From his roots in chicken farming in St. Jacobs to now being nominated for a JUNO Award, video artist Nick DenBoer has followed an unconventional path.
DenBoer was in his Toronto studio this past week when he received an email from deadmau5’s manager, Joel Zimmerman, that his video for the song ‘Pomegranate’ by deadmau5 and The Neptunes was up for ‘video of the year.’
The news caught him somewhat off guard.
“I thought that had come and gone already. It’s almost a year ago I made the video, and I thought the award ceremony season was already over – I just kind of counted it in my mind that we had a shot. So it’s kind of a cool surprise,” said DenBoer.
The nominees were announced last week, with the awards to be presented May 16.
The video DenBoer is nominated for is for the track Pomegranate made in collaboration between deadmau5 and The Neptunes, a duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo.
Pomegranate was the third video DenBoer has made for deadmau5 but the first for The Neptunes. The project called for long hours during the two months it took to put the video together, one month of which was rendering time alone.
“This video is a little less ridiculous than a lot of stuff I’ve done in the past, because, obviously, with Pharrell Williams involved, I didn’t want to go super crazy and freak him out. I dialed it back a little bit for this video,” said DenBoer, who is known for his wacky style of video FX and animation that holds a certain comedic tone.
The journey into the creative world was a slow one for DenBoer that saw some detours on the way after graduating from Elmira District Secondary School.
“I left EDSS in like 98, and moved to Toronto and started taking some courses at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design),” he said, noting he wasn’t inspired by the outdated technology the school was using.
“Why am I here learning VHS?” DenBoer asked himself shortly before dropping out about a year and a half into the program, making a big change at that point. “I went into construction for 10 years – I was doing renos and ripping apart houses and building cottages. So it was just a total detour.”
While doing that work, he kept his hand in the creative stuff, joining a high school buddy’s band and taking photos and videos as they toured the country.
“I just kept my foot in [the door], making videos and stuff. And then when YouTube came around in 2005, I was making these weird remixes of infomercials just for fun while I was doing construction work. It’s never like I really started to do a career in this stuff – it was always just hobbies.”
At least until his following started blossoming, that is. He caught the attention of Ken Block, a rally car driver and founder of DC Shoes, who enlisted him to remix one of his car videos that blew up and became an official ad for the company.
Following those ads, DenBoer then worked on a political series during the U.S. election race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, at which point Conan O’Brien’s team reached out to him. He would work as a staff member there for about three years.
He next drew attention when, alongside Davy Forced, who helped on the most recent video, he created a parody of ‘The Shining’ called ‘The Chickening,’ which was intended to be a pilot in a TV show pitch to Warner Brothers.
“We thought we’d pitch the show to [them]… a redo of old films in their film library. With a massive collection of old properties and films that they have, we thought, ‘what if we took all these old films, kind of chopped them down to 30 minutes and gave them a new narrative by kind of injecting new characters, altering the characters altering the storyline with visual effects and editing?’”
The pitch didn’t go over so well, but the project did grow a cult following after Kenny Hotz, known for his antics from the competition-based TV show Kenny vs Spenny and who took part in the short, decided to email 80 people copies of it. DenBoer was upset until they received a call back from the Toronto International Film Festival, which decided to play it as part of their Midnight Madness; since then, the short has played more than 140 different festivals.
Following the release, KFC approached DenBoer and hired him to make some ads for them based on his chicken charm. The journey has come sort of full circle for the man who grew up on a poultry farm in Woolwich Township.