One of the most important aspects of what NCTV does as a non-profit media center is connect people with technology and teach them how to utilize it. We offer a variety of workshops on Tuesday evenings that are always free and open to the public. While many of these workshops are taught directly by the NCTV staff, we also rely on volunteers teachers to bring their own specialized backgrounds and skills sets in order to help us introduce an even greater diversity of topics to the community. NCTV member and volunteer instructor Nils Norgren has been teaching at the station since the start of 2015. With over 25 years of experience in digital media, Nils combines the artistry of filmmaking with true CG innovation. In 1995, he and his two partners founded Neoscape - an award-winning industry front-runner. Also an Emmy-nominated director of photography, Nils pushes technical limits by developing scripts, tools, and workflows that drive Neoscape and the design visualization industry toward a more cinematic vision. Under his leadership, Neoscape has won numerous awards from organizations such as CG architect, ASAI, Telly, World Media, Creativity Annual and MIMC, and has been featured in publications including 3d World magazine, Exposé, Elemental, Cadalyst, A+U, and Experience Building!
CL: Tell me a little bit about your background and growing up.
NN: I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. My father was an MIT-trained Engineer, and my mother was a Harvard grad who wore many hats as a teacher, executive of a non-profit, and a university instructor. My father was a strong advocate for home computer use and purchased a MAC as soon as he was able. My first mac was a 512K in 1985 (which was the high-end model!) I fell in love with the idea of the computer as a creative tool. I didn’t do much creatively with our first mac until college. I had familiarity with computers which put me in good standing when they became powerful enough later on.
CL: When did you first get involved with film-making and CG and where and how did you first learn each?
NN: During my last year in college getting my degree in architecture, I was an intern for a large engineering firm’s internal visualization group. It was the early 90’s, and we mostly did still images of projects, bridges, highway widening, light rail, and projects like that. Sometimes, we would get to do animation. We did bridge construction animations, light rail, and even some logo animation. This is where and how I was introduced to film-making through animation.
CL: What inspired you and your partners to found Neoscape, and what is the focus of the work that you do there?
NN: We had all attended school for architecture and hoped to get to do more architectural work (and less engineering.) Back in the mid 90’s, there was still some work being done on the central artery project (AKA The Big Dig). Some of our first work came from engineering projects associated with the Big Dig as well as some architectural projects associated with the project. Our primary role when we started the company was to provide Architectural Visualization to the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) market. We would work on competitions for clients, marketing images and films, presentations, and videos about projects in and around Boston.
CL: What are some of the awards Neoscape has earned over the years?
NN: We have won many awards in our industry, here is a list from the 2014 - 2015 years:
DURHAM.ID CAMPAIGN, LONGFELLOW - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2015
ONE STATE STREET CAMPAIGN, WOLFSON GROUP - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2015
225 PARK AVENUE SOUTH LOGO, ORDA MGMT - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2015
BAKER DESIGN GROUP WEBSITE, BDG - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2015
RIVER POINT BROCHURE, HINES - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2014
680 MADISON BROCHURE, THOR EQUITIES - Graphic Design USA Certificate of Excellence 2014
PUCK PENTHOUSE, KUSHNER - ASAI Award of Excellence 2014
TWENTY TWO LIBERTY, THE FALLON COMPANY - ASAI Award of Excellence 2014
CITY POINT, ALBEE DEVELOPMENT - Platinum Pixie Award, Motion Graphics 2014
237 PARK AVENUE, RXR REALTY - Gold Pixie Award, Animation 2014
INNOVATION & DESIGN BUILDING, JAMESTOWN - Gold Pixie Award, Motion Graphics 2014
NEOSCAPE WEBSITE - American Web Design Award 2014
PIKE & ROSE IPAD APP, FEDERAL REALTY - American Web Design Award 2014
606 BROADWAY WEBSITE, MADISON CAPITAL - American Web Design Award 2014
CL: I see that you have also been nominated for an Emmy as a Director of Photography. Tell me about your work that was nominated and your experience making it.
NN: We did a film for the Central Artery about the surface restoration. As the elevated artery was about to be taken down, the various abutters, neighborhood groups, and government officials wanted to be able to see what the new parks would look like. We did a film highlighting the various parks - from Chinatown to the south, to the main Rose Kennedy Greenway, to the North End parks. We were nominated for an Emmy for the film. The roles we each played on the film got translated over to the parlance of the Emmy submission, and I became the Director of Photography (even though the cameras we operated were virtual.) I have always played a role in the push to approach our animation more as film-making and keep virtual cameras true to physical cameras as often as possible. Because there are no boundaries or technical limits in the virtual world, artists tend to go overboard with camera paths, which can lead to very disconcerting visuals. When you approach virtual cameras with the same basic set of moves that exist in the physical world, you get a much better result. If for no other reason, it is what people have become accustomed to.
CL: As a producer and a teacher, what is your favorite aspect of working with programs such as After Effects and Autodesk?
NN: The first thing you learn as a rule of the software world is that software companies need to innovate every year to keep customers and revenue flowing. They need to constantly improve the software, and this means new features, workflows, and innovations. Keeping up with these is a full time job, but a big part of it is understanding which features are going to be useful, necessary, and eventually essential, and which new features are a waste of time. This takes a complete understanding of the software, the work we do, and how we do it. I enjoy the constant balance of these three aspects of using computers in a creative setting.
CL: How did you first get involved in community media and NCTV specifically?
NN: I think my very first time hearing about the great programs and presence in town of Norfolk Community TV was when my kids first played Lion’s soccer and one parent's duty was to film a soccer game so that it could be show on the public channel. This would have been in probably 2004 or 2005.
CL: What would you like others who are trying to break into film-making and/or CG design and animation to know?
NN: I would say that creativity is king. I often see the best artists and filmmakers making due with very little, and I have seen people get overly focused on the technical - whether it is the hardware, or even software. The best computer, with the best cameras, with the highest end software can still be beat with a cheap camera and free software if the idea is better. I would say that, overall, a desire to make cool images and animation trumps technical skills.
CL: What do you see foresee for the future of filmmaking and CG?
NN: There are great advances in CG and film-making. It is cliché, but now everyone is a filmmaker as everyone has a platform right in their pocket, on their phone. Amazing things will come out of the woodwork - whether it is viral videos, or out of the box uses for technology like “Google Cardboard” or drone video. As VR, AR and tele-presence become more ubiquitous in society, there are tons of opportunities for people who work in the new “Creative Economy.” I believe that young people should be encouraged to pursue film/video/illustration/design/etc more as we live and interact in a visual world, and there is now more opportunity than ever to creative people who work in visual mediums.
NOTE: All images courtesy of Neoscape © 2016