittens here in Toronto and was just constantly, I bought this old school bus and we painted it black and put all these bedrooms in the back. We toured across Canada for a while. I was always just making videos of the band. That kind of just trickled in to doing more and more weird stuff with the video footage.
Nick DenBoer: Then YouTube came around and I started just, I had early crappy capture cards with a TV antenna with recording television off my computer. It was so novel to have video footage from the airwaves on your computer back then.
Joey Korenman: I remember.
Nick DenBoer: I would use that as my primary remix footage. Yeah, it was kind of like early 2000s started messing with that. Yeah, just kind of flagged, taught myself from messing around and cooking up projects for me to do.
Joey Korenman: That's really funny. I can remember being in probably high school and convincing my parents to get me one of those video capture cards out of a magazine or something. It could capture eight seconds at a time, 320x240 at 15 frames a second, or something and that was cutting edge.
Nick DenBoer: I watched the Twin Towers get hit on my capture card, on my first capture card. I remember I just bought it and then all of a sudden I'm watching it live on my computer, the Twin Towers and I was like oh my god. Why? I assume you probably won't be using that footage in one of these weird remakes any time soon. No I'm full HD now. Can't go back.
Joey Korenman: Exactly, exactly. 1080p or bust. So, you know, your newer stuff, and we're going to get into that, is a lot more 3D and really just kind of abstract weird creepy awesome 3D, but a lot of the earlier stuff and the stuff that got you noticed was this sort of remix of found footage. I've been kind of reading some of your interviews with media and stuff like that, a few times you referenced this sort of remixing culture that the internet has kind of allowed to thrive.
Joey Korenman: That there's YouTube channels like AutoTune the News and Bad Lip Reading. You've got artists like cyriak, I'm a huge cyriak fanboy. This medium of you know just infinite amounts of video that you can now play with is sort of a new thing.
Joey Korenman: I'm curious if you feel like the work you're doing is sort of borne of this age, or is something that's been around for 50 years and I just didn't know about it?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, I mean I guess with moving pictures it's still fairly new but people have been repurposing stuff for years, whether it's a urinal in an art gallery, or whatever. Kind of turning some otherwise non-artistic object into a new piece of art isn't a new thing.
Nick DenBoer: I think mixing all this technology now is like we're not just remixing a TV show or something like that. We're remixing a TV show, adding 3D models that someone else made, I consider kind of like adding all this stock footage that's online, into the mix of remix as well. You're kind of just building on all these little puzzle pieces of artwork that everyone's made and fusing it to make something new.
Nick DenBoer: When you're mixing like doing an audio remix plus 3D modeling remix plus a video edit to the music plus 2D after effects, visual effects thing all in one project, there's so much going on there that it's beyond making something new out of it. You're just making something new in like five different fields. That's really exciting to me.
Nick DenBoer: I think just the combination of all the different kind of remix that can be in one piece is really exciting and new.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I loved that you referenced Marcel Duchamp's Urinal in a museum. By the way, for everyone listening, I had to Google it. I didn't know his name at the top of my head. I could have let that go, I would have sounded really smart.
Joey Korenman: Is there any culture built around this? Are there websites that you go to or other artists that you kind of follow? I guess, is there a place where there's a sort of community of people doing this?
Nick DenBoer: I think there's lots. Like there's lots of subReddits where people are messing with stuff. Everything from like the deep fix fake app stuff that's been coming up lately or Photo Shop battles is still kind of a remix thing. I used to post a lot and it's actually where I kind of met cyriak and a bunch of dudes in England that do this stuff. Beta BT3a.com, it's like a cool site.
Nick DenBoer: Back in the day, I used to participate quite a bit and they always had an image challenge every week where we'd mess with photos and whatnot. I think they still kicked that back into effect recently. It was kind of a cool site for remix artists. A lot of great dudes on there. It's like Swedemason does a lot of cool audio remixes. Cassette Boy, I don't know if you heard of him. Happy Toast does wicked gifts and cyriak posted back in the day all the time too.
Joey Korenman: Super cool.
Nick DenBoer: That's cool.
Joey Korenman: I'm definitely going to have to check that site out. I'm not familiar with BT3A so, we'll definitely link to that in the show notes so everyone can check it out. When you make this stuff, do you have like, I don't know. Have you developed a sense of when something is going to be funny?
Joey Korenman: For example, we're going to talk more about The Chickening in a minute but you've taken footage from The Shining and you've obviously videotaped somebody else's mouth saying different words and you put the mouth on the actor's face. You make the mouth just a little bit too big, it's something about that that just works and it's hilarious.
Joey Korenman: I'm just wondering, do you just have a gut instinct for that or is there some sort of something you look at where you're like, now it's funny?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, I guess it's always kind of a weird balance. Sometimes you have an idea and you're trying to force it onto the footage and sometimes you let the footage and assets you're working with inspire the idea. Sometimes you're just looking at something, you've already got your puzzle pieces and you're like, "how is this going to go together?" And you just start messing with it until you get something you like.
Nick DenBoer: Other times, you have this idea and you're trying to make it happen and you're scouring the internet to find the assets you need to make it work. I think, yeah, part of it is just kind of having an eye for what looks funny and part of it is being creative with what assets you're using. I don't know, it's a bit of a mix of everything, but most of the time I'm going for something that looks visually striking and makes me laugh, I guess, if I'm doing a comedy piece.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Some of the stuff that you've done it kind of reminds me of the Uncanny Valley, where if you made the body and the head that you're mashing together fit too well, it wouldn't really be that interesting but if it's too off it doesn't work either. There's this middle ground where it's just wonky enough.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. That's what I love about our team because it's like you get that photo real render look, but you can warp everything else and it just makes this beautiful mix of surreal and real in harmony. It's my favorite jam right now is the whole C40 Octane Workflow.
Joey Korenman: It makes you feel a very strange feeling when you see a very photo-realistic head being you know shoved inside of a toilet, or something, with a hamburger fired at its face, which by the way, is a real thing and we'll link to that in the show notes.
Joey Korenman: Let's talk about your big break, I guess. For a while, you actually got to work on the Conan O'Brien Show, which I think is the best of the late-night shows. I'm wondering if you could just tell the story, how did you get that gig?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah that's kind of a ... every gig kind of links back to some video I made somehow or another. Like if it's all been word of mouth, my whole career has been kind of a linear flow from one jump to the next kind of thing.
Nick DenBoer: Early on, I think in like 2010, I took a break from life here. I was just wrapping my Rent-o Construction career and I moved down to Los Angeles for the winter. I just set up my computer, I brought all my stuff down there and I made this remix of The View called Sex Tape. It's got Barbara Walters, all the gold View gang and a musical cut with all kinds of weird stuff, motion tracked onto it.
Nick DenBoer: That video really got some traction in the right places. It was on Attack of the Show and a bunch of others. I think that's what it's called. A bunch of other TV shows and whatnot. I'm kind of going back a few steps from Conan here, so bear with me.
Joey Korenman: It's all good.
Nick DenBoer: Then this guy Aaron Simpson, who worked at Mondo Media, I'm sure you're familiar with them, they did Happy Tree Friends and whatnot. They had a crack at that first round with that YouTube funding where they were throwing millions of dollars around to make like content back in 2012 or something.
