Nicole Otaola Directed By
A still from Nicole Otaola's short film "Directed By:" courtesy of Nicole Otaola

Welcome to The New School, a series highlighting striking, rising talents coming out of top film schools. Meet “Directed By:” director Nicole Otaola, a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Animation.

23-year-old Nicole Otaola just graduated from New York’s School of Visual Arts with an animation degree, and she’s already well on her way to a career in that field thanks to her new calling card: a heartwarming short film called “Directed By:”.

It’s about a girl who rehearses how she’s going to kiss her crush — with the help of a film crew, of course. And although the animated characters are a fox, a dog, and a very bossy bunny, the story was inspired by Otaola’s real life.

“Two years ago, I found myself having a crush on somebody. And I was like, okay, they’re not going to make the first move, so I have to make the first move with her. I found myself rehearsing a line, one exact line of dialogue. And then I did it and it happened. It worked,” Otaola told MovieMaker on Thursday at SVA Premieres Best of 2022 in Hollywood.

The showcase featured screenings of 20 short films by SVA’s class of 2022, who were flown out to Los Angeles to see their films on the big screen — and mingle with guests from Netflix, Dreamworks, and other film and animation studios.

Although it didn’t end up working out with Otaola’s real-life college crush — “we’re really good friends,” she says — that fateful moment manifested into a very relatable film. In “Directed By:” Otaola’s main character, Blue Dog, struggles to get out the words to ask her crush, Foxy, for a New Year’s Eve kiss — when suddenly, it’s revealed that they’re actually on a film set and their lines are being criticized by Bunny, a crotchety old director who keeps yelling “Cut!”

Nicole Otaola Directed By SVA

A still from Nicole Otaola’s short film “Directed By:” courtesy of Nicole Otaola

If that seems meta, it’s on purpose: Otaola was inspired by her favorite movie, The Truman Show and one of her favorite series, Fleabag.

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“I like the idea of a movie within a movie,” she said.

Bunny represents Blue Dog’s inner temptation to self-sabotage in awkward moments like going in for a kiss.

“She feels like, Oh, it’s not good enough how I’m going to approach this,” Otaola said. “The same way you would plan for something to happen, that’s just like writing a script for real life. And that’s what she’s trying to do. But her inner critic, which is Bunny, keeps telling her, ‘Okay, no, this is not the right way. It’s not good enough.’ And she has to come to terms that life isn’t scripted, and you have to go with whatever it throws at you.”

A native of Miami, Florida, Otaola grew up watching movies with her dad. In high school, she started making her own live-action films, but it wasn’t until she came across the storyboards for Steven Universe that she realized she wanted to be an animator.

“They posted a lot of their pre-production online, and I loved seeing it… I really fell in love with animation when I saw the process of it and the potential,” she said. “I love storyboarding. I think it’s one of the hardest, most challenging things, but I’m so attracted to it because I love executing how a story is going to unfold visually.”

Having just signed a lease in Brooklyn, Otaola is about to start looking for jobs in animation — and just generally learning how to be an adult post-grad.

“I am just excited to have my own domestic space and not live in a dorm,” she said, “and be an adult who has plants.”

You can watch “Directed By:” on YouTube below and check out more of Otaola’s work on her website.

Main Image: A still from Nicole Otaola’s short film “Directed By:” courtesy of Nicole Otaola