September 28, 2011 22:36 Filed in: Work
No, it's not the end of the world, but summer is pretty much over, so if you wanted to get your hands on my Final Independent Animation Training, while it is still at the special introductory price, you have two days left to do so. This special low price won't happen again, so if you want ot get in on "the last course you'll ever need", act now! Other items on sale for this summer special will be returning to their normal price as well. Head over to my store now and get in on the action before this sale ends!
September 24, 2011 12:54 Filed in: Work
As you create your independent projects and get them out there, along with it goes your name. This name you must continue to build if you are to grow your success. As this name grows, along with your independent projects, many opportunities will come to you that will allow you to use the skills you have gained to help others with their projects. You must be very careful in your selection of which projects to take on, and which projects to refuse, for two important reasons.
The first reason is balance. As your name grows, opportunities for other projects will come to you with increasing frequency. Early on, your independent projects may generate more name value than they do actual revenue for you. For this reason, the side projects may appear to be something of a necessity, as you need to eat and keep the lights on in order to continue towards your dreams. You must take care, however, to never forget your true goals. While the money coming in from side projects may be good, it can also serve to take you off the path to your independent future and let your own projects slide the back burner.
This may be doubly so if you have a family. Your spouse may see little value in your independent projects, and have little understanding of the great future they can create. In contrast to the real money that side projects may bring in now, your family may view your independent projects as a waste of time. Not everyone will share your vision, nor will they necessarily understand, or be able to project, what might happen when the independent projects gain steam and take off. Because of this, your family, and others close to you, may be constantly pushing you to continue taking on more "real work" to the detriment of your dreams as an independent and free creator.
You must do something on your independent projects everyday, even if it is only an hour. Never allow side projects to overtake your schedule such that your projects fade away, or you may wake up years later realizing you have truly accomplished nothing of your own. This, then, brings us to the next important reason you must be careful in choosing how to build your name, time.
Every project you do, which is not your independent creation, takes time away from your true dreams and goals, no matter how well it may seem to support it. While it is true that certain projects will fall in line with what you want to achieve, for example, doing a music video or an advertisement, for someone else, in your visual style, they are still not your projects. They can, however, do a lot to help build your name and provide money to allow you to continue your projects, particularly if you did a video for a musician who has a name, like Bill Plympton did for Kanye West. You must note, however, that Plympton still put out a number of his own short animated films that same year.
Time is the one thing you never get back. The money "lost" from not taking a particular project can surely be made up for when your independent projects fin an audience, but years lost doing too many other projects, while neglecting your own, can never be made up for. If you are ever to see the bright future promised by your independent projects, you must begin now. You must begin to build your name now, and do so in a fashion that is always on one path to your goals and dreams.
No matter what kind of project you choose to undertake, even if it is your highest passion, you must always protect yourself from burning out. This is doubly true if your independent project is not your soul means of earning your daily living. All manner of things, events and circumstances will arise to take time and energy away from your project, and they will always seem far more important as well, especially to other people. In order to keep your own project on track, and see it to completion, you will have to prioritize. The things that appear to consume your time, after all, will not just be those relating to "real work". Even a task as simple as washing the dishes, or doing laundry, has its place, but will consume both time and energy the same as any other.
The first thing you must realize is that you and you alone can decide what your priorities shall be. Other people will naturally ask and expect you to give up your project first, particularly if it will mean your ability to meet their demands on your time. The thing to always keep in mind is that your project is not their project. It is yours. It only holds that position of highest importance to you, and no amount of explanation will let others inside your head to the degree that they can see your project on the same pedestal on which you might place it. What you may see is your grand future and great dream, they may see as a waste of time or just "playing around on the computer".
The question which, then, arises is how is one to manage all the demands on their time and still complete a dream project? To answer that, I will supply some words of wisdom often encountered in studying the successful. One quote would be to put your big rocks in first! The idea is that if you had a large glass jar which you had to fill with sand, small pebbles and large rocks, how would you go about it? Well, if you put the sand in first, followed by the pebbles and finally the rocks, you may find yourself running out of space before you fill the jar. If, on the other hand, you first put in the big rocks, you will find that the pebbles will flow around the big rocks, and the sand will flow around the pebbles, allowing the jar to be filled. Your independent project should always be your biggest rock, and it must come first.
Of course, here you realize that your independent project is immense and seems to require more time that is available. How, then, to tackle this huge task while dealing with everything else in your schedule? Well, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Hide the elephant if you have to and focus on that one bite. Over time, the elephant will be gone. This reminds of a story the esteemed actor Will Smith told in an interview. He related that during his childhood he was tasked with building a large wall. The job seemed impossible when considering the whole. He was, however, instructed not to think about the wall, but to just lay one brick as perfectly as it can be laid. I don't remember how long the task took, be it months or more than a year, but the job was completed over time. So it must be with your project, if it is to be at all.
