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Animator Nick Criscuolo and Laika

The story of Laika, the Soviet dog sent to space with the knowledge that she would not return alive, is one of adventure and sorrow. She was simultaneously the first animal to orbit the earth and the first to die in orbit. One can’t help but anthropomorphize her and everything she must have experienced. Animator Nick Criscuolo has illustrated Laika’s journey in the music video he made for the song “I Can’t Breathe,” by Sharon Van Etten. He explains his own attraction to the Laika tale:


“It’s a story that’s close to my heart because I love science; it fills me with awe and hope. But this is one instance where I have conflicting feelings. Oleg Gazenko, one of the Sputnik 2 scientists, was quoted saying, “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of this dog.” But it’s also interesting how Laika is still honored to this day and was commemorated in a memorial statue. It’s like sending a person off to battle to die for their country — only the person at least has some awareness of their sacrifice and possibly even a choice in the matter. In future missions they at least tried to recover the dogs alive. I knew I wanted to do some kind of story about Laika having dreams from her capsule. I heard the song and the refrain “I can’t breathe” and it made me think of Laika. I felt really sad, but also thought the idea was kind of beautiful. I had this very emotional experience hearing that song for the first time, and I guess I wanted to share it. I also wanted the chance to rewrite Laika’s fate.


Criscuolo originally started making animations to alleviate job boredom .


“I had a job working as a security guard and I would do Post-It note flip-book animations while I was walking around just to keep myself sane. It developed from there into making short Flash animations, and experimenting with various digital artifacts. I discovered a cool way of breaking down divX video, for example, which made things appear to melt into one another as if they were in a constant state of transition. I made a few short videos exploring the process and setting them to music, but I had the vague notion that I wanted to use certain experimental video techniques in combination with animation to make a longer narrative piece.”

Currently in residency at MacDowell, Criscuolo is working on a feature-length animated film titled Anima 4096. About which he says:


“It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about someone who is most likely the last person left alive. He’s living in a cabin alone with his nanotech based sentient computer system named “Gen.” The whole world has been consumed by nanotech, by the “anima,” they call it. The grey-goo scenario is somewhat well tread in science fiction, but little used if at all in movies or animation. The idea is that these nanobots have only one simple directive, to continuously make copies of themselves by breaking down surrounding material. Each of the copies proceeds to make copies and the growth exponentially consumes the Earth – that’s what’s happened here. A lone survivor doesn’t know why he’s been left alive, when seemingly no other organic life was spared. His memory of what happened and of his life in general is jumbled because, like everything from this world, it has been augmented by nanotech. His memory plays back like broken digital video and the computer is in a similar state. The story is about this guy living his life while trying to figure out what happened and where he should go next – exploring this desolate world and trying to stay sane.”

More of Criscuolo’s work can be seen here.


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