Nikolay Kirkov | The One Whose Eyes Light Up Talking About His Work

Talking about the magic of creating new worlds.

As a child his dream was to work for PIXAR. He imagined it as a hub of friends and associates who have the advantage to create worlds together. But after growing up and getting to understand what it actually is like to work for PIXAR, he started to picture it a little differently, more like some kind of factory. That’s when a new dream occurred to him – to have his own “PIXAR”, with friends and associates, all looking in the same direction, united by a common dream – to give life. Because that’s the thing he adores the most about his work. Opening a new project and starting from scratch – creating the environment, the colors, the characters and giving life to all of it…

But if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering exactly how everything started in this story. Well, with a high school project. He had to invent a fictitious bank logo. He opened Paint and did it there – first step, “easy AF”. Then came the order to make flyers for the same fictitious bank and he decided to do it in Photoshop this time, so he started exploring it. The school went to a fair and an advertising company noticed his projects for the logo and the flayers. They invited him for an internship. That’s how everything began.

Nikolay describe himself as a realist and professional. He is a person who motivates himself by the desire to study and explore. When he was a student in NATFA, he felt like every other student was better than him. He did not know their “language”, their behavior, he had not seen the films they all talked about. He just was not slave to stereotypes or standards. He does not like just one director, movie, singer, actor, music…NO. He does not restrict himself and does not set boundaries. He is always trying to push the envelope just a little further.  That’s why now he is graduating from ANIMSCHOOL, which is the premier online school for learning 3D animation, modeling and rigging.

Daily ritual?

Before I go to sleep I start the renders and first thing in the morning I check if everything is okay there.

In a moment of crisis:

Тo be honest with you, I actually feel like crying. And to be honest, I have actually cried at the beginning of my career with one of my first projects. But in the end, I looked at the fear of the unknown in the eyes and listened to Eminem – Till I collapse. That’s what always gives me strength and I overcome every difficulty.

Catalyst of the idea that has become a reality:

It was at the moment that I saw The Matrix for the first time, I was shocked and completely obsessed with the thought how all this is happening, I wanted to know, I wanted to be able to do it myself. The second moment of “insight” but this time about 3D animation was the moment when I watched Monsters Inc. I was inspired by every movement and gesture of the monster Sully. And I just knew that I want to be able to do the same or even better.

First kind of a crazy project that you shed a tear for?

There was a time when I didn’t work for anyone when I started to set my own tasks. And that’s how I made a portfolio of projects I had invented myself. I decided to send them to a post-production studio. Then they called me to assign me a task. I had to design a coconut wafer project. Then it seemed as if all the complex things I had ever done for exercise were united in one – fluid, animation, 3D, hairing, lightning, rendering etc. I did it. After a lot of difficulties and sleepless nights, but I managed to handle it in time.


Favorite project:



The whole story about this project is one of my favorites, from the beginning till the end. I showed the client complete confidence when he asked if i am capable to handle this assignment. I actually wasn‘t that sure but I believed that there is nothing that can stop me from completing it. I started and I was blocked, staring at my computer for hours. I had to create „sculpture “of raspberries. But they looked as they were made from plastic or rubber. I bought some raspberries even though it wasn’t the season for raspberries. I sat and I observed them with hours – their shapes, their hairs.  I counted that there are around 200-300 thousand hairs on each raspberry and had to create 200 raspberries. I swear, I tried everything … Finally, I simply mimicked the texture of hair, because if I had to do it hair by hair I would have shoot myself or not meet the deadline … or both.


In the post-production process, whose work do you admire?

Grant Warwick, Mastering CGI and from the animators – Jorge Vigara – everything in the logic of movement of his characters is so cool that I can’t stop watching and learning from him.

How do you stay up to date with the latest tools and trends?

