Ugly Ugly

In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

This week’s subject is Russian-born, German-based animator Nikita Diakur, whose utterly original films Ugly (2017), Fest (2018), and Backflip (2022) have garnered universal acclaim for their unique use of software glitches and defects to tell sensitive stories about equally broken humans.

In a sentence: Diakur’s computer-driven shorts cleverly exploit the foibles and follies of computer software to comment – with dashes of humor and pathos – on a chaotic world.

Where to start: Ugly (2017). A groundbreaking work about an abused and abandoned cat who meets an equally neglected indigenous man (some have criticized Diakur’s appropriation and stereotyping of the indigenous chief, but to his credit, Diakur presents a gentle and compassionate understanding of this character). Diakur’s use of dynamic silluations gives the film an almost interactive, improvisational feel. What’s more remarkable is how Diakur manages to create a deeply emotional story within this seemingly random and somewhat cold technological landscape. (Disclosure: This film was made with the financial support of Cartoon Brew.)

What to watch next: Fest (2018). A bizarre and hilarious glitchy simulated puppet theater portrait of a wild urban rave.

Other key works:  Zebra Crossing for Animario Festival (2019), Skydivers Unite (2020) and his student film that he’s not proud of… but we’re going to share anyway, Fly on The Window (2009)

Influences: British animation inspired me to start animating: Chris Shepherd, Phil Hunt, Jonathan Hodgson, Hilary by Anthony Hodgson. I visited Animafest Zagreb in 2010 and saw The Tale of Little Puppetboy by Johannes Nyholm, David O’Reilly’s Please Say Something, and Priit and Olag Pärn’s Divers in The Rain all in one screening. That experience made me want to continue doing short films. Influences for Ugly and Fest were underappreciated trash and kitsch internet culture on Youtube (Russian bungee, Thunderdome’97), self-help motivational and inspirational websites (e.g. great-inspirational-quotes.com), and doomy technology that gets out of control.”

Says: “I think self doubt is very important. If I make a film and I find mistakes or I’m not completely satisfied I must take a close look, find the mistake, and fix it. For that, you need to be reflective, critical, and doubtful.”

Currently working on:  His latest short, Backflip (2022) is currently making the festivals rounds and earning wide acclaim. In the meantime, Diakur is researching “a generative forever fall and a story about cumbia, which is one of my favorite music genres.”

Pictured at top: Ugly


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Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is a writer and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). Robinson has authored thirteen books including Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation (2006), Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin (2008), and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (2010). He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning animation short, Lipsett Diaries.

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