5 Minutes With… Edwin Nikkels

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Dutch director on Cupidrone, busting creative boundaries and international aspirations
5 Minutes With… Edwin Nikkels

Edwin Nikkels is not your average director. His skillset spans from animation to concept art, retouching to motion graphics. And it’s this broad range of techniques that back up the Dutch national’s theory of ‘universal creativity’, an ideal that outlines why creative people shouldn’t stick to one skillset. Despite the variety in his expertise, it’s directing that has the biggest hold on Edwin’s heart, and most recently he shot one of LBB’s favourite campaigns of the past few months. ‘Cupidrone’ for Dutch agency Kingsday and Funnyhowflowersdothat.co.uk involved dropping Valentine’s roses to unsuspecting passers-by via what is possibly the world’s only cute drone. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Edwin to find out how he pulled that off, what his scatty Internet browser says about his creative inspirations and why he has his eye on pastures new for the coming year.  

LBB> You’re not only a director – you’re a visual artist with an impressive array of skills from animation to concept art, retouching and motion graphics… How have you been able to develop and maintain such a variety of skillsets?

EN> Too many people get stuck in one dedicated profession. I believe in the universal principle of creativity; if you let that be your guide, there are no limits to what you can do. For example, a fashion designer can also be an architect, or a painter, or… well, you get the picture. As a creative person you deal with colour, light, texture and composition and what not. So anybody creative should be able to extend his or her talent to just about anything. Just stick your neck out and do it. I experimented a lot, tried everything, but currently directing is my number one passion.

LBB> And as a creative person, what does this variety give you?

EN> By having these talents and tools at my disposal I can create pretty much anything on the fly. I often want to just do a quick pre-viz to see if something works, or use them for presentations and pitches. Once I did a quick and dirty test for a Philips ad I had to direct for Ambilight, and a partner of the agency said it looked so good, we didn’t have to shoot it anymore. Eventually of course we did do the shoot, but I learned from this experience that good pre-viz skills can be a blessing or a burden (laughs).

LBB> How did you first get into filmmaking?

EN> I did a music video for a Dutch DJ in ’97 using animation. This project got me into film school. Filmmaking is the most beautiful art form of all because it is not about you. It is a collaboration of so much talent; nobody can claim the result on their own. The D.P., art department, and sound designers – we are all in it as equals, working towards something beautiful.

LBB> I often ask directors if they remember the first time they started playing about with a camera, but I suspect that’s not nearly enough given the range of things you do! But were you quite an artistic kid? What sort of projects would you do?

EN> I was a bit of a nerd. While everybody was playing outside, I was just endlessly sitting behind my computer creating 2D and 3D animation. The computer was, and is, the most amazing tool ever and as soon as you master the software, it gives you the ability to entertain. And that’s what I love most about my work: being able to entertain people. 

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?

EN> I am a really big fan of what Joseph Kosinski is doing. His journey to where he is now is just amazing. Can you believe Disney gave him $140 million for his first film ‘TRON Legacy’? And he proves my theory of unlimited creativity; he started as an architect, began doing animation, then directing commercials over at Anonymous Content, and now he is a big Hollywood name.

LBB> Cupidrone is one of our favourite ads of the past couple of months – what was it about the concept that appealed to you?

EN> For me it was the combination of tech and emotions. A drone in itself is not very appealing – they even look like scary insects – but with the right approach we managed to make a drone engaging. The brief by agency Kingsday was to sell roses, but it could have been an ad for the drone as well. And maybe we should do that more: put some emotion into tech. 

LBB> And how did you go about giving the little drone such a big personality?

EN> The funny thing was that many people projected their own childhood memories on the little fella. You mentioned ‘Batteries Not Included’, some people mentioned R2D2 from Star Wars. What I did was watched Pixar’s ‘Wall-E’ at least five times before we flew out to Verona. The little robot doesn’t use words; he just uses his eyes, his mannerisms and sound effects. That was my inspiration and I guess it worked.

LBB> What were the main production challenges involved in the project?

EN> The big question was regarding how many drones we were going to take? One or two? And because the hero-drone had to be customised, we only had little time to decide. Eventually we wanted to have one drone fitted with a GoPro for drone-to-drone shots and one hero-drone. Thankfully my producer persisted on having an extra hero-drone made, because – bang! – two hours into the shoot, we lost our first one. So having a back up saved the shoot.

LBB> You were involved in the much-awarded Volvo Hunt campaign in 2006 and 2007 – what were your memories of these productions?

EN> Volvo’s The Hunt was a collaboration with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. I was first hired for the Hunt in 2006 as the visual artist to create the many backdrops for the locations of the game. For the second Hunt (2007) promoting ‘World’s End’ I was hired to direct as well. Location hopping with speedboats and water planes in the Caribbean was like a dream come true for a first time director.

LBB> And why do you think they were so well received?

EN> At (what was then called) Euro RSCG 4D we learned through online feedback that entire families were playing the game together: it was great family entertainment. And for the industry it was a benchmark project because a car brand committed itself to such a massive online experience. It literally started in the showroom by picking up your personal treasure map and you could end up playing the final puzzles physically on a deserted Island in the Caribbean. It had such an epic (story) arc for an automotive brand.

LBB> The Kevin Durant Nike campaign looks like it must have been an interesting project! What was it like being with him as he crossed Europe? And what were the highlights of the production for you?

EN> Yeah, ‘Kevin Durant Investigates’ was a crazy one. While we were chasing him with three units through Europe I was also doing a shoot in Amsterdam for ING Bank, so personally it involved a lot of flying and hotels, but that also turned it into a great rush. It was a bit paparazzi-like, keeping up with him. We had limited access to him because of the massive entourage, but in the end, despite the thousands of screaming fans, he always remained a true gentleman.

LBB> What inspires you?

EN> Anything creative. I try to keep up with as much as possible: ads, art, architecture, games, apparel, film, design, music… When you look at my web browser, I always have like twenty windows open, just sucking it all up. These times are so damn interesting, there are so many fascinating collaborations between fields like tech, advertising and even science. There is an energy flowing like never before and I love being on that crossroad of creativity.

LBB> What are your goals as a creative person? Is there anything you’d like to try that you haven’t done yet?

EN> My first goal is to get my first fiction project done. Currently I’m working with a producer on that and I hope to shoot it in 2016. It’s a visual effects piece on Dutch history. And in the meantime I’m flirting with foreign representation. Amsterdam has an established and flourishing, yet introverted advertising industry, so my name as a director hasn’t crossed the border that much. I think it is time to look above and beyond.

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LBB Editorial, 5 years ago