With titles such as Sony Pictures’ Venom, Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp and Universal’s Curious George: Royal Monkey to her name, it’s safe to say that editor Nina Helene Hirten has a very large range. Her latest project being FOX’s animated series Duncanville co-created by Amy Poehler, Mike Scully and Julie Scully, which was recently renewed for a second season. In case you aren’t familiar with the series, Duncanville follows a spectacularly average 15-year-old boy, voiced by Poehler, with a rich fantasy life, and the people in his world. Duncan can see adulthood on the horizon: money, freedom, cars, girls — but the reality is more like: always being broke, driving with your mom sitting shotgun and babysitting your little sister. He’s not exceptional, but he has a wild imagination in which he’s never anything less than amazing. Not only is Nina a cinematic editor, but she is also a multimedia artist and musician, who goes by the name DEROSNEC. Below is an exclusive Q&A with Nina discussing everything from her work as a musician to editing Duncanville and Venom.
You are one of the editors of Amy Poehler’s animated series Duncanville. How did you initially get involved with the show?
As a member of Women in Animation, I get their monthly updates and when I saw that Bento Box had a need for an editor, I applied, though I didn’t know what for until I sat down for the interview. All my experience up until then had been a mix of movies, music videos, and promo work, but not television. And while I’ve worked on a handful of high-profile projects, I actually laughed when the producers around the interview table told what the show was, because I immediately thought to myself that I wasn’t going to get this particular gig… Well, so much for that!
Besides the other editor, who do you work the closest to on Duncanville?
The people who hang out in my office the most are the series director Frank Marino, the individual show directors, and the many amazing coordinators who keep the machine running behind the scenes. Once animatics are done and animation starts coming in (which we refer to as “colour”) then I’ll also get frequent visits from the showrunners, Julie and Mike Scully.
About how long does each episode take to edit?
This is kind of a tricky question because there’s a span of time in between the animatic and the colour in which we have to pause editing in order to let the animation team do their animation magic. On this show, I get about 4 weeks to get the animatic as tight and entertaining as possible before it goes to timing and then animation. Then we wait a few months and get the animators’ first pass at the episode in one big dump! Once we get the footage, I have a day to do my edit pass, a day with Frank to do his edit pass, and one more day to get any tweaks in before screening it for the showrunners and writers. At that point, the rewrites start coming in and we’ll continue changing, fixing, and editing until final delivery 3 months later. So if we add that up, I guess the answer is about 4 months total where I’m actively editing on one episode, even though it’s broken up into stages.
Do you have a favorite episode from Season 1?
For me it’s a tie between “Sister, Wife” and “Judge Annie” – though I will say that I was also pretty darn stoked to see Alice Cooper on my timeline on “Red Head Redemption”…
Not only are you the editor on animation projects, but you are also a previs editor. How different is it working in the two fields?
Editing previs is actually very similar to animation! The biggest difference is probably how they’re approached. Because you’re building the story before it’s shot, a firm understanding of live action and VFX capabilities on top of film craft 101 is essential, because many times you’re helping to design something that will need to actually be shot in real life, even if it’s on a blue screen stage – whilst in animation you really only work with the drawings for animatics.
Previs can consist of boards and animatics, stills, clips from existing movies, motion graphics… really anything audio and visual that can help figure out the best way to tell the story. In that sense, as the editor I get a bit more creative input that I generally would in a typical animation or live action project.
And then of course there’s “capital P” Previs as I like to call it, like what the Third Floor does. At a studio like that, I get to work directly with a talented team of previs artists who animate some amazing quality work at ludicrous speed, and it’s super collaborative! So that is a process which is very similar to editing any other kind of animation.
The other difference is that in animation, the animatic has to be timed almost exactly to how the final animation needs to be, whereas in previs you don’t necessarily have to have a perfectly timed sequence – unless you’re doing something that needs to be synced in a certain way, like for instance the film Baby Driver.
You were the previs editor for Ant Man and the Wasp and Venom. Can you talk a little bit about what you did on both those films?
Both were super fun to work on (especially for a comic nerd such as myself)! On Venom I had the privilege of taking over and finishing the previs edit on the final battle and rocket launch. In that sequence, the biggest challenge was figuring out the clearest and most epic way to show off the two symbiotes as they have their super-sticky-final-battle.
On Ant-Man, we were sent out to Atlanta for about 6 months to be on set at Pinewood – and Marvel gave our previs team a lot of creative freedom. The director, Peyton Reed, would come in with sides and pitch us an idea of what he wanted to see, then we’d take that and create the coolest/funniest sequence we could think of. Many times I’d also have to creatively find a way to integrate the “stuntvis” (video choreography from the stunt team), into the animated sequence which the previs team was making – so along with them and Jim Baker, the Previs Supervisor, we’d discuss what new shots we might need to make it all work together seamlessly.
