Interview : Nikhil Markale


I spoke with Nikhil Markale – an extremely talented Australian animation professional, living in Melbourne, who recently released SWF Exporter Pro – an extension for Animate, which allows users to easily publish SWFs, based on quick layer selection for compositing in After Effects.

Nikhil kindly agreed to speak with me, and below is our conversation.

Interview with Nikhil Markale

Hi Nikhil! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview!
I'm impatient to learn more about SWF Exporter Pro, but before that, let's start with a couple of introductory questions.
What were your favorite cartoons when you were a boy, and which is the first one that you remember seeing? Did these early encounters make a strong impression on you, and influence you later?

I don’t remember the first cartoon I ever saw. It must have been Tom & Jerry or something of that era. I don’t think they made a huge impression on me in terms of anything I can remember or point to. I did always try to draw any cartoon I was watching and imitate the style. I do remember the first time I saw anime, when I was about 5. My family had only just moved to Australia and my older brother was flicking through the TV channels to see what TV was like here. He briefly stopped on one that was playing an animated show, but I distinctly remember the feeling of seeing something completely new and unique to anything I had seen before. When he changed the channel, I tried to get him to go back to it, but by then it must have gone to ads and we never found it. In hindsight it was probably Digimon. During my childhood Dragon Ball consistently remained my favorite animated show and I spent a LOT of time drawing muscley guys fighting.

What about other forms of visual art? Were you also fascinated by illustration, painting, sculpture, architecture, film?

I grew up drawing and painting and even now I still enjoy it just as much as animation. My interest in animation came from being able to make my drawings move, but even before deciding to study animation at Uni, I always thought I would end up painting. My focus changed eventually, but I don’t think the passion has died. Lately I’ve been trying to spend more time painting – both digitally and traditionally.

As you grew up and learned more about animation, did your taste change? Do you have favorite animated shows, feature films, animators and directors?

Before Uni my taste in animation was quite limited and I’d still say I don’t really watch a whole lot of it. But meeting a whole bunch of new people and becoming aware of a community of animators really helped expand my knowledge of what was out there. It definitely influenced my own work in huge ways. During that time I saw Mind Game, directed by Masaaki Yuasa and I don’t think I’ve seen a movie since that has blown my mind as much as it did. These days I’m usually impressed by all the stuff coming out of independent animators from France. They’re consistently producing new, unique visual styles always at extremely high technical levels, I don’t know how they do it.

How did you get into Flash and what was the path that led you to becoming an animation professional?

My brother introduced me to Flash when I was about 11 after he saw it on the computers at his highschool. My first animation was a fight between two circles characters that played more like a fast slideshow. I slowly figured out how to make the movement look smoother, but I didn’t really learn the fundamentals in any formal way. All my animations were straight ahead, on ones and I would control timing by changing the frame rate in the timeline, my favorite was 17fps. I clearly had no idea what I was doing, but I did end up developing a good intuition for movement.
I started freelance work when I was at Uni after a studio called Rubber House saw my work online and it’s just kept going since then. That was in a time when a good number of studios in Melbourne were still using Flash, but times have changed. 

Tell us more about Gibbon Animation. I've seen some extremely beautiful, impressive and stylistically varied music videos on Gibbon Animation's website and would love to learn more about them, and to share some of them with our audience.

I started Gibbon with my friend Aggelos Papantoniou in 2017, after working closely with him throughout Uni and on jobs and short films afterwards. We used it as a venue for posting films we made together which eventually helped us get work. The short films we make between jobs have been the most rewarding projects we’ve worked on, so we’ve been trying to put more time and focus on to those. It would be great as we grow the studio to work with more artists and bring them on board some of our personal projects as well as the commercial ones. 

What do you think of the Australian animation production? Has it found its own unique face?

It’s hard to say if it has a strong identity at this stage. I’d say it’s getting there though. I know the industry here has grown and evolved over recent years. Some of the old studios seemed to have fizzled away and I’ve heard people talk about how locally made children’s cartoons don’t have the same funding structures they used to. But with the growth of Princess Bento, they’ve seemed to have taken in a lot of the talent from all over Australia, I think we’re starting to find a voice. They’re putting in a lot of effort looking for new creators to develop shows, instead of just being an outsourced service studio doing work for American IP’s. I think the international success of Michael Cusack’s shows showed them that there’s good talent out there worth investing in.

What are some of the exciting projects you have been part of in the last few years?

Although it was more of a passion project than a real job, the music video we made for Manorism back in 2020 was the most fun I’ve had on a project. I think the best part about it was the amount of work we put into the preproduction. We spent months looking up references for painting styles we liked, doing sketches and test compositions. We also spent a lot of time on R&D, trying to figure out how we would make the paintings move without having to spend forever repainting elements frame by frame. This was around the time I was developing the SWF exporter and more generally learning about coding in JSFL, so it was exciting to see it be useful in a production. 

Recently you published SWF Exporter Pro – an extremely useful extension for people who need to constantly jump between Animate and After Effects. Tell us about it, where colleagues can find it, and how it came into being.