Nick DenBoer: They saw that video and hired me to do this kind of news remix thing during the Mitt Romney election with Obama. I was doing I did 12 episodes every week. I just took the whole week of news and remixed it musically into a two-minute piece every week kind of thing. It was just like on-the-fly, super fast reduction. Hopefully by Wednesday we have enough material to jump in animation for Thursday, Friday, put out a video by Friday after at the end of the day.
Joey Korenman: Wow.
Nick DenBoer: That was kind of my intro into high-speed, crazy, pressure putting something out super fast. Then I remember I was on my buddy's sailboat here in Toronto and I just got an email that was like, John Wooden the executive producer at Team Coco just tapped me and was like, "Hey, we're wondering if you'd want to pitch some stuff for the show." I was like, "Holy shit."
Nick DenBoer: He had seen that and that news hit stuff I did. Sorry I didn't mention that, but it was the web series I made for Mando. It was called Newshit or News Shit depending on how you see it.
Joey Korenman: Very nice.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. I guess somebody had sent John Wooden the ... my stuff and he tapped me. I went home that night and set up my green screen. I had seen this Brad Pitt Chanel ad where he's saying all this pretentious crap, so you know. I stripped down, took my shirt off, shot myself on green screen and my body is not as fit as Brad Pitt's, obviously, therein lied the comedy.
Nick DenBoer: I was fondling my nipples and whatnot, stuck my body on Brad Pitt's head that evening. Sent the clip over to John at Conan. He brought his laptop over to Conan's desk, showed it to him and they aired it that night. I was like holy shit that's pretty, wow.
Nick DenBoer: I remember just turning on my TV and being like, wow. I made that this morning or last night and it's on TV now. That just started this whole thing about how I'd just started doing piece work for them just pitching videos as I made them and I started getting a pretty high batting average. I was getting stuff on every week, if not every few days. Then that turned into a salary gig for a few years, you know, like me sitting in Toronto and shooting over video clips whenever I had them.
Nick DenBoer: And I had this crazy backdoor onto the show where John would just take his laptop over to Conan, show him stuff and it would ... I would kind of circumvent the writer's room, the production staff over there whatever else. Eventually I would work with the head writer and I would pitch him stuff rather than that crazy backdoor mainline onto television. It was pretty wild because honestly, some days I would be scouring the news for whatever.
Nick DenBoer: I always tell this story, but like the craziest one was probably the ones that happened the same day. There was one of Justin Bieber where he was in court and wearing a jail smock and he was just looking like a bratty jerk kind of. I had this bed sheet that was the same color as his jail smock when he was arrested. I saw that at seriously 10 a.m. or something. It was like super early in the morning, or relatively early in the morning and I ran into my bedroom, took off the bed sheet, I cut it up with some scissors and literally duct taped together this jail smock. It looked good enough for camera kind of thing.
Nick DenBoer: Went downstairs, shot it on my green screen, put it on my computer, comped it. It's like not the greatest comp job in the world, but I did it in like an hour and a half or something like that because I had to get it in by 1:00 for rehearsal. Then I had time for one or two rounds of revisions quick.
Nick DenBoer: I printed some American money and lit it on fire so Bieber looks like he doesn't care about the fines he's getting, burns the money, throws it in the air, gives the judge the finger. Then it aired that same day.
Nick DenBoer: It's the kind of thing where we beat all the other late-night guys to a joke about that. It's almost like once you've got something in the bag that gets a million views, is anyone else going to do it the next day? It's kind of like a race. We were competitive race, in a way, you know, the late night game.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's incredible, man. Would the team over there, because you mentioned you circumvented the writer's room and I've never worked on a show like that, but I imagine that for most of the people working on the show, there's probably more than one person between you and Conan O'Brien that has to approve a joke before it goes on the air.
Nick DenBoer: No joke. That was only in the early days like for the first few videos that that was kind of going on. Then after the first few months or something then I got kind of to the point where I'd just send clips directly to the head writer with John as well. John would help and we would kind of craft, you know we would kind of write a mock-up of what Conan's dialogue would be to set up the joke and what have you.
Nick DenBoer: Then, but the thing is I'm in Canada in Toronto, East Coast time, so I have three hours before any of them would even get to work. A lot of time I would have a rough video sketched out before anyone was even there, whereas if you're a writer on the show you have to pitch your ideas in the morning to the head writer, the ideas that get okayed, if they need to have video done for them, are then sent off to go shoot with a team and then they would get edited by another editor if there's video effects, another guy would do video effects.
Nick DenBoer: All of a sudden, you've got all these people slowing down the process where I could just literally go downstairs, shoot something on green screen, throw it on my computer, get it done, kick it out there and upload it in no time. It's a way faster process. I mean my studio is not as good. I don't have as crazy of a green screen setup and what have you, but that kind of a production pipeline is so much better for fast production with way less red tape, way less politics and if a late night show actually harnessed that and had 20 people that had multi-talents that could kick out videos instead of this committee style thing, I think it would be huge.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I was going to ask you about this because you really are a one-man band. I mean you're not just looking for the footage, making an edit and doing the visual effects, you're also writing music for this.
Nick DenBoer: Sure, man.
Joey Korenman: Literally, composing songs and stuff like that. It's interesting because I think there's actually a lot of artists in this industry that can do all of those things, but we sort of don't get ourselves permission to do all of them because you can feel like, you know what's the expression? Jack of all trades, master of none, right?
Nick DenBoer: Sure. You can spread yourself thin.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. Then on the other hand, it's allowed you to be more nimble than the competition on other late night shows.
Nick DenBoer: Sure, yeah. Yeah
Joey Korenman: Yeah and so I was going to ask you, do you think that this style of work, this remix kind of not completely seamlessly composited look, does that scale up? Could you scale it to a bigger team or does it need to be a singular vision?
Nick DenBoer: I did a project for KFC in January through Wieden+Kennedy, dudes over there in Portland are amazing. They hooked me up with this job. It was like we had two weeks to do this half hour of content. It was insane. It was this whole psychedelic meditation video for chicken pot pies. It was supposed to be like an infomercial slot kind of thing, ten-minute thing with a whole bunch of like extra back-up videos.
Nick DenBoer: It was like we had two weeks to do this, so I just hired everyone I knew who could help out kind of thing on a whim. Actually, I had David Aryan, who is Octane Jesus, he's been on your podcast before. He did some space work.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, he's a great dude.
Nick DenBoer: He's very talented.
Joey Korenman: He's amazing, yeah.
Nick DenBoer: He did some space stuff for me. My pal, Davy Force, who is my co-conspirator in The Chickening, he flew down here to help out. It was kind of like I was producing it and making it all happen, but I also was shooting it and editing it and doing a good chunk of the effects.
Nick DenBoer: It was a bit crazy but it was scalable. Having that, the people helping me and me knowing every, how to do every step of the project and being able to guide everyone efficiently, I think, was huge, but my whole career I've been avoiding starting a company where I'm running ten people because I know a lot of people who used to love doing their art and now they run companies and they're not really having fun anymore. I don't want to be that guy. I like doing it. I like getting my hands dirty. I like the art of it.
Nick DenBoer: If I can make good cash just doing projects that I can handle one at a time, I'm going to keep doing that. When projects come up and it's good money and I can scale up and hire my friends, even better right?
