We had the good fortune of connecting with Nick Cruz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nick, why did you pursue a creative career?
Growing up, I always found myself drawn to works of art, especially animation and video games. Seeing these fantastical creations be packed full of things that just weren’t possible in the real world and that couldn’t be presented through live action, just really took hold of me. It made me realize you could have an idea and execute on it and literally make whatever you want and it could go beyond the confines of just your head and be real in some way, shape, or form. Even if it is still just on a TV screen.
I’ve just always been drawing for as long as I can remember. According to my mom, I’ve had a pen in my hand ever since I was two years old. I remember coming up with my own comic book ideas and making those for myself or my friends. Constantly drawing funny things in my notebooks at school. Drawing my own anime ideas while watching Toonami on Saturday nights. Just consuming endless amounts of cartoons and anime and playing a lot of Gamecube. It was something I just kept doing, and wanted to get better at and the drive was enhanced by all the media and entertainment I was surrounding myself with.
And it wasn’t until high school that I decided to combine my love of drawing with my love of cartoons and pursue a career in animation. Animation is something I have a lot of love and respect for and I definitely wanted to contribute to it in some way. It’s been a long and weird journey since, with going in out of community college at first, finally going to art school when I was 24 and graduating virtually during the pandemic, but I’ve found my footing as of recently and I’m so glad to be a part of the industry that has played such an important role in my life and upbringing.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Early on as an artist, I was dead set on becoming a character designer. But once I got to college, I quickly realized it wasn’t my strong suit and wound up pivoting towards designing backgrounds. I found myself watching animation and really focusing on how well drawn and stylish the backgrounds could be. They’re very important in not just setting a location for the story, but also very much setting a mood. And when I began experimenting more with painting my own backgrounds, I found giving a setting its own mood came more naturally to me than creating a whole character and personality. I had a blast messing around with lighting, composition and framing, and using time of day, all to make a background feel more lived-in and more like a character itself.
I’m grateful I made that pivot to painting more backgrounds as I believe that’s what helped me land a job professionally as a Color Designer at one of my favorite animation studios; Titmouse. I got to work alongside a great design team to bring together a new cartoon coming to Disney Channel next year called KIFF. The trailer just debuted at NYCC in October, and I’m most excited seeing it finally come to TV and what everyone has to say about it!
It started with me finally taking the steps in my mid-twenties to go back to college and pursue a career in animation. You absolutely don’t need college to make a living as an artist, but it certainly helped me keep a more structured approach to making that a reality. And being around so many people with similar goals, really kept me striving to do better and I think I really flourished artistically during those 4 years. But with that came a lot of work! Lots of sleepless nights, and overworking myself too. I remember juggling an internship, freelance work and dumping hours of work into my thesis film all during my final year at school. I was so burnt out afterwards, I had to give my mind and my wrists a good summer long break after that.
It’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket and open yourself up to more work you love, but I definitely don’t recommend diluting yourself and your time too much or you’ll hit that wall a lot faster than you may think.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Growing up near the Jersey shore, comes with a lot of great beaches to check out. Seaside Heights, Asbury, and Point Pleasant have some nice ones, as well as some great boardwalks to traverse. Not much beats eating some funnel cake as you gaze out at the Atlantic Ocean.
In Red Bank, NJ, there’s an awesome arcade called Yestercades. All the machines are unlocked and you can buy a day pass to come and go as you please for a pretty cheap price too. There’s a ton of old school arcade cabinets to try, or you can even chill on a couch and pop in an old Xbox 360 game or a brand new Switch game and play that until the place closes.
Schiano’s Pizza from my hometown is some of the best pizza you can get outside of NYC.
And of course, good ol’ New York City is only about an hour and half bus ride away. And I’ll always recommend a good outing in the city.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I wouldn’t be anywhere without the constant love and support from my parents. They recognized I enjoyed drawing at a young age and only ever encouraged and supported me as much as they could. That’s what every young artist needs and I can’t thank them enough for that.
A big thank you to my closest friends, my lovely girlfriend, and my younger brother who have always supported me every step of the way as well. They always keep me pushing forward.
I absolutely have to thank my fellow peers, artists, and teachers who I had the pleasure of befriending during my time in college. I made a few friends who are crazy passionate about art and we all got to see each other grow as artists and we still encourage each other’s artistic endeavors to this day. And an awesome color theory teacher I had in school, who really opened me up to what I can do and helped me get a chance at starting my career professionally.
They all mean so much to me and I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people in my life.