43nd Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival - APRIL 11-25, 2024In Focus: Nick Deliberto

By Jan Willms
Subject: Nick DiLiberto, Director of Nova Seed

Nick DiLiberto has had an obsession for drawing and filmmaking as far back as he can remember. “A constant pastime in my childhood was making horror movies with the family video-camcorder and drawing comic books utilizing my own stories and characters,” he recalled in a recent interview. “Eventually that led me to studying traditional 2d hand-drawn animation in college.”

His journey has led him to his first feature film Nova Seed that took four years to complete, with every frame hand-drawn. The animated film is part of this year’s MSPIFF.

“By the time I graduate, the entire animation industry had shifted from hand-drawn animation to CG animation,” DiLiberto continued. “That led me to Edmonton, where I began my career working at the video game studio Bioware, where I helped create such titles as the original Mass Effect. I eventually worked my way up to lead animator, although while working with computers my love for hand-drawn animation only grew, and I continued to create my own side projects all throughout my career.”

DiLiberto grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons like He-man and Thundercats. “It was the art on the screen that inspired me to start drawing in the first place,” he explained. “Not just the characters and the stories, but the actual drawings up on the screen. Because of the feeling and enjoyment I get out of drawing, I don’t think I could have finished Nova Seed in any other form of animation.” DiLiberto said that when he is drawing on paper, he forgets about the scale of the project and can just get lost in himself and the page.

His film, in which he is director, writer and actor, is a sci-fi adventure in animation that is reflective of Heavy Metal, a film that came out in 1981 that was based on stories from the magazine of the same name. “I am a fan of both the film and the magazine, both of which I saw at a very young age, and it left a very strong impression on me,” DiLiberto noted. “I feel that impression has remained. Heavy Metal is still one of my favorite films of all time. You are what you eat, I guess.”

DiLiberto does consider Nova Seed to be a nostalgic look at animation, mainly because of how much the industry has changed around it. “When I was making Nova Seed, my intentions were not to create something that felt out of date. I was and still am trying to create films that are new and unique,” he said. “So the nostalgic part just sneaks in there because of who I am. I do not think it is something I can control willingly, and I have no desire to control it either way.”

His film has been a family affair. “My brother Joe helped me write the film,” DiLiberto stated. “My parents helped start up my new company, Gorgon Pictures, as well as handle all the business that comes with owning a company. And even my sister lent her voice to the film, playing the role of the news reporter.”

In making an animated film, DiLiberto said the most challenging part is balancing life with work. “To take on such an enormous task and get it completed in a reasonable amount of time is fully time consuming.” His film contains 60,000 drawings.

He said that when doing such a project, one usually has to go back to work when everyone else has gone to sleep.