From Hanging to Hang ON

Animator uses own experience to open conversations on depression

Nick LeDonne Jun 10. 2017
by Nick LeDonne

Nick LeDonne was a good student in High School (Class of 2012). He turned in his assignments on time, got good grades, and even was known for drawing cartoon characters in school. A quiet kid from a good family who mostly kept to himself, he described himself as “everyone’s acquaintance.”

No one expected that years later he would be building a noose in his dorm room nearly ready to hang himself. 

His story starts after graduating high school in 2012. Nick was rejected from every top choice art college he applied to despite having worked towards an animation career since his fresh- man year. At the start of his high school he was a football athlete looking forward to a bright animation future. By the graduation ceremony he was 100 pounds overweight and had little options for college. Faced with little direction after years of working towards his dream he was hit with his first wave of depression. But at that moment he made a promise to himself, “that by this time next year, things will get better”. He decided to take a gap year after high school, and by the next year he had lost over 100 pounds and was accepted into one of the most prestigious animation colleges in the country. 

Once in college he thought he finally found his, ‘it gets better’ moment but instead quickly found the opposite. Unknown to many, his freshman year of college was filled with harass- ment, isolation, and sexual trauma while struggling to come out of the closet. He hide most of his problems away but month after month his situations escalated as he continued to feel trapped. By his third semester in college he eventually broke. 

In November 2014, LeDonne had lost hope for his “better”. He was standing with his neck wrapped around a belt ready to drop when he had a second thought. He remembered his life. Moments of playing football in middle school, opening christmas presents as a kid with his family. Finally he had a memory of his mom, singing him to sleep as a young child. The guilt of leaving his family behind was too much for LeDonne as he came to his senses. Days after, he dropped out of what he thought would be his dream college and returned home feeling de- feated. 

Nick returned to New Jersey to work at his father’s future warehouse with no prospects for a college degree as he moved cargo boxes on and off freight trucks. But again, he promised himself that by this time next year, it would get better. By the fall of that year Nick was en- rolled at the University of the Arts, earning a scholarship, skipping a semester, and ready for his junior year of college back on track to graduate. His first assignment was to create a short animated film of any subject. With this opportunity Nick decided to turn his negative experiences into a positive for someone else. He hoped to make a piece to visualize the feelings of depression he had in the hopes of reaching out to someone else struggling in his situation. 

Feeling stable with a new direction, he set out to create what would later become, “Hanging”. But like every moment over the past four years, when LeDonne thought it would be better, he was wrong. A week before the start of his film’s production, his dad suddenly passed away of a heart attack. Immediately after his family fell into a major financial crisis and were forced to sell their home. LeDonne’s next 5 months consisted of coping with the guilt of losing his dad, watching his childhood home slowly disappear, all while animating over 6,000 hand drawn images describing the agonizing emotions of wanting to kill yourself. For months he shouldered re-living the traumatizing memories that drove him to want to hang himself in 2014 all while living through the immediate guilt of losing a parent in the present day. Despite the overwhelming obstacles, he pushed forward hoping his work could make a difference. 

Since it’s release in June of 2016, ‘Hanging” has gone on to screen in theaters internationally throughout 25 countries across 6 continents winning numerous award student and professional awards. LeDonne, just an art student from Philadelphia never would have dreamed his work would be showcased in cities like Milan, Bejing, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Miami, Rio Di- Janero, and many more. LeDonne quickly became the subject of multiple press organizations being called a “remarkable transformation” by Animation Magazine and earned a screening spot at the Canadian Mental Health Associations’s national conference in Toronto. As a junior, his short film “Hanging” placed as a semi-finalist in a record breaking year at the 43rd Stu- dent Academy Awards, a finalist of the 59th CINE Golden Eagle Awards, and won “Best Ani- mated Short” in the professional competition at the 2016 Catalina Film Festival. In two years time LeDonne went from being a lonely college student ready to hang himself to walking the red carpet at the famed Catalina Island. 

LeDonne later graduated from college on schedule in 2017 but since freshman year to senior graduation, he faced traumatizing year after year hoping to find his “better”. Despite the obstacles LeDonne has always put an eye to the future and hopes to share that experience with others.  With a message, “from Hanging to Hang ON”, Nick hopes to help educators and students start a dialogue on suicide awareness. He wants young people to understand that they are not alone in their feelings of depression and hopes his film and story can help spark those conversations. 

The main point I wanted to make through my film was to speak out to that kid crying alone in his room and tell him he’s not alone. When I was making the film my entire life was falling apart. I had just lost my dad, I was watching our house be sold away, and I had to sit down at my desk everyday to animate suicide. But I kept thinking about someone, some kid who might be helped one day through my film. I didn’t know what kind of impact it would have but that drive to reach out to someone kept pushing me when I felt hopeless. When the film finally came out I ended up getting hundreds of life saving messages from people all over the world who had watched my film and struggled with depression themselves. It really shows how common depression is and how just simply speaking up on the issue can make a life saving difference.

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