A lot of the Flash productions I worked on through the years imported SWFs directly into After Effects for compositing. It worked well, but for the most part it was quite a limited way of exporting from a file. If you wanted to export specific layers, you had to manually turn all the unwanted layers into guides, export the SWF, rename that SWF so that later exports wouldn’t overwrite it and then go back into the file and unguide all the guided layers. If you ever wanted to update that SWF then you’d have to repeat the whole process again. It’s especially bad if you’re trying to isolate layers inside a symbol. It was painfully laborious and at the time I couldn’t really believe there wasn’t an inbuilt function for customizing a SWF export.
The command lets you select a layer or multiple layers that then get exported into a custom SWF that you can name and save in a desired location. It’s useful for being able to add effects to those SWFs in After Effects individually. For example, you can add a blur effect or change the blending mode of shadow layer, or add a glow to a highlight without it affecting the rest of the elements in the animation. 

The plugin is up on Gumroad for free!

I think everyone who has used Flash knows that it takes a bit of effort to make something that doesn’t immediately, at first glance, look like it was made in Flash. I think in a way it’s a good thing that has made me think about the different ways you can push a program to do something unexpected.

What challenges did you face during the development process, and how long did it take from concept to release?

I’d had the idea for a long time, but for the most part I was convinced that Flash did in fact have the feature already and that I just hadn’t found it yet. But from when I started looking up how to program it myself to having the first working version, it took about 2 years. I gave up multiple times along the way which is probably why it took so long, but it was hard to find a whole lot of resources online for JSFL.
The main problem I was stuck on for the longest time was that when jumping out of a symbol, I couldn’t manage to access the new timeline's list of layers. It was such a specific problem to Flash that I found it impossible to find any help online. On top of that I didn’t know enough about coding to even know if the problem was with Flash, JSFL or my code. Of course, it was my code, but it took me almost a year to figure what it was. If you’re interested, the problem was that I was establishing a variable for the timeline outside of the loop that was jumping out of symbols and storing the list of layers from each timeline. So it would just store the first Timeline and then nothing else afterwards. It was an easy fix of putting that variable inside the loop, and it was the biggest relief to see it work.

For almost a whole decade we had been quite lonely in this field. It is so nice to see revived interest in Flash plugins. Do you intend to develop more extensions?

I always get excited when I see other people using Flash and especially when I see people making plugins for it. Even if I come across some old blog from years ago talking about coding in Flash it feels comforting. Recently I’ve been trying to learn more about ActionScript 3 to try make a new plugin for making animatics. I’ve always wanted to make a plugin with an interface and I’m starting to figure it out now.
The idea of the plugin is to have a button that creates a ‘new shot’ which is a symbol with a shot number. The animation/storyboard for that shot goes inside the symbol. When you make another new shot, it will name the shot according to whatever number it’s up to in the shot list. For example, if it is the second shot it will be called “Shot 2”. I think where it gets useful is that there will be a feature where the user can re-order shots in the shot list and their names will change to correspond with the order that they are in.

Do you remember how and when you first discovered EDAP Tools? Do you have favorite tools or commands?

I only discovered EDAP Tools recently when I was starting to think of coding in Flash again and your work has helped revive that passion again in me. To be honest I haven’t tested out all your features yet, but I had a play around with the rigging system and it blew me away. I had no idea that Flash plugins could be so powerful and I’m excited to see what else you come up with in the future.

Have you followed closely the development of Animate in the last 6–7 years? What do you think about it? How does Animate hold its position against competing packages such as ToonBoom Harmony or Moho?

It’s sad that Flash has dropped away from the industry almost completely in recent years. Most local studios, even the smaller ones that used Flash before, are now using Harmony and I understand why. Flash has just stayed too limiting and the bugs have somehow just gotten worse over time. With every new feature they roll out, I do get a little bit excited, but I know that it’s just a half-hearted effort from Adobe just to keep stringing it along. I honestly don’t know what the future for Flash is at this stage. It would be great for them to sell it off or make it open source, but that’s very unlikely. Harmony, for all of its features is a hard sell because it’s so expensive. I still love After Effects so unless someone can convince me of compositing in Harmony as well as maybe offering me a heavy discount, I’m not sure I'll switch over too soon. I’ve never used Moho, but it looks interesting.

Besides your interest in JSFL programming, do you have any other long-term interests, hobbies or side projects?

Yeah, I love hobbies! Along with painting, I’ve been sewing from time to time over the last decade. Recently I’ve been making bags. Apart from that I play ping pong and futsal, which I enjoy quite a bit.

Is there anything I forgot to ask, but you would like to add?

I think you covered quite a bit.
Thanks a lot for this interview! It’s great seeing a community of Flash animators still around and staying connected. There are still plenty of them out there and maybe with a kick in the bum Adobe will hand over the reins to someone who cares about its future.

Thank you very much, Nikhil!

Nickolay Tilcheff
January 2024

Follow Nikhil's work

Nikhil's SWF Exporter Pro is available on Gumroad.

You can follow Nikhil and Gibbon Animation on Instagram.


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