Joey Korenman: Exactly. I mean it sounds like you probably had to have a crash course in being a creative director in order to pull that off.
Nick DenBoer: Sure.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so it probably gave you a bunch of perspective too on what you like and don't like.
Nick DenBoer: Totally.
Joey Korenman: Can we talk about your home studio setup? Because I was going to ask you, I mean I assumed that working for Conan O'Brien you'd have to move to the US, move to the West Coast, but you said that they let you work remotely, which is incredible.
Joey Korenman: What kind of setup do you have that allows you to shoot footage on a green screen and screen hours and hours of news and do all the editing compositing and compose music? What does your office look like?
Nick DenBoer: My setup. So I bought this like, it's kind of like a mini-warehouse. It's like a coach house that's like a hundred years old in behind a residential subdivision. It's a couple thousand square feet. The main floor is like my garage where I've got all my tools and my car stuff, my man stuff.
Nick DenBoer: I've got a jam space down there, a bunch of instruments and stuff. It's kind of just a work shop/musical playroom. Then upstairs I've got two workstations, well, and one defunk workstation, but two workstations. One is my main beast machine and the other is kind of a backup render slave now.
Nick DenBoer: I don't know if we want to talk gear but I've got a big, giant, expensive box with three 1080 TI's in it. A pile of SSDs. I've got a mass with like 64 terabytes. I've got my second machine has 2 Pascal Titan X's. I've got five video cards for rendering.
Nick DenBoer: Then, yeah. My music stuff I've got a bunch of music gear here too. I've kind of just flipped between video and music. I'm still waiting for that piece of software that's like a video editing software that also does music and supports VSTs. A lot of remix artists use Sony Vegas, but last I checked, it didn't have VST support and I'm a huge Q-based guy with a bazillion VST instruments. I'm like, I hate the fact that I've got to jump between software to do all this stuff. I'm blindly editing and bouncing between the two.
Nick DenBoer: I just wish like Adobe or somebody would make a piece of software that just was super music heavy and video proficient, you know?
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Adobe DebBoer CC is what it'll be.
Nick DenBoer: There's a lot of remix artists that could really benefit from that, you know? I think it would be huge.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It's interesting because you know I didn't really think about that. I have actually worked on a few projects that are sort of remix-y, you know.
Joey Korenman: I remember years ago I had to work on a spot where we took, and it's interesting, because you did something similar. We had to take footage from Star Trek, the Next Generation, and cut it up and make a song out of it for a promo for the show being syndicated on CBS or something like that.
Nick DenBoer: Oh, cool.
Joey Korenman: It was an enormous pain in the pass because you in your video editing program, you can sort of edit the dialogue so it sounds musical, but you can't also compose in the same app.
Joey Korenman: I get what you're saying, I mean that would be really, really useful. Let's talk about the shooting part.
Nick DenBoer: Oh, yeah.
Joey Korenman: You star in a lot of these things, or at least your nipples do.
Nick DenBoer: I used to a lot more at first. [inaudible 00:29:39] my dancing career is dwindling.
Joey Korenman: I wasn't going to ask you where you got the G-string that showed up in the Sarah Palin Hot Tub Video. I mean what's your setup for shooting that? I mean do you have a full cyc wall with the red camera?
Nick DenBoer: I used to downstairs, I had a full cyc wall built and then I'm like I shoot so seldom, it's not like I shoot every day so it was just taking up tons of space. I had like my ceilings aren't too high down there so I had it going curved up the floor and up the ceiling so I could shoot up and down. Then I had the whole ceiling green too, it was just like the whole area.
Nick DenBoer: It was actually pretty sick setup for the small space I had, but now I just when I need it I set up my giant, I got a giant fabric one and I just set that up when I need it. I've got a bunch of [kinos 00:30:29] and LED lights. I shoot on an URSA Mini. I just bought that about a year ago.
Joey Korenman: Nice.
Nick DenBoer: I love it, actually. It's a great camera, especially for green screen stuff. It's super crisp and I had a whole bunch of lenses from my 5D before so I'm using all the EF lenses and ...
Joey Korenman: I mean I love your setup because I mean at this point, and I'm sure you've upgraded over the years and as you've had some success and some bigger jobs you can afford to get a nicer camera and things like that, but really your setup, I mean if all in $15,000; $20,000 bucks, I mean it's really just an order of magnitude cheaper than it would have been.
Nick DenBoer: Sure. For the camera, you mean? Yeah.
Joey Korenman: For everything. You know, to do the kind of 3D you're doing now.
Nick DenBoer: Sure, yeah.
Joey Korenman: You can render everything photo-realistically 4K using your 5 graphics cards, but you used to need a gigantic render farm to have any hope in doing it.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. I look back and staring at buckets, using standards before derender, and I don't even know why people would even get into cinema anymore. Starting out I remember just like it's so frustrating watching that happen when you've got any kind of complexity in your scene. It would just it would feel like I had my arms tied behind my back when I was trying to do something. It's brutal.
Nick DenBoer: Octane really changed the game for me. That's why I've kind of dove in, full blast, on cinema.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I've heard that from a lot of people who use octane. Let's get back to the Conan O'Brien Show.
Nick DenBoer: Sure.
Joey Korenman: Kind of walk us through, what was the process of like a typical process of getting maybe a brief from them or did that even happen? What would it actually entail?
Nick DenBoer: Some rarely. Once in a while I would get a writer would come up to me with their idea and want me to execute it but that was pretty rare. Most of the time it was fishing expedition where I'm cycling my new sites of vortex with every news site and every major news organization's YouTube channel or trying to rip their video off their websites, or whatever. Just finding something that happened that day that sparked an idea.
Nick DenBoer: And watching tons of shitty TV. I would be watching everything from The View to Good Morning, America. I was watching those DJs on Good Morning, America and just wanting to not have to watch it all the time. You know, you find kind of the gem sometimes on some weird thing that no one else noticed and you make a joke out of it and put a magnifying glass on it and it can be really funny.
Nick DenBoer: You kind of look for those diamonds in the rough, but also you got to hit the big stuff. I would pull all-nighters every time there was an Oscars or Emmy's or whatever. Wait and if anything sparks try and kick out a video so it was ready the next morning.
Nick DenBoer: You've got that crazy work schedule where if something clicks, you've got to go for it. The timing wasn't a normal schedule, by any means.
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Nick DenBoer: Lots of watching really crappy media. That was after three years of that stuff I moved on and it was like I found I was addicted to watching all this crap. I was still watching it when I wasn't even pitching for the show. I'm like, why am I still watching this? I had to unplug my television and get away from it because it's just like, I don't know. It was overload, right?
Nick DenBoer: You're tuned in. You know everything that's going on in the world and it's kind of like it's crazy. It took a little while to wean off of that again.
Joey Korenman: That's hilarious. I was going to ask you about this because I assumed that to do what you were doing, you had to watch hours and hours and hours of bad TV and news and this and that.
Nick DenBoer: Sure.
Joey Korenman: You know, I was my first job in the industry was I was an assistant editor and so I would have to go through 40 hours or footage and log it accurately for the [inaudible 00:34:28] or something like that. My mind would wander and I'd get bored and I'd find myself 30 minutes later like, whoa! I just blacked out, now I have to go back and do it again.