In order to protect yourself from burning out, the key is to focus your energies and apply them in this best way to suit a modern life and still accommodate your project. If your time is limited, purpose to spend even one hour per day on your dream project. This may mean waking up an hour earlier or cutting out one hour from in front of the TV, but you might be surprised how easy it is to find a lost hour in your schedule. If you have more time, it would be even better to focus on how much animation you can complete in a day, even if it is 5 seconds. This may seem a paltry sum, but consider it from another perspective. Looking back over the previous 5 years, how different would things be if you had completed an average of 5 seconds per day on your dream project?
The problem, of course, is not looking back, it is looking forward. Thinking of the large amount of time it might take to complete the project could be disheartening, but what is the alternative? If you look back over the last five years and think that you could have done something, you may know that you will, after five more years, find your self in the same place if you don't do something now. Go over your schedule, hour by hour if need be, and begin to make the time for your most important projects. It doesn't matter if you can do 5 seconds, 3 seconds or even 2 seconds per day. What matters is that you do something, and start now. Doing just a little bit every day will not only see your project to completion in time, but it will keep you from burning out.
September 14, 2011 10:43 Filed in: Work
When you begin to create your independent animation works, and really make them yours, it is absolutely necessary to discover what is your true style. If you're doing your first project, you most likely won't find this. Your first project will very likely be heavily influenced by all of the things you have seen that inspired you to follow this path in the first place. Your first work will probably contain a fair amount of imitation, based on the works you love, perhaps those of your childhood or those that are a great inspiration to you now. When you get down to the actual doing of your work, though, you true style will begin to dictate itself to you. You will know this by how you feel about the doing.
I remember a comment, long ago, on the old version of this site, where someone mentioned that they had to get through the boring bits, or parts they don't like in their project in order to get to the stuff they enjoy. I replied to that commenter that your own independent project should never have boring bits or parts you don't like. If your project has parts you don't like, is it really your project? The whole point of independent animation is to do creative work you want. If you are spending your time and effort on parts you don't like, you may as well go work for someone else. At the very least, you need to seriously consider why you are doing this project and who you are doing it for.
My past projects contained both a lot of influence from the things I liked at the time, and a good dose of those "boring bits" or parts I didn't like doing. If you look at my latest project, though, you can see I am moving away from both of those obstacles to creative expression. I don't mind, though, as the whole thing has been a learning experience. I had to learn to separate what I enjoy watching from what I enjoy making. I watch and love a large variety of movies, TV Shows, anime, and even game cut scenes. Just because I love watching these things, it does not follow that I should equally love to make something like that. I had to learn that what you enjoy making has to be about what you enjoy making! Notice the present, active tense. It's not about the end result. It's about the doing.
I remember watching one of those lectures that film director Kevin Smith is famous for. He often travels to various universities, around the world, and gives talks on the industry and his life and work. In one instance, he talks quite a bit about why he passed on doing the $70 million USD budget The Green Hornet picture and opted to do Clerks II instead. Of course, one of the reasons was creative control, which would never exist on such an expensive Hollywood picture. There was, however, another reason he explained in detail. This reason was more about the doing. He talked about the difference between working long hours on his funny, dialogue heavy comedy versus working on an epic action picture. These differences he learned by doing Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which had a considerable amount of action compared to his usual work. He discovered that he hated working those long hours to only end up with a few seconds of finished product at the end of the day. His style was dictating itself to him, and he learned by doing.
My experience has been quite similar. I may love to watch an epic fantasy movie with huge army battles, but I would never want to do one. Actually, I tried, though on a smaller scale, in my old Daniel project, which had a battle scene. I remember it took days to do one shot. It was excruciating and then I wasn't even happy with the final result. I learned by doing, and discovered what things I like to do and what things I do not like to do, and as such, may hold me back.
Now what about those who may ask, "What if you story requires you to do the army battle?" This should be impossible. If your story can require, or worse, demand anything from you, it is not your story. At this point you need to ask why this element has appeared in it. Was it because you want to do it, or because you thought you had to do it to please someone else? Shakespeare's stories have huge army battles that take place entirely off the stage. A wounded soldier may walk in and through him we learn what is happening or what has happened in said battle. The events of the story are the same. It is all in how you tell it. You get to choose. That battle need not be in there unless you first want to do the battle. Only by doing it, though, will you be able to know if that is your style, or if you're still trapped in the style of someone else.
