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Troy Quane: Resilience, the Making of ‘Nimona’ and Returning to Commercials

Production Company
London, UK
The Academy Award-nominated director and animator tells LBB’s Zoe Antonov about his desire to distil big ideas into short form, why Hollywood was the ultimate end goal and what his hopes are for expanding into European markets

Troy Quane is a Canadian-American veteran of the Hollywood animation industry. He is known for directing major studio pictures including ‘Spies in Disguise’ starring Will Smith and Tom Holland, and most recently the Netflix animated film ‘Nimona’, one of the 2024 Oscar nominees. based on the award-winning graphic novel by ND Stevenson.

Troy grew up just outside Toronto, where one of his favourite pastimes as a kid was riding his bike to the local cinema and buying a ticket to the earliest matinee and then spending his day jumping from one theatre to the next. This is where he realised the thrill that film gave him every time the lights dimmed and the projector started would be his guiding light. Combined with Troy’s love of drawing, especially comics, animation was a no-brainer.

Troy pursued art at high school with that same passion (which meant a 40-minute bus ride to a school in which none of his friends went to), which led him to join the animation program at Sheridan College later on. His first job in the animation industry was, however, as a prop designer on a Christmas special called ‘JINGLE BELL ROCK!’ at Phoenix Animation studio in Toronto. 

He got the job in the summer between his second and third year of college, through the standard process of relentlessly cold calling every studio in the city. “From that experience I learned that if I wanted something in this industry, I would have to put myself really out there. No one was going to give it to me,” he shares. So, from prop designer, his resilience brought Troy to design supervisor and then animator. More specifically, animating for commercials, before emerging as a feature film director. 

Today, Troy is excited at the prospect of bringing his knack for character-led animated comedy, fantasy and Hollywood polish back to his roots, working in ads and short-form branded content.

LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to him to find out more about the transition and what lies ahead in Troy’s career.

Still from 'Spies in Disguise'

LBB> What drew you to animation? And how do you think the field has changed ever since you started?

Troy> What originally drew me to animation was the ability to combine my drawing and art into the narrative filmmaking I so enjoyed. The biggest change in my career was the advent of computer animation. It was as if the industry completely changed overnight, and I didn’t know if there was a place for me in it anymore. 

But I quickly learned that the computer was just another artistic tool to create, a new brush to express myself with. And as the computer became more sophisticated, we were able to push the boundaries of what we could do with it creatively. And the more we pushed what the computer could do, the more savvy the audience became. Right now we are in an incredible period of creativity where CG, 2D and stop motion all exist equally depending on what feels right creatively for the project. And in turn, this seems to have expanded the mainstream audience's tastes for what we can do tonally in animation - anything from cartoony and silly to dark and mature. The sky is truly the limit.

Still from 'The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol'

LBB> Talk to me about your work in Hollywood - how did you end up part of big productions and what were these steps of your career defined by?

Troy> I’m both incredibly driven and incredibly competitive, mainly with myself. If I do something, I want to be able to excel at it. 

For me, Hollywood was the goal. I wanted to be able to tell big stories on a big screen that reached an audience, being able to make them cry and laugh and create characters that they have a real emotional connection to. So it was always me challenging myself, not usually taking the easy or expected option, the safe path didn’t seem to feel comfortable for me. I was always striving to bet on myself and have an opinion, to learn from every experience and every person who was willing to share with me. It’s how I continue to improve myself as a filmmaker even now. Always looking for some new thing to learn, some new person or experience to open my perspective.

LBB> How has your inspiration changed since you started? Or has it remained consistent?

Troy> I’m not sure I’d say my inspiration has changed so much as I’m more confident in allowing my inspiration to be more fluid depending on the project and material in front of me. I think as creators and filmmakers start out, they model themselves after a particular artist or filmmaker they admire, which is natural. But with more experience I think I’ve become better at building my own vocabulary beyond that.

LBB> And what about your creative vision?

Troy> I think, like with anything, the more you experience, the broader your palette becomes. My tastes in film and music have always been quite eclectic to begin with, ranging from popular to obscure. I feel that experience has helped me understand why something is appealing to me instead of just relying on instinct, which means I’m able to communicate that to whoever I’m working with more effectively. I would say that I’m always looking for something that has a little bite to it, a little bit of edge, a little darkness to balance the light - but still have it be accessible. 

LBB> ‘Nimona’ was one of the breakthroughs in your career - tell me about creating it and what that journey meant to you

Troy> Making ‘Nimona’ was a bumpy ride to say the least. Full of twists and turns, studio closures, buying the film out of turnaround, and new partners - but we all knew we had something amazing and nobody was willing to let it die. It’s always about the quality of the content, first and foremost. The characters and story are what connects with an audience. That being said, we were very nervous about finding another studio to pick up the production work on the film, going from a completely vertically integrated studio to a vendor/client model.

But I found my past experience allowed me to find my rhythm fairly quickly, remembering how the flexibility and scrappiness of the vendor model can allow for some incredible creativity. It was so fulfilling to see the team take ownership of ‘Nimona’. It’s something I strive for on all my projects regardless of scale.

Still from 'Nimona'

LBB> Of course, it is also one of the nominees for the 2024 Oscars - what does this mean to you and how did that make you feel?

Troy> It was exhilarating to hear the news! To go from a situation where the movie isn't going to get made, right through to the heights of what our industry can honour a film with is the comeback story of the decade! It was never a sure thing. We have been the underdogs from the beginning, so it was definitely anxiety inducing until we heard them say ‘Nimona’ on the television. 

But the response from people who have seen the film has been so humbling and sincere, and that has been the real win. The nomination hopefully just means more people will hear about the film and watch it. I also hope it sends a message to the studios that audiences are not only ready for, but demanding unique, original, diverse and inclusive stories. And for me personally, it is a completely unreal thing to say that I’m an Academy Award-nominated director. It’s something I’m unbelievably proud of.

LBB> Tell us about what you’re hoping to achieve in commercials and with brands, and how you will bring your sense of storytelling from long-form to short-form.

Troy> I’m hoping that my experience in high-end long-form film will bring a sense of scale and narrative to my short-form work. To be able to boil down the bigger idea to its most condensed form. I always like those kinds of commercials, the ones where you feel you’ve experienced a moment that is more expansive and surprising than what one would think the time frame allows for.

Still from 'Nimona'

LBB> Tell us about your partnership with A.R.C. and your plans together looking ahead.

Troy> I’m always looking for collaboration with my creative partnerships, and A.R.C. has been just that! There’s an energy and expectation of quality that I love and look forward to delivering. The work they take on is always surprising and fresh, which I find so inspiring. And their connection to European markets I hope allows for the opportunity for me to continue to expand my creative vision beyond my North American experience thus far.

LBB> A.R.C produces 2D, 3D, stop frame and live action - how open are you to exploring new animation techniques or storytelling mediums on this next chapter?

Troy> 2D, 3D, stop frame, live action - these are all tools to be used to best support the needs of the narrative and creative vision for the project. I can’t express how thrilled I am to work with a studio like A.R.C. who have the capability to explore any of these creative techniques, or even multiple techniques at once! It’s like being a kid in the most exciting candy shop you can imagine!

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