Joey Korenman: How would you remain focused? Because I'm assuming that that's not the fun part of the process for you.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, a lot of that stuff, but you know what, when you get in the zone you kind of lose track ... if you're watching and I feel for dudes who are editors on reality shows, where you've got 16 roaming cameras following around talent that doesn't have a script. It's like what are you watching? How do you even get through that stuff?
Nick DenBoer: I did a project that was kind of like that once and it's just like you're scrolling through footage of something chasing a dog down an alley for like 20 minutes and nothing happens and it's just like kill myself. When you're doing something creative, it kind of takes some brainpower while editing.
Nick DenBoer: For Conan, I did this pretty successful bit that was like had 13 parts or something. It was where I took Jeopardy episodes and edited Alex Trebek's words kind of seamlessly so he said crazy shit.
Joey Korenman: That's so funny.
Nick DenBoer: That was insane. The premier project I had cooking for that was not ... I think something like 30 or 40 episodes all chopped up into different sections. I had like subject, predicate, nouns, verbs, adjectives, all these different little phrases, then I had individual words, I had individual animals. I had the names of celebrities. Everything was in a separate timeline all chopped up so I could kind of mix and match my sentences from there.
Nick DenBoer: That took hours and hours every time to find stuff that would phonetically work and also just to organize it all and come up with something that was also really funny. That was kind of an editing nightmare but it was fun at the time because it's like a challenge.
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Nick DenBoer: When it's challenging like that and you're hunting and it's kind of an aggressive thing you're really trying to find stuff and then I don't really get bored, it's just kind of like zone in.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I was just thinking that the show notes for this episode are going to be just comedy gold. Everybody listening, you have to go watch the Jeopardy things.
Nick DenBoer: The coolest thing about that was because after I had done like a bunch of them, I think, yeah ten or eleven of them or something, they actually got Alex Trebek on the show so the last one was Alex and I remember watching that on TV and I was like I can't believe this came to this. That whole bit was that, Conan would say, that Alex Trebek is losing his mind. He's gone crazy and saying all this crazy shit.
Nick DenBoer: Then Alex came on the show and then I actually edited a thing of Conan looking crazy for that episode, so Alex had a clip to bring. It was this whole back and forth but it turned out awesome and it was super funny. That was kind of a cool closure to that whole series.
Joey Korenman: That's amazing, dude. Yeah, you must have just been like pinching yourself. Is this really happening right now?
Nick DenBoer: He's a Canadian celebrity, Alex Trebek, he's a legend.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, excellent. As is Drake, I understand.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Let's talk about the technical side of this a little bit. You know, in case you're listening to this and you haven't yet seen any of Nick's work, there was a clip that went around, I remember seeing it when it came out, it was a Conan Super cut, I think it was called, and it was basically sort of a best of what had happened on the Conan O'Brien show in the past year, but Nick created it so it's just bizarre and it's just this weird romp through a year of Conan O'Brien.
Joey Korenman: One of the gags that you did in it was you kind of took footage of guests sitting on the couch next to Conan, but you would swap Jennifer Lawrence's face onto like Snoop Dogg's body or something like that. What struck me when I watched it was the quality of the compositing, like it's not going to fool anyone at the feature film level, but it's pretty darn good.
Nick DenBoer: Thanks.
Joey Korenman: A lot of the gags you do don't work unless the compositing is pretty spot on and the tracking has to be good and you have to match the colors, which is super tricky.
Nick DenBoer: Well, with the Conan stuff it's like that was a pretty controlled environment, where the lighting is the same every episode, which helped a lot, but yeah. Thanks. That was also a bit of a time crunch on that.
Nick DenBoer: I did three of those Conan Super Cuts and the one that you're referring to is the last one season four. That one, I did it start to finish, the entire thing in five weeks. It was like crazy because I'm surfing through an entire season of 100 plus episodes that are 40 minutes each.
Nick DenBoer: You're trying to find ... I'm mostly skipping through the highlights, but you also have all of Conan's intros and monologues and blah, blah, blah. It's a crazy first week of trying to pull all the clips and then trying to figure out how to piece it all together and then write the music and then do the video effects. It was like I can't even fully remember my process on that one.
Nick DenBoer: That's probably one of my favorite videos I've ever done because it's not one of those where you have free reign to do whatever you want. I got to kind of use all my different tricks and all the different software and do a musical cut. Those are kind of the jobs I'm most proud of when I can fully use all the skills and bring them all into one space, you know.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Where did you develop the technical chops that you have because there are things that you're doing that are not just intuitive to most artists. Matching ... I'm sure on the Conan O'Brien set, the lighting is always kind of the same and that makes it a little bit easier, but when you're taking news clips and matching them to something you shot on your green screen next to your computer, how did you learn to match lighting and match grain and match sharpness and then color correct it so it feels like how did you learn all that?
Nick DenBoer: I mean just from doing it. I mean if you look at my early YouTube stuff, it's terrible. I mean you can even see I didn't know that stuff. Just from doing it for years and years you kind of learn all that.
Joey Korenman: You were bad at it long enough to get good at it?
Nick DenBoer: Oh, yeah. I was tracking party hats on dudes on TV on SD and like the party hats all jittery and sucks.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. So what tools were you using on the Conan show? Was it just sort of the basics after effects or did you have any extra plug-ins or anything you were using?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, but almost all after effects, to tell you the truth. There's a few things I started getting into cinema in those years, so there is some stuff like we took when Ben Affleck was going to be Batman, I remember I bought like a turbo squid model of Batman's mask and I 3D tracked it onto Ben Affleck's head in like crappy movies like Gigli and all his worst ones to make it look like he was you know, Batman in these terrible clips.
Nick DenBoer: I started doing a bit of single 40 stuff and tried to do 3D tracking by hand before the 3D tracker was there. I was doing it frame by frame so that stuff didn't look great either at the time.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, I started kind of doing a bit of 3D then, but mostly after effects. I think I started using Mocha back then too. That kind of made roto-scoping a lot easier too, especially with the Super Cuts where there's ton of rotos. I got into Mocha and it's changed my life forever.
Joey Korenman: Of course.
Nick DenBoer: I mean everything faster.
Joey Korenman: Absolutely. Well, all right. Let's move on to what is probably the piece that you're most famous for, I guess, The Chickening. I have to say that yesterday I shared The Chickening in the school of motion slack and caused an uproar. Really, a lot of people hadn't seen it, they didn't know it existed and probably derailed the rest of their day.
Nick DenBoer: Nice.
Joey Korenman: For anyone who hasn't seen The Chickening, I'll let you tell the story, but basically, it's a parody of The Shining. It's kind of this five-minute trailer-esque video, a re-imagining of The Shining if instead of a hotel it was a fast-food themed amusement park.
Joey Korenman: Can you just ... you know I have my questions for you in front of me and all I wrote down was how? Why?
Nick DenBoer: Well, actually, I made that short film with my pal, Davy Force, who's an amazing animator and wicked dude. He was like, I first met him way back in the day. I saw his name on the credits for Tim and Eric. He did the opening title sequences and some animation for Tim and Eric back in the day.