It may sound a little crazy or stupid but I actually read every manual of a software or a program as a book; maybe there is no one out there like me, I realize it’s odd, but it fascinates me. Other than that I follow the articles from Siggraph – an annual conference on computer graphics. It’s pretty impressive actually, it gives me perspective on the latest discoveries, trends or technologies and I learn a lot from these articles. Of course, I can not do what I am reading about and apply it into the next project because I do not have the necessary software or all the tools, but I’ve taken the first step – know the researches, the technology, the process, so half the job is done.

Talking about software, which are your favorites?

For color correction – DaVinci; For 3D animation (creating characters) – Maya; For fluids – RealFlow; For compositing – AfterEffects and for everything else – Cinema 4D.

Do you work well under pressure?

It’s nice to have someone who gives you deadlines, who keeps track of your work. I am a perfectionist to the gut and sometimes deadlines prevent me from reaching the perfect point for each project. That annoys me very often but as long as the client is happy, I am happy too.

What do you do before you show your project to the client?

I watch it over and over on repeat and that’s how I decide if there is some kind of mistake or it’s ready to be shown. I try to meet my highest criteria before showing it to the client.

Which would be your ideal client to work for?

Some chocolate manufacturer maybe. Lindt, for example. It would be extremely delicious, interesting journey. I could learn a lot of new tricks and to acquire knowledge.

So what’s more important for you – to be able to learn something by yourself or to learn it directly from someone else?  

Both are effective. The learning process is mixed. Someone can show you something, to teach you, but there are some battles that you better fight by yourself. But then it comes more valuable than knowledge in many cases, and it is problem solving.

What are you most proud of?

That I managed to turn a one-room apartment into my own studio – Enter Studio.

So it really takes a single person to create a new exiting world..and with the clear vision, the right skills and motivation, Nikolay is the example of a Creator in the process of creating. And that’s really wonderful! The imagination is based mostly on fiction, but being able to collide it with real life forms, affecting the audience and inviting them to your own “Matrix” ... your own point of view – is the key to success in an honest art (project). We wish him that success!

Is Making a Spec Commercial Worth It?

“Is Making a Spec Commercial Worth It?” won one of the competitions in Tongal Community-written blog posts series that were originally sourced in the Tell Us About It Tongal Blog Project. Happy to share it with you on our official blog page as well.

“Congratulations and happy graduation, young director! Now that you’ve been studying for so long, you finally have the opportunity to realize and achieve your dreams instantly.”

Is this really how it works? Is it that easy to become a director? I am not quite sure. Welcome to the real world! Of course, luck may be on your side:


You find yourself in the right place at the right time and are invited to take part in a super cool paid project. Then, it is easy – do your best, finish your first project, put it up in your portfolio and present yourself to new clients.


You start working hard on whatever role comes up on set – PA, set organizer, AD, and you wait… no one knows exactly how long it will take to start your own project… if ever. It could take a lot of time and there is a risk you might get comfortable in one of the above‐mentioned roles;


You create a portfolio without being commissioned, i.e. create а spec commercial. It sounds logical but is it worth it? Well, the answer is: “it depends.” Creating a spec commercial can provide you with valuable experience, especially compared to other projects at the start of your career. Mainly because you are on your own – being a producer, director, coordinator. The real process on set – try, make a mistake, try again and again, over and over – that’s the way to gain experience and eventually create a very strong and inspiring audio‐visual product, which you can include in your portfolio. But these are the good aspects of specs. You may encounter quite a few difficulties along the way.

So, is it worth it? Here are two possible answers:


If you are gifted and ambitious, there is not a single thing that could stop you from seeking the best start of your career. Spec ads are the best possible way to showcase your potential if you manage to achieve a real commercial look and feel. You have creative control over the project. The lack of financial support tends to make you more creative, as you have to find smart solutions to your problems.

