As a child growing up in the Auckland suburb of St Heliers, Luke Nola rushed home on his Raleigh Chopper to catch The Flintstones, Bewitched, and two shows that especially warped his brain: H. R. Pufnstuf and Gerry Anderson’s UFO.
From around the age of 12, Nola began making animated films on an 8mm film camera. After he graduated from Elam Art School in 1987, Nola launched company Magnet Design. Later, at ad agency Mojo, he worked on ads for everything from ice blocks to Twisties. Fane Flaws, who has directed a run of award-winning commercials, recalls that Nola was a regular supplier of clever ideas for ads, and argues that many of the best ones never made it on air. Nola and other friends from advertising were also larking about on Box Dog, a cult Wednesday night show on music channel Max TV. Nola is occasionally still recognised for some of his more offbeat creations, including a Max Headroom style Elvis.
Sometime in the late 90s Nola took an emergency call from Hollywood. An old friend, Aotearoa-raised American Karyn Rachtman, was hoping he might direct a video for a song called ‘Take Me There’ to accompany the new Rugrats movie. Another director had proved unsatisfactory. Nola tried to make clear he was an art director, not a director. Rachtman's reply was “can you get here next week?” Next thing, Nola and frequent partner in crime Steve Saussey were faxing their set designs to Los Angeles, before flying over to co-direct a three day, $800,000 shoot. The song went platinum.
Nola's next project was Life on Ben. Nola found finance and voice talent (including Simpsons legend Harry Shearer) in the US, but shot the original 12 minute short back in Auckland, with animation director Cameron Chittock. In 2003, Nola turned Life on Ben into a 10-part series for TVNZ. Loaded with stop motion animation, the show's setting was the skin of a boy named Ben (Millen Baird), with Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi providing the voices of two symbiotic creatures on a journey through and over his body.
The early 2000s provided an especially crazy time. Nola set up company Television Spaceman with producer Neil Stichbury in 2003. By then he had already created aliens visit earth pre-school series Party Animals with Bettina Hollings, and channelled his love of crazy inventions, explosions and fart jokes into many bite-sized episodes of The Goober Brothers. The series saw Nola and former ad partner turned author Glenn Wood starring as Gary and Glenn Goober, who imparted educational information, hijinks and high amounts of comedy. The series ran to three seasons and sold to Time Warner in the United States; it was later inducted into America’s Museum of Children’s Television.
The Goober Brothers was the genetic stepdaddy of Nola’s next show Let’s Get Inventin'. Over seven seasons the new show provided young inventors with a leg up to realise their ideas, from rocket-powered ice skates to the ultimate lazy boy. Screened in over 30 countries, it spawned 100 inventions, 11 patents and an iTunes app, not to mention three Qantas awards for Best NZ Children's and Youth Programme. In 2014 an episode from the seventh and final season was nominated for an International Kids Emmy. The format also sold to five companies overseas; Nola was supervising producer on the BBC version, which was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA: Whizz Whizz Bang Bang.
In 2009 Nola and Stichbury created the format for New Artland. Presented by Chris Knox over two series, the Qantas-nominated show followed artists at work on specific projects, aided by a cast of farmers, BMX riders and tattooists.
By that time Nola and Stichbury had gone their separate ways. Stichbury concentrated on New Artland, while Nola handled the last four seasons of Let’s Get Inventin’ , through new company Luke Nola and Friends.
In 2018 Nola began writing and directing children's series Nanogirl and the Imaginauts. Hosted by Nanogirl — also known as inspirational scientist Michelle Dickinson — the game show aims to show viewers that knowledge and storytelling can go hand in hand.
The following year Nola created Kea Kids News. The aim, says Nola, is "to make news relevant to seven to ten-year-olds". Young reporters conduct interviews and help edit the stories, which are then delivered twice a week via online children's platform Heihei and news website Stuff.
Nola’s other projects include directing the original pilot of Buzzy Bee and Friends (which would spawn 52 episodes), and producing Inside New Zealand documentary A Bit Mental (2012), which chronicles a mission to travel the Waikato River via inflatable mattress.
Nola continues to keep an eye out for offbeat projects that strike his fancy — including the occasional advertisement, like a Chevon Oil spot that involved a tug of war between a truck and a tugboat.
Profile updated on 10 December 2019
Luke Nola and Friends website. Accessed 10 December 2018
'Fane Flaws - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 20 September 2019. Accessed 10 December 2019
'News by kids, for kids to increase young New Zealanders' understanding of the world around them' (Press release) NZ On Air website. Loaded 2 April 2019. Accessed 10 December 2019
'Innovative News Platform is Made by Kids for Kids' (Press release) Scoop website. Loaded 26 September 2019. Accessed 10 December 2019