Nick DenBoer: I looked him up on YouTube and I'm like oh this guy, he did all this crazy remix stuff as well back in the day. He was in a band called the TV Sheriff where they were doing, he had like a mini controller [kitar 00:43:20] that he was controlling video using a program called V-Jam and he had video projection behind him while he had a DJ and a video ape, like a guy in a pink ape costume. They opened for Beck and Devo. They had some success in the, I think, early 2000s.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, really cool kind of live remix band. I'm like who the hell is this guy? So I reached out to him and I was on a trip to Los Angeles, I went on a trip to lunch with him and I was like, "Dude, we've got to team up and do like a wicked, crazy end-all, be-all movie remix kind of thing." That was our idea we kind of cooked up.
Nick DenBoer: Then seven years later, we actually did it and made this. We both had some time off and I was still working for Conan at the time and through Conan's production company we were going to Warner Bros. to pitch this TV show where we take classic films, reimagine them as something completely different and weird and package it as a 22-minute TV show.
Nick DenBoer: This was actually just a pitch piece for that show concept. I was kind of hoping to get actually a full pilot done. I flew Davy up here to Toronto. We just watched The Shining a bunch of times and jammed up on it and cooked up this stupid idea. Then we just committed. I remember even being like, "Is this a good idea? This is going to be a lot of work? Why are we doing this?"
Joey Korenman: Right right.
Nick DenBoer: Just like -
Joey Korenman: It looks like it'll work.
Nick DenBoer: Then once you know you're a couple weeks into it you're like, all right. This is happening. Then we just went for it, spent a couple months on it. We actually had more like ten to twelve minutes of stuff done, but it really wasn't reading. We needed to fill a lot of gaps to fill the story out.
Nick DenBoer: I ended up cutting it down to five minutes and making it read more like a trailer and it was still just kind of a pitch piece where we're like okay, cool proof of concept. My pal, Kenny Hotz, who's in it, he's the guy in the bathroom scene and naked.
Joey Korenman: The naked guy, okay. I was going to ask you who that was.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. He's actually pretty big celebrity here in Canada. He did a TV show called Kenny vs [Spenny 00:45:31] which is pretty hilarious. I worked on it way back in the day. He also, he was a writer on South Park for a couple episodes. He's a pretty funny dude.
Joey Korenman: Cool.
Nick DenBoer: I was super pissed at him because he leaked the trailer out that I made, the proof of concept out to 80 people. He emailed it out. I was just like, you fucking asshole. How'd you do it? Why'd you do this? Now it's out there. Everyone's got a link. I had to make it private.
Nick DenBoer: I totally ate my hat because he sent it to all the right people. He sent it to this guy [Collin Geddis 00:46:02] who is the one of the curators at Toronto International Film Festival. He saw it and he's like, holy shit, what is this? He put it into the Midnight Madness Program at [TIFF 00:46:14] which is the best kind of most rowdy, crazy film program and the Toronto International Film Festival and they never show short films at this thing. It's always features.
Nick DenBoer: He tucked it in before a feature one of those nights and then it just all the right people saw it from there and then it got into Sundance. Literally, I still get asked by film festivals to show it. We're over 70 film festivals that this thing has been in all over the world.
Nick DenBoer: It kind of started this crazy ride and I went to tons. Any festival they would fly me out to, I went to. I traveled for like you know 2015 into 2016 to all these film festivals. Met all kinds of people, it was a great time.
Nick DenBoer: Then we actually launched it online while it was at Sundance because when you get a film into Sundance you get this giant press list of a bazillion emails. Davy and I sat in our hotel room and emailed everyone individually or in groups of whatever media organization they were in and we blasted it out.
Nick DenBoer: I think by the time I left Utah it was already at like a million views or something like that. It was crazy.
Joey Korenman: Wow.
Nick DenBoer: We did a crazy blitz while we were at the festival to try and hype it while we were at the festival. We kind of just planned it to kind of get out there. We got 40 pieces of 40 articles written about it while we were there. It was pretty wild.
Joey Korenman: Did you get to sit in the audience as they were watching it?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, totally.
Joey Korenman: What was that like? That must have been crazy.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. It's interesting to see how some jokes hit in some audiences and some fall flat in some audiences. It's crazy. It's different for every town and it's weird. I guess laughter is kind of contagious so if you have somebody that laughs early on, it can kind of spread but it's always interesting to me how different it is from audience to audience.
Nick DenBoer: Some jokes would play better with some crowds than others. Generally, it's always well received and people are like, what am I watching? You know?
Joey Korenman: Right. I remember seeing it for the first time and, again, it was just one of those I don't know why I like this so much, but it just it's brilliant in a strange way. Let's talk a little bit about the production on it. I mean was it the same kind of process that you were doing for Conan or did you try new techniques, upgrade anything?
Nick DenBoer: I think the biggest thing was kind of writing around the script. We actually took little sequences, broke it down in little chunks. There's a greater story we were going towards where there's a Scatman Crothers was actually owned a competing burger chain kind of thing. He was there and he was going to steal the secret sauce. There was this whole other subplot that you can't even figure out, unless we actually made it a half hour and added all the action sequences we needed.
Nick DenBoer: The big thing was just taking the sequences we were going to use and writing around the scripts. We had the characters we were leaving in and the characters we're adding in and that's kind of a remix in itself where you're cutting and pasting dialogue from the original script and then inserting new dialogue.
Nick DenBoer: The whole writing process is remix in itself, which is super fun. I think that's where a lot of the comedy is where you're bouncing new lines off of the original. That's where that's super funny. If we just replaced everyone in the film I don't think it would have nearly the comedic impact, right?
Joey Korenman: Right. I love little Danny with a beard and a double chin. Can you talk about ... when I saw it for the first time, the first thing I thought was you just tracked a mustache onto the actor's face.
Nick DenBoer: No that was a full I blended the whole lower half of his whole face and jaw onto Danny. I shot him with all the right angles and tracked it on there. There's a lot of puppet tooling going on there too like on his whatchamacallit? Side burns? They weren't lining up and then all that subtle rotation just throws it off right away. There's a lot of frame by frame kind of puppet tooling there. It could be better still, but it's like I got it to a point where I was happy, so it worked out.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. You've got every character at some point their eyes go in two different directions. I mean would you just sort of do everything at once or would you work on a shot and be like, you know what this would work better if Shelley Duvall's left eye was spinning in circles while the right eye was doing something different, you know?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. It's kind of like just shot by shot. Just do a shot until it's done and then move on to the next one kind of thing, unless I cook something up and I want to throw something in the background and for continuity sake you've got to go back and put in all the other sequences you just made. Yeah, it's pretty linear, for the most part. Just tackle a sequence, move on to the next.
Nick DenBoer: It wasn't like there was tons of time to sit and finesse things. It was well the whole idea was to add a bazillion Easter eggs. It's the kind of thing, I think, I get this a lot about my work is just you can watch it over and over again and notice new things all the time. I love loading stuff up with tons of stuff to get that re-watchability. I think it's a good thing for the recipe of a viral video to kind of make it so that it's re-watchable so it's not like you can just watch it once and have taken it all in, you know?
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That's really good advice. Hearing your story, there's a lot of parallels with other artists that have been on this podcast who do a short film a personal project, not really thinking much will come of it and then the universe takes over and decides, nope. Actually, this is going to be a big deal for you.
Joey Korenman: What happened once ... I mean and what was smart is you capitalized on it. You recognized, all right. We got into Sundance, let's market this thing. Let's get it out there.
Joey Korenman: Once, I'm assuming there was a period where everything kind of piqued and then the hype died down but now you're kind of a known quantity, right? What happened next?
