Challenging Your Skills with Animation: Nic Debray

After coming across Nic Debray’s beautiful watercolor-type animation, “Madeleine,” we contacted him to write this guest blog about what inspired the “short-short,” and the process he went through to make it.

I’ve had the chance to be a professional artist for 10+ years, and animation has brought me most of what is good in my life.

After so long spent on the same task, I’ve become – for lack of a better word – an expert. Expertise is wonderful because it allows me to express what I want with a certain degree of confidence and ease, and – not negligibly – allows me to go home early most of the time. The flip side of expertise is that it slowly, imperceptibly shrinks the scope of possibilities as I gradually became more of a craftsman and less of an artist.

A lot of the ideas I would have had before – and probably would have failed at – I dismiss today because experience tells me it’s not worth the trouble – I know it’s not gonna work, so why bother?

Except… Isn’t that what expressing oneself is all about? Taking risks, trying new things, being silly, failing?

All that had gone from my life, and I needed to recapture it. I started to work on ‘Violince’ an animated comic book, and it worked wonders at first. I was challenged again, I made mistakes, I learned – but after two years even that had become routine. I know how to do it and I simply execute.

That’s where the ‘short-shorts’ come in.

A new subject, a new style, a new challenge every couple of months, and maybe trying things that are silly or look impossible, or just try to make something pretty.

‘Madeleine’ is the first of this series.

A silly thing happened to my wife – that she told me in the funny way only she knows how – and I figured there was an animation idea there.

Two evenings later I had made a short animatic (story-board), and the response to it was so good that I felt confident to move on to the next stage. I had a very specific image in mind of what I wanted to achieve and struggled, and struggled, and struggled again, until I finally decided to do the smart thing and asked for advice.

It led me quite simply to try actual watercolors, on actual paper – an almost abstract notion in this digital age.

From the first sketch I knew I was on the right path, and after a few more efforts, I had something that I was happy with.

The experimentation was supposed to stop there, but then I was further intrigued by watercolor, and started wondering how I could harness the light and unpredictability of it for the characters as well, while still delivering a finished and polished piece of work.

I experimented with a few techniques, eventually settling on what I feel is still a bit of a compromise, but perfecting the technique – if I’m inclined to do so – will have to wait for another ‘short-short’.

Next in line are silly jokes, an office prank and animating zero G, all in a variety of techniques such as good old pencils, gouache, or maybe even messing around with the sacrosanct 24 frames per second.

Anything is game as long as it keeps me out of my comfort zone!

To see more of Nic’s animations and connect with him, visit:

Twitter: @niledog


If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, send your portfolio to!

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