Once something was ready to show, we’d show Peyton, the producers, and any other key team heads that needed to be involved, and they’d give their notes. We’d repeat the whole process until the scene felt right. I will never forget just how collaborative and creatively fulfilling that particular project was to work on – my office at one point became a regular department head meeting room because of how often everyone would need to refer to the previs to make decisions, so I got to be a fly on the wall for most of the inner workings on top of being a contributing member. In the end, everyone had the common goal of making a really fun film and I believe that we achieved it.
On what series or film have you learned the most from?
Another tough question! I definitely learn something new and important from every project. Though if I had to peg just one as being the one that I learned the *most* from it would have to be the first feature doc that I ever cut, Citizen Marc directed by Roger Larry. I was fresh out of film school, and the doc had so many file formats gathered from over a decade of filming that it was technically challenging on top of the typical organizational challenges that documentary features usually pose. I also designed/boarded the animations and composed the music, so it was a lot of work over the span of 12 months.
I learned so much about storytelling, the technical side of editing professionally, and a surprising amount about myself on that project – I would probably be a different person today without having experienced that one.
You are also a musical artist/singer and performs electronic music under the pseudonym DEROSNEC. Can you tell us more about this?
I grew up in a musical household, and have always been drawing and writing stories and songs ever since I can remember. But in high school I was introduced to digital/home recording by the guitar club mentor and computer teacher Mr. Rosloff, and from that point on home recording became my favourite hobby. I would get to school at 5am and write/record until the bell rang at 8. When I’d had enough material for an album, I packaged and burned about 150 cds and sold them around the school (and to whoever else I could convince to buy one).
The music itself is synthrock with a dark tone to it, blending synth textures and electronic drumbeats with guitars and big harmonies. I’d describe the sound as somewhere in the middle of Depeche Mode, NIN, Peter Gabriel, Puscifer and Garbage with big vocals.
Along the way I’ve also managed to collaborate and sing with other projects of all types of genres, the longest one being with my dear friend Mae Shults who has been extremely prolific with their metal project, Everson Poe.
What inspires DEROSNEC?
Music is my internal passion, my release, and therapy tool – I’ve always had a dark streak and outside of music and drawing there aren’t a lot of places where I’ve felt like I could let those feelings out. In daily life I censor myself quite a bit, so it seemed only fitting that I try to turn that around conceptually with my art and music.
Most of my lyrics hover around my personal struggles with depression and specific experiences which have affected me deeply in some way, but once in a while I’ll sprinkle some social commentary in there as well.
Can you talk about your upbringing and how it influenced your passion for animation and music?
I come from a long line of musicians on both sides of my family. Both my grandmothers were singers, my mother sang in off-broadway productions, the San Francisco Opera chorus, and to this day still teaches singing. My father is a composer who plays the pipe organ and directs choirs. At one point, my mom’s house had 5 pianos – 3 of which were full size grands! I would listen to my mom teach and follow her to her own lessons as a kid, and it was kind of expected actually that I would grow up to be a Wagnarian – obviously that didn’t happen, but I do rock the Viking hair on a regular basis at least…
Anyway, because I ended up tagging along to a lot of recitals, services, weddings, and concerts, I had to keep myself occupied – quietly. So, I would draw in my sketchbook, write comics, and dream.
My dad is also the animation junkie – my mom still loves to tell that their first date was a Porky Pig retrospective in 1980s NYC! He always made sure to have Disney movies/shorts, Merry Melodies, Looney Tunes, and Fleischer studio works on hand at home for me to watch. We made it an annual thing to go to the then touring Spike and Mike Animation festival every year together, and he even had a VHS collection of National Film Board of Canada animations – which in retrospect I think was a big motivation for me to pursue my film degree in Canada. I equated the country with solid animation roots!
We read that you would some day like to work with David Lynch. What is it about his projects that you are drawn to?
The energy in David Lynch’s work is magical to me. It’s dark, raw, and broody but also peaceful and ethereal while still telling a compelling story – it’s a complex mix that is hard to balance, yet he manages to do it perfectly, and with a quirky sense of humour no less.
He’s also a big influence for me personally, being a dark-minded visual artist with a deep interest in film, editing, animation, music and sound. There is so much that I have learned from him, his work, and his philosophy that I try to emulate, and that I continue to learn!
You can learn more about Nina here: https://ninahirten.com/
Many thanks to Nina Helene Hirten for taking the time for this interview.