Nick DenBoer: Well, just one little side note. The crappy thing that happened, which I completely regret, is not blurring out Kenny's mangina on the bathroom scene on YouTube, because he tucked his wiener between his legs and I thought, there's no genitalia, we can get away with this. Once it hit a million views, it got flagged on YouTube and the momentum just stopped dead in its tracks. I was like aw, damn because of that damn nudity thing. I thought, shit, if I just had mosaicked that it would have just kept going, because once they flag it like that, it's no longer on any of the side bar on YouTube where it's like related videos and stuff like that.
Nick DenBoer: It really just the graph curve of views is literally going on a 60 degree angle upwards for months and then it boom, stops and goes flat. It's like the power of getting flagged can totally ruin your momentum there, but it's still slowly trickled up. It's at 1. Something million now, but definitely took the wind out of the sails, but didn't matter because all the right people saw it. It's been at all these film festivals.
Nick DenBoer: One of the biggest things, which is great is that the dudes at Wieden+Kennedy in Portland saw it and were like, whoa, we got to hire this guy. They contacted me shortly after they saw it and I started doing some Old Spice videos for those dudes and that was so much fun because they just gave me tons of leash on that to go crazy, hog wild.
Nick DenBoer: I made this remix called horrifying mutant something abomination, I don't even remember what it's called. They gave me five or six spots that they had done and they're like, hey, we want you just to remix this into something new.
Nick DenBoer: It was the same kind of thing, it was a musical cut. I did some 3D, some 2D, it kind of like blurred the lines where the original spots ended and where mine began. I kind of tried to seamlessly blend into it and it worked out pretty well. So that was a super fun spot and led into a good relationship with those dudes.
Nick DenBoer: It kind of sparked a little bit of an advertising terror that I've been on for a couple of years now.
Joey Korenman: Well that's great, man, and Old Spice is just such a perfect fit as brain waves for your style.
Nick DenBoer: Yes. And those dudes have kind of spread out into KFC recently so doing that KFC for the same team, you can kind of see that they're doing the wacky stuff with the Colonel nowadays.
Joey Korenman: I'm glad. I feel like for a while there were these like sort of in the advertising world semi-famous commercials probably 15 years ago for Quizno's. I don't know if they have that in Canada. It's like a Subway knockoff.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Joey Korenman: Food chain.
Nick DenBoer: Toasted tastes better.
Joey Korenman: The commercial was like these very strange bizarre looking hand puppet squirrel looking things.
Nick DenBoer: Oh, wow. I never seen that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It's really you'd love it. It's very strange.
Nick DenBoer: Cool.
Joey Korenman: For a while it was cool to do really weird, strange advertising like that. Then that kind of wasn't cool. I'm glad to see there are still creatives out there that are doing that because it's just so much fun.
Nick DenBoer: Well, I think there's a lot of fun to be had in the advertising world and the same thing that I was talking about before with Conan being the one-man show or having to be able to produce a whole piece with a very small crew, at least, is super beneficial to advertising jobs too. Because like where a big studio is going to charge a quarter million or half a million to do a shoot and do all kinds of posts on like some 30-second spot, is like if one guy can do all that, you can still make really good money undercut the big studios.
Nick DenBoer: That's kind of where I'm poised is like, hey, if you have five figures and want to do something, we can do something awesome with Octane and make it look wicked and hire some creative artists. Now it's kind of like I feel like taking table scraps from the mill or something like that. There's a way you can still make a lot of money and not have to overcharge the client and the client's happy because they can produce lots of short videos for a decent price and still get good quality.
Nick DenBoer: It's kind of I think that's the way things are going. Maybe it's bad to be sort of undercutting, but if you can do a piece from start to finish and it's good, why not right?
Joey Korenman: Well, I also think that you're definitely right. I think that just the fact that you can have all of the gear in your house, basically, and can just do this in 24 hours turn around the stuff that you can, I mean that's not going away and so companies like The Mill and the Sioux and the Bucks of the world, they're kind of coping with that and that's just ...
Nick DenBoer: Well, The Mill does crazy, next-level stuff.
Joey Korenman: Of course.
Nick DenBoer: I can do, obviously, too, but I think The Mill does a lot of jobs that lots of freelancers could totally do. It's like there's a bit of a bounce there. I saw The Mill at FICT do a presentation that was like, holy shit. They had live HDRI recording and live tracking of a car they built that it was like they could pre-vis a car commercial in real time and stuff. They're doing crazy stuff, but ad agencies will go to The Mill to do some super simple thing and pay way too much money, I imagine.
Joey Korenman: That's definitely still happening, but I think what I like about your work is that to me it seems, and maybe you disagree, I'm actually curious what you think, but to me it feels like if you went to The Mill, and by the way I have to say I love The Mill.
Nick DenBoer: Me too.
Joey Korenman: Genuinely love The Mill. They're brilliant, right? I feel like if you tried to do The Chickening at The Mill it would be so much harder because the more people you add, even if they're all brilliant, creative, team-oriented people, it makes it harder to have a very unique singular vision. It's possible, of course, right, but I mean just look at Hollywood movies where you have some brilliant director who still manages to make a movie that isn't great and it's because when you filter an idea through a giant amount of people it just tends to get a little, the edges get shaved down a little bit.
Joey Korenman: It just kind of it seems like what you're doing lends itself to the one-man band better than, say, a car commercial, right?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, I guess. I guess it's kind of all who's in charge. I can imagine if you have the right team, the right team could do it. I think a lot of it is though when you have a team you need to show them what you want them to do, sort of. If you're just looking for that creative spark to just happen when you bring your team together, it's kind of rare that it'll be a unified vision, you know what I mean?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah, I don't know, it's hard to say. I imagine the right team could totally do The Chickening, but there's a lot of sensibilities there. That's why I think people like to hire me for what I do because it is that vision from start to finish where I look at that Conan Super Cut and it's like I have trouble explaining my workflow to that because I'm jumping around from six different things and then you start with a beat and then you bring it into premiere and then you've got a cool little riff going with some vocal and then that sparks a visual idea so then you go on that tangent for a while. You're like that would be wicked if that transitioned from that moon into that other background.
Nick DenBoer: It's just it's really fluid and you're being inspired by what you're working on to do the next thing is a very kind of autonomous workflow. I don't think you can just be like, hey, here's a team. Go nuts and work autonomously and just build on each other. Sometimes that works.
Nick DenBoer: I mean I kind of did that with the KFC thing. We had a plan for the meditation video but it was a bit of hey, go on some spacing acting, Jesus, rock it out. He did a thing and it was awesome. When you give your artists leeway to do something that they're awesome at, then you kind of know what you're going to get a little bit, but then it's still kind of up to the person who is directing it all to make that vision happen.
Nick DenBoer: I think if the place like The Mill or something had a director that had the vision they could get and knew their artists' capabilities, they could totally orchestrate something like The Chickening.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, I hope someday somebody gets the chance to find out and I hope you do get that pilot and your own TV show because that would be outstanding. I want to ask you, when you kind of got your start just talking about the Conan O'Brien stuff, it sounds like you just had tons of leeway and you were basically pitching things and saying, if you like this put it on TV. If you don't, you won't put it on TV.