But first – you need an idea – simple, clear and powerful. You need to find “soulmates” that share your passion and to concentrate all your skills in the final result. You and your team must be dedicated to the process. We have examples of some of today’s top movie directors and producers that started out as commercial directors, and many of them used specs to start their careers – people like David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Spike Jonze, among others. I chose to show you two of the best spec commercials that we have in the digital world today:

The gold goes to Daniel Titz and Dorian Lebherz for their Johnnie Walker spec ad Dear Brother. They were both students at the Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg when they went into production.

The silver goes to Eugen Merher for his Adidas spec ad Break Free. He, too, was a student at the Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg when he produced and directed this spec commercial.

Both specs are based on a simple idea, a strong message, and an unexpected ending. These are some of the key ingredients for creating a commercial that makes you proud and could, as is in the case of these filmmakers, become a viral sensation. To be as precise and honest as possible, I asked for the opinion of a young Bulgarian director, Ivan Botev, who started his career creating spec ads. One of his specs was for Nike. According to Ivan, he had a lot of time, but no money, so he shot the commercial over a period of three months, using the rare moments when the whole crew was available. They had an unbelievable adventure, including a police chase and a car rental which they nearly crashed. They were thrown out of locations and each of the crew members took several roles on set.

Choose the kind of spec ad you want to shoot carefully. It is highly possible that the shooting will take you longer than planned, so you should pick something you are really passionate about. An idea or a concept that you believe in so much, you will work hard to see it on screen.


Let’s flip the coin and look at the other side of is it worth it. There’s no doubt you will face a lot of difficulties. When you have zero budget, each individual in the project works for free, simply because they believe in the idea as much as you do.

There may even be some unintended repercussions to shooting on spec. According to Blogger Nick Kemble, potential clients may not look favorably on spec content, especially if you’re further along in your career. A spec commercial should look like it was commissioned by a real brand and it should be able to compete alongside mainstream commercials.


Platforms such as Tongal introduce another option. They give you the unique opportunity to work for real money and real brands. However, for your Tongal application to be considered seriously, you will need some relevant work in your portfolio. So, we asked ourselves ‐ are spec ads helping in this case? Are they effective? And the answer is “Yes!” Why are we convinced? A young Bulgarian director named Viktor Ivanov recently won a Pitch for National Geographic Explorers Video Series on Tongal and is currently shooting the project in California. When I asked him if there were any speculative ads in his portfolio, it turned out that a speculative commercial had actually pushed his Pitch across the finish line. Viktor received a proposal from a friend, who works for an advertising agency, to shoot a super low‐budget video for Volvo Bulgaria. The only condition was to unleash his potential and to create art that excites him. And the result is obvious ‐ the “Short stories of long distances” video. Having something relevant in his portfolio strengthened his Pitch.

So… is it worth it? My final thought is: Strive to develop your potential in as many ways as possible even after you have been recognized or become an established director. Call it what you want ‐ specs, side projects, experiments… everything that brings you additional experience as a commercial filmmaker is definitely worth it!

re-cap of this year’s FARA2018

Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creative with strategy is called ‘advertising.’ (Jef I. Richards)

FARA is the World Cup of Bulgarian advertising. Every year it brings together the brightest agencies and clients and honors their best work in different advertising categories. We have produced some of the videos that were awarded this year and the purpose of this post is to show them to you, in case you missed them. Or to add their corresponding award to your viewing perspective. Or to justify the use of “award-winning” in our company presentation. Without further ado, here are the videos that the jury recognized this year:

1 GOLD award in Film Craft for’s Dare to Click commercial, executively produced by HandPlayed

7 BRONZE awards for commercials and campaigns we produced

Dare to click | agency: Ogilvy Group | client: Global Brands | Producer: Demetry @ |Executive producer: Angel Ivanov, HandPlayed Productions

GOLD in category FILM CRAFT
in category FILM | TV and Cinema Advertising– services

The award certainly goes to:

  1. Ilian Iliev @ Ogilvy Group for the simple, clear and wonderful idea.
  2. Demetry for his infinite mad imagination…if we can work every day with him to give life to such visions, that would be a dream come true.
  3. Eva Ventova & Neva Balnikova for the bold decision and implementation of this idea – an installation for millions.
  4. Nenad for his sense of light and movement, for the right look at the right moment. We want to see through his eyes, please!

