Animating Nelly Furtado

Frame from Forca video, cartoon Nelly

Caption: Courtesy of Copernicus Studios
This is a frame from the new Nelly Furtado video, Explode. The music video is about Furtado reflecting on her secondary school days, based on a poem she wrote as a teenager.

Animating Nelly
Halifax animation company Copernicus, hired to create Furtado’s latest music video


NELLY FURTADO is a world-renowned pop singer. She just finished a world tour of her new album Folklore, the follow-up to her Grammy Award-winning debut, Whoa Nelly.

So how does an animation company from Halifax get to make her next music video?

“I was working on the Universal Soul video,” says Brad Cayford, who directed the local hip-hop act’s latest music video, Back in the Day.

“She saw a lot of artwork that I did for that video and asked me if I’d be interested in doing a video for her. I kind of didn’t want to do one because I haven’t got my feet wet yet.”

At 26, Cayford is a recent graduate from the animation programme at Sheridan College in Ontario.

But he impressed 30-year-old Juan Cruz Baldassarre enough to make him a part of Baldassarre’s small Halifax-based animation company, Copernicus Studios Inc.

Lyrics from Cayford’s favourite Furtado song could sum up the current state of his animation career: “sliding on the rainbows of my childhood dreams.”

“Bradley is undisputedly one of the best animators of his generation,” says Baldassarre, who founded the company one year ago with three other partners.

Cayford went on to impress the folks at MuchMusic, who nominated the Universal Soul video for two MuchMusic Video Awards.

“It was really grand, the timing, because when Brad was in Toronto for the MMVAs . . . Nelly Furtado got best pop video of the year. And right after that, she’s talking with us to do her next video,” says Baldassarre.

Directors of Forca video


Paul Rigg, Brad Cayford, Juan Cruz Baldassarre, and Andrew Holland of the Halifax-based animation company, Copernicus Studios Inc., hold up an image from the Nelly Furtado video, Explode, which they were hired to create.

The creation of the video for Explode, from concept to final product, took just under four weeks. “We were almost forced to create at the speed of thought,” says Baldassarre.

The video is about Furtado reflecting on her secondary school days, based on a poem she wrote as a teenager.

“She just talks about all the negativity and tries to show that she hasn’t escaped from it,” says Cayford. “In the video she goes to this majestic forest that’s so full of life and that’s her escape. She goes to her treehouse, writes about it and starts writing her music and her music is essentially what’s built her to what she is today.”

Cayford worked one on one with Furtado on a daily basis, over the phone from wherever she was.

“There were even times that she called me when she was shopping, wondering what she should buy for her dress. We were pretty tight the whole way through. Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed with these things, but I’m glad there were people like her to bring me back down to earth.”

Cayford also credits the rest of the crew at Copernicus who put in endless hours to complete the project. Company president, Paul Rigg worked as a line producer and technical supervisor. Baldassarre handled post production and editing. The characters were designed by James Walsh and backgrounds were created by Meaghan Smith. Murray Bain did backgrounds and post-production. Jeremy Donovan helped the team with animation.

“I did that shot at six in the morning – that’s how you feel when you look at it,” says Baldassarre, recalling the many all-nighters it took to complete the project.

“I just feel pretty blessed that I have these opportunities to do this. I’ve been wanting to do this for my whole life. The fact that I get to do it, makes for a peaceful walk home. And that’s about as high as I’ll get about it,” says Cayford.

The video is now being shown all over music stations in Europe and it’s just recently been put into heavy rotation on MuchMusic. It can also be seen on Furtado’s website

Baldassarre says it’s a big boost for the small company to get this kind of global exposure. Despite the quality of their work, he says it’s hard to be taken seriously sometimes because of their youth.

“So when you have someone like Nelly Furtado backing you up the way she did, that gives you an instant credibility.”

Baldassarre is taking his company’s credibility and going to MIPCOM (a trade show for the TV industry) today for two weeks to shop Copernicus material.

“It’s the biggest event in the world for television. It’s where all the VPs of programming, development and CEOs of the largest corporations on the planet involved with television go to Cannes to come back with a good chunk of their programming,” says Baldassarre.

Baldassarre says it’s the use of technology and the Internet that can make Nova Scotia a leading market for animation.

“Brad was on the phone talking to Nelly when she was in Germany or Toronto or Portugal, defining things over the phone and then sending stills over the Internet. When everything was animated, you could compress it and send it to her.

“With technology, you have that capability. Now the question is, once all the gadgets are gone, do you have the talent? Can you make something that’s entertaining and fun? I think that’s why right now it makes sense for us to be in Nova Scotia,” says Baldassarre, who came to the province four years ago from Argentina.

Animation is serious business for this group, but their love for the art is obvious.

“The one thing to me that makes animation special is that not one thing you see on the screen – particularly the characters that you connect with – none of them exist,” says Baldassarre.

“It’s always somebody’s imagination being drawn. This is my interpretation of what Nelly Furtado would look like. This is how I would draw her. Frame by frame, everything that you see has been put there by somebody’s imagination.”

Keep an eye out for Copernicus’s future projects on YTV and check out their website at

Laura Graham is a freelance journalist living in Halifax.

Source: The Halifax Herald Limited

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