Joey Korenman: Now you're working with brands that have brand standards and have to worry about offending people a little bit more and stuff like that. You're working with ad agencies who are filled with creative people that probably have their own opinions.
Joey Korenman: Is it different doing what you're doing for a client? How does that change your method or the way you think about it?
Nick DenBoer: It's definitely different sometimes. Sometimes it's not. Like I said, with the Old Spice dudes, the Wieden-Kennedy guys are like awesome. I've done projects for them where it's story boarded and scripted and I just go shoot it and edit it and do the effects. It's reflecting what they gave me on the creative. They've got a great creative team over there, but then other times they just give full leeway for me to do a treatment and go nuts on something.
Nick DenBoer: Both are fun in their own ways. Sometimes it's a cool challenge to do it both ways, but where I get to go hog wild and do whatever I want is always more fun, for sure. Then you sometimes get clients too who just all of a sudden they're hiring you and they think you're just like magic paintbrush who can do whatever they want. Yes, it is exciting. You can do anything. You can take any imagery and do whatever, but if every single creative decision is stripped from you in the process then it's no fun, you know.
Nick DenBoer: It's a sliding scale of how much input you have as to how happy I am doing the project a lot of the time, you know, but if it's a cool idea and someone cooked up something awesome then it's super fun to work on because you're working towards good end product. It's a total varying scale.
Nick DenBoer: That said, working with clients, I've had so many, I have probably feature films' worth of stuff that I've made that has never seen the light of day, lots of things.
Joey Korenman: I was going to ask you about that. There's a hard drive somewhere with a bunch of just normal looking stuff on it that you've done?
Nick DenBoer: Even just Conan. I've got so much stuff and some of it is the best stuff I've ever made for them that never made the show. Also, I did, yeah, tons of ad stuff. Yeah there's like I wouldn't say tons, but there's enough that it's like you know, to the point where literally everything past clients approved of concepts, approved of stills, approved of everything, and then it's like one person sees the video and is like, "Whoa, that's too extreme," and sometimes it's like not even.
Nick DenBoer: I had a video I made, I won't say who the client was, but it was like a turkey and a bunch of little numbers dancing on a turkey and shooting it with a flamethrower cooking this turkey while it was floating in a river.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome.
Nick DenBoer: Then, nah, the vegans are going to be really upset about that and it got canned. I'm just like, what? It's a turkey. It's a Christmas meal for some company.
Joey Korenman: Oh my goodness.
Nick DenBoer: I'm like, wow. Sometimes the super tame stuff, I'm sure lots of people like that's just kind of par for the course. Everyone I talk to in the industry kind of has a client who, you know, canned something because it's the wrong color. Who knows why? There's all kinds of dumb reasons.
Nick DenBoer: For me, there's also like it's sometimes extreme content but ...
Joey Korenman: When I look at your work, I could look at The Chickening, for example, which is crazy, bizarre, off the wall, but in it I can recognize all of your design skills, your animation skills, your compositing and technical chop storytelling chops and so that would ... if I was going to hire someone to do, let's say I don't know, a 30-second spot that doesn't have to be really weird, I just need someone who is good at that.
Joey Korenman: I would know that Nick DenBoer could do it, but I'm assuming clients mostly come to you for your style, right? Do you ever get asked to just do an explainer video, like for a bank? Do you ever do projects that don't look weird and crazy like your other stuff?
Nick DenBoer: Well, it's I told my friend years ago, who was wedding photographer. He was upset that he was just getting wedding photography jobs all the time, but that's all he was kind of putting out in the world. I'm like well, if you want to get jobs doing weird stuff, you got to start putting some weird stuff out there, you know, and make it on the side or do something.
Nick DenBoer: I track everything back to like all this advertising stuff came from The Chickening because I made that. All the previous stuff came from my early remixes that I had so like those early TV remixes I was doing that made it on to like Boing Boing back in the day and then Ken Block from DC Shoes saw it and then hired me to make a remix of his Gymkhana videos.
Nick DenBoer: Everything just flowed from me putting weird stuff on YouTube that wasn't for commercial work. I try every year to just to block out a bunch of time just to do something new that was just fully what I want to challenge myself with to kind of break some new ground. Almost, I think, every single time I've kind of done that it led to another leg of my career that was kind of based from it.
Nick DenBoer: I think it's super important to just do what you want to do in the off time, even if you're busy with commercial stuff, just make some time and expand your horizons and don't just let your commercial work expand your horizons because it's limited to what people are paying you to do based on what you've already done most of the time.
Joey Korenman: That's advice that a lot of people in the industry give.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: I generally say, do the work you want to get paid for before you're getting paid to do it.
Nick DenBoer: Totally.
Joey Korenman: You're another example like that really does work, actually.
Nick DenBoer: That to answer your question, it's like yeah, people generally hire me to do something comedy-based. I really do kind of specialize in V-effects comedy, I guess, but it's found a lot of different applications. A lot of times, there's so many TV shows that want a promo video where a lot of it is funneling down content in the remix style that I was doing for all those years.
Nick DenBoer: It's like you can take a whole TV show, like Conan, whittle it down to one video. I've done a lot of other TV shows where I've done promos for that way. Done advertising, remixed advertising. Remixed even film VFX. This kind of style can lend itself to advertising, film, TV, just web memes, whatever.
Nick DenBoer: I've done some stuff for Super Deluxe, they're pumping out the daily stuff and live streams and even virtual reality. I kind of gone into 360 space little bit as well. I think there's just so many applications for that same style that I'm not really limited.
Nick DenBoer: Generally, a bank is not going to come to me for a how-to video, in general for the most part.
Joey Korenman: Thank god, right?
Nick DenBoer: Well, you know.
Joey Korenman: If they did, if they did, I would definitely switch to that bank. That would be enough for me.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. I think it's definitely a little bit of people hiring you to put to do what you've already made, for the most part.
Joey Korenman: Let's talk about the evolution of Nick. Before we get there, your website is smearballs.com?
Nick DenBoer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joey Korenman: I'm curious, is there a story behind smearballs?
Nick DenBoer: Not really. My buddy Aaron Zimmerman and I early on YouTube days when we were doing those TV remixes, he's a good friend of mine from art school. We were kind of messing around making videos and I think we were roommates at the time and because my parents are Dutch, you know your bicep like your muscles, your spear in your spear balls you would say if you were flexing your muscles. Spear balling.
Nick DenBoer: He misheard me and he was like, "What? Smearballs one time?" I was just like yes, smear balls. And then we just, I don't know, we called our stupid remix things Smearballs early on and I just kind of took it from there. Went solo years later and just kept the site going.
Nick DenBoer: It was just a dumb blog at first of just posting baloney, but yeah.
Joey Korenman: Kind of like a Batman. It's like you too. It means nothing until all of a sudden it hits you.
Nick DenBoer: But there's something about it with the remix thing that it just makes sense. You're kind of smearing things. You're altering them.
Joey Korenman: Yeah and there are balls sometimes in your work.
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. Exactly.
Joey Korenman: Anyway, I want to talk about the more recent stuff that you've done, including a video that I just saw, I think it was really pretty recently for deadmau5. It's very different looking than your earlier stuff. It's not as much remixing footage as adding things to footage and specifically like really, realistic but strange 3D things.
Joey Korenman: Where did this new sort of look come from? Has it been something you wanted to try and this was a good opportunity or did it come from somewhere else?