Lutenitsa Phillicon 97 – series of 3 | agency: Reforma | client: Philicon 97 | Producer: Vlady Gerasimov, HandPlayed Productions

BRONZE in category FILM | TV and Cinema Advertising– goods


It’s always a good idea to work with persisted and determined people and we can definitely say that the director of these three TVCs – Ivan Botev, the DOP and color grader – Alexander Kartsov and the production designer – Andrea Popova, meet the definition of young, talented and ambitious, full of energy and new ideas people. Keep up the spirit!

Trading Revolution Prerolls | agency: guts&brainsDDB | client: Trading 212 | Producer: Angel Ivanov, HandPlayed Productions


Cheers for the brilliant actor Stoyan Iliev, who didn’t stop entertaining and making everyone on the set laugh. Thumbs up to the driven director – Demetry @ and to Dimitar Nedelchev – Susela for the look & feel of these prerolls.

Telenor safe net | agency: guts&brainsDDB |client: Telenor Bulgaria & SafeNetBG | Virginia Venkova, HandPlayed Productions


10 influencers stronger than the cold got together for the idea behind the campaign “It’s up to you”. It’s cool to execute projects with a cause and we always stand bravely behind them.

For More Humane Juvenile Justice | agency: reforma | client: National Network for Children | Producer: Vlady Gerasimov, HandPlayed Productions


In November 2017th our friends from Reforma Advertising asked us for support in a cause that they truly believed in. They launched a campaign “For More Humane Juvenile Justice” . The campaign urges the institutions to reform the child justice system, appeals for revocation of the 1958 Law on Fighting Antisocial Acts of Minors and Underage Children. We found parents who volunteered to participate in this video experiment led by the director  Ivan Botev and the DOP Teodor Fichev who made the environment of sharing your personal thoughts a comfortable and easy experience for the parents.


EVN Proposal | agency: guts&brainsDDB | client: EVN Bulgaria | Producer: Angel Ivanov, HandPlayed Productions

BRONZE in category FILM | TV and Cinema Advertising– services

BRONZE in category AMBIENT

EVN made us an accomplice in Alex and Katya’s magical love story. Magic – like the quiet night sky, full of luminous stars, in which a large residential building lit on and off to send coordinated messages of love on its façade. We had the opportunity to produce this flash mob video that marked the beginning of Alex and Katya’s married life.

After 8 years together Alex had decided to propose to Katya. He was sure of her answer but she didn’t even realize what was about to happen. We chose a large residential building in Plovdiv. We told the residents that they would be part of a choreographed light show on their façade. Everyone had their secret role in this big, real fairytale. And even though not everything went as planned – like a circus appearing all of a sudden in front of the residential building, a neighbor deciding they will boycott the whole operation, street lamps catching on fire in the midst of shooting, etc. – we managed to complete our mission.

This TVC was a complex plan which took us two months of pre-production, finding the right man who was ready to make such a proposal, a fake commercial production to keep his future fiancée oblivious to our real intent, a large crew handling the coordination and shooting of an actual marriage proposal in real time, and a coordinated flash mob of more than 50 residents of a block in Plovdiv, who turned the lights in their rooms on and off to write the words “Would you marry me?” on the building’s façade. More than a hundred people in beautiful harmony in the name of love. A seemingly impossible mission, turned into reality, thanks to the best trio for a project like this: the creative and romantic director – Martin Iliev, the detail-oriented storytellers – Alexander Stanishev and Dimitar Nedelchev-Susela.

And that’s how the rest of Katya and Alex’s life began. And they live happily ever after.

Check the video from behind the scenes. Welcome to the place where everything can happen, as long as you imagine it.