Nick DenBoer: I guess it's just kind of the evolution of tracking. Starting out with just tracking dumb party hats and glasses on people into eventually doing full 3D camera solves and stuff. I think just because of, again, because of Octane and cinema getting more into that stuff, I just started experimenting more with that.
Nick DenBoer: I did like a little thing, it's on my Instagram on the front of my studio where there's just all kinds of weird. There's some dude with a burger head and a bunch of like ducks and strange things, kind of, in front of my place all tracked in. I just did a quick test when I first bought my Ursa. I just wanted to do a little camera test so I busted that out.
Nick DenBoer: I think I was at ... must have been just before or after? I forget, I had been at deadma5's place, Joel's place for doing some live videos because I worked on his live show doing, he's got this crazy 3D cube LED screen transformer that he sits in while he plays. He invited me to do some content for that.
Nick DenBoer: Shortly after I sent him that clip he made. I said, "Dude, we should do this of your mansion. Just shoot a bunch of plates and make a crazy video." We were Skyping about it and he was like, "Yeah, come on over."
Nick DenBoer: The next week I just went over with my camera and shot just a bunch of empty rooms and whatever, with really no strong idea of what I was going to do other than just a pool party. Because the first time I went to his house there was like all these people there. I mean it's like pool party and I'm like where's Joel? They're like he's inside and he's literally in a dark room on his computer while all these people are partying at his house.
Nick DenBoer: I'm just that's kind of a funny image to me. This computer nerd dude and he's on his computer while there's a party going on. I thought, let's kind of make that into a video.
Joey Korenman: The video, and again, we'll link to it in the show notes, but you know, it's basically like, I guess drone footage or steady camera?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. So Joel was actually the drum pilot on that. He's got one of those crazy DJI Inspires, I think it's called. You know those expensive journal -
Joey Korenman: When you say Joel, you're talking about deadmau5?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. So he's a drone hobbyist and he's actually a pretty good drone pilot because I've since bought a Phantom and it's like takes some skill to get those smooth shots, but he did that shot going up the driveway on the intro of that video and it's pretty ... I stabilized it a bit but it was pretty solid going in.
Nick DenBoer: He shot that and a whole bunch of other drone footage I didn't even use, but I tried to get as much of that in as I could and then fill the rest with crazy dancing.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and I noticed he was wearing a Cinema 4D shirt in the video, which I think was pretty cool.
Nick DenBoer: Actually, I think the guys from BROGRAPH gave him that when they were working on some visuals as well.
Joey Korenman: That's funny. That's awesome. Anyway, back to the video, you tracked in just a weird array of stuff all over this guys' house and there's very realistic, I guess, realistic-looking people but they're clearly not really because their heads are distorted.
Nick DenBoer: Sure, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Their eyes are pointed in different directions. I mean, the tracking and these models I don't know where you got them and it almost looks like Mo Cap or something. I mean it looks like a very, very technical execution here, totally different from what you've done in the past.
Joey Korenman: Again, are you some technical wizard at learning stuff or are there now ... is it just now easier to do that kind of stuff?
Nick DenBoer: It's easier. I cheat like crazy. I use [Mixamo 01:13:41] for most of that stuff, you know. The magic of Mixamo, but I hack into these Mixamo rigs quite a bit and like I'll throw signal, the plug-in for cinema.
Joey Korenman: Yep.
Nick DenBoer: I was throwing a lot because it holds songs at like 128 BPM. Those dancing gummy characters, I just deleted all the key frames on the spine and I put IK chains on the spine and then just put a signal rotation at that BPM on the leg hips so it's just like shaking those things around, giving them a jelly look on their upper body.
Nick DenBoer: I just kind of mess with Mixamo rigs a lot for those, just to make them more ridiculous over the top. That's a big part of my toolbox lately because it's kind of easy and fun, but the scans, most of them, came from site 1024, the 3D Scan Store. 1024.info, I think it is. Spelled Ten24.info. They have like amazing, super hi-poly scans that are like 8K textures and like amazing.
Nick DenBoer: I was messing with those but it was a bit of trick to get those in the mix. I had to decimate them to like quarter million polys or so but they're still pretty high res. Then I was doing a lot of Frankensteining like cutting the heads off of those models and putting different head that I had or warped and kind of stitching them together and doing, I don't know, all kinds of weird things to alter these bodies.
Nick DenBoer: A lot of the bodes are just from Adobe Fuse that I just stuck a high res hit onto it just the fuse body so that it was easier to animate.
Joey Korenman: I love that's how you did it because a lot of maybe 3D purists that they're all about proper modeling and proper shaders and matching the lighting perfectly and this and that. All of that is super duper important for certain applications.
Nick DenBoer: Sure.
Joey Korenman: When you're just making cool stuff, however you get it done, you get it done. You're clearly very resourceful.
Nick DenBoer: Well, I did. I shot HTRIs in every single space of that shoot. I shot three different HDRIs up the driveway for that shot. I think I ended up only using two of them, though. Because the lighting kind of changes. I use those, mix them with Octane suns to get a better shadow and every room of his house I shot in HTRI, well I used [Ricoh Theta 01:16:09] and so I had every time of day, every place I shot I had an accompanying HTRI. That made lighting kind of lock in nicely.
Nick DenBoer: Then I used those H drives as backgrounds. Every close up where the camera is panning all crazy, like when the skeletons are dancing in the foyer or the guy with all the eyeballs in that room, I just blurt out because the Ricoh Theta is only like 5K or something like that, so you don't get that detail if it's in focus.
Nick DenBoer: I just kind of blurred it out, did a fake [dof 01:16:34] thing and just panned the camera around and it made for good backgrounds.
Joey Korenman: That's amazing, man. Well, we'll definitely link to the video in the show notes. It's hysterical. You know, I don't know much about deadmau5, but I have to applaud him for letting you just do your thing for his music video, its amazing.
Joey Korenman: Before we started the interview, you mentioned you might be doing more of this kind of thing. The last question I'll ask you, Nick, is what are you working on now? Do you have any cool projects we should be on the lookout for?
Nick DenBoer: Yeah. Right now I'm doing V-effects for a show on the WWE Network. It's kind of a weird comedy show with starring Edge and Christian. I don't know if you know those, tag team wrestlers, they're Canadian guys. I'm helping out with a bit of V-effects on that.
Joey Korenman: Nice.
Nick DenBoer: Then I've got another deadmau5 video supposed to be done before the end of the year, then I'm still trying to fit into my schedule here and possibly some more ad gigs. It's never ending. I'm always kind of booked a few months ahead and struggling to not piss off people by pushing my projects over the top of each other, but it's good to be busy. I can't complain.
Nick DenBoer: Then in 2019 I'm hoping to take some time off to do another personal project as mentioned before. That's kind of on the horizon. I need to do that next year.
Joey Korenman: Like I mentioned to Nick, the show notes for this episode are basically a comedic gold mine. Check them out but maybe don't do that if you have urgent things to do because you will be sent down a hilarious rabbit hole. Check out Nick's work at smearballs.com if you want the full Nick DenBoer experience.
Joey Korenman: I want to thank Nick for coming on and being so candid about his career and his process. I really hope that we get to see a lot more from him soon. Thank you, as always, for listening. I hope you dug this one. Smell you later.