I mentioned before how I came across a thread discussing people in this industry working themselves to death. In the last article I focused on the business aspect of it, but this time I want to talk about the actual working oneself to death issue. According to this story, the artist, likely on a big film project, worked something to the tune of 75 straight days, of 14-16 hour days without any break. He chose to cope with the high stress by smoking. The food was catered, in an effort to keep the artists in their chairs most likely, and it was unhealthy burritos and fast food fare. The guy supposedly gained a large amount of extra weight in this short time, and eventually had a heart attack. Regardless of whether or not that particular story is true, the picture that it paints of the industry, and how it operates, is most certainly true. I have seen it first hand, sans the heart attacks fortunately.
Now the first question that might come to mind is, why would the guy put up with that? Well, according to the story he was getting $1000 USD per day to put up with that. There is no doubt, some of the larger studios have no problems shelling out huge amounts of money as incentives to get artists to attempt the impossible. The thing is, these same companies don't care if they destroy the artist's health, or if they destroy marriages, break up families, or anything else that happens outside of that office, or even that particular project. As much as I hate to admit it, they are not wrong!
Just like it is not wrong for a company to outsource their labor to India, where they can receive the work they want for 25% of the cost, it is equally not wrong for them to offer a great artist and outrageous sum of money to work nearly impossible hours to get their awesome movie done on time. The reason it is not wrong is, simply, that the artist has a choice. If someone dangles a carrot on stick in front of an artist, and said artist runs off the edge of a cliff chasing that carrot, he chose to do so. This means it is the artist who placed great importance on that incentive than his health. It is the artist who placed great importance on that incentive than his marriage. Even if this artist should have a heart attack and die, it is no ones fault but his own.
Let's look at this from another perspective. I recently wrote about Steve Jobs resigning from Apple because of health concerns. Seeing more recent pictures of him, and his near skeletal form, I fear he may have irreversibly damaged his health, and for what? Steve Jobs is a billionaire. He has been for some time. He could have quit ages ago if he desired to do so. There is no one holding incentives over his head. He is the boss. Whatever his current situation, he chose to continue working at whatever pace, or for however many hours, put him where he is now. Still, it was his choice. My understanding is that he so loves his work that it would be difficult to pull him away from it. The same could be said of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets and The Dark Crystal. He died of an illness easily treatable in todays world simply because he refused to stop working and go get treatment. This makes me seriously consider the importance of work/life balance.
I imagine that most artists love their work. When I was younger, it was easy to find myself in the studio, working until the sun comes up, simply because I just had to finish something. This had nothing to do with bosses, who had long since gone home. This was all me, because I couldn't let it go. Granted, in that day, I was young and single. Many artists I worked with, though, were not, and they were right there with me. I saw health begin to fail and marriages fall apart. I also saw the parking lot become populated with porches and BMWs, and heard rumors of huge house purchases, so there was certainly some incentive. I feel fortunate that I took some of that incentive and used it to create my own work.
Work/Life balance is extremely important to me today. Without travel and gaining new experiences, from where comes the inspiration to create? Without friends, family and relationships with loved ones, from where comes the heart and drive that goes into your creation? Sitting in front of a computer for 16 hours per day does not lead to greater creativity nor productivity. In fact, studies have found that spending that much time at work leads to the exact opposite. Look at how things have shaped up in many European nations, with some working as little as 6 hours per day. The reason is simple. It leads to happier, healthier employees. Some go as far as to say that having a limited amount of time makes employees more productive, such that they don't spend time surfing the net or chatting at the water cooler.
It is written that after the second world war, and the resulting rise in technology, many nations saw incredible leaps in productivity and increased growth in GDP. America, supposedly decided work harder and go for ever greater leaps in wealth. Many countries in Europe however thought they could work a lot less and keep the same level of productivity and growth. I like this mode of thinking. When I did Understanding Chaos, I worked very hard to do a ten minute short film in a month. The thing is, technology has advanced so far since then. If I wanted to work 14-16 hour days, seven days per week, I could now do 30 minutes or even 45 minutes in a month, and it would be a higher level of quality than Understand Chaos! I prefer, however, to work a lot less, enjoy travel, friends and relationships, while continuing to do ten or fifteen minutes of animation per month. It's enough!
What is the rush? Your project isn't going to run away. With a little bit of effort each day, it will get done. It is fear that causes haste, and when you work from that mindset you likely compromise your own project anyway. Relax! Let your project come alive in its own way. Get out from in front of the computer and go experience some real life. Your projects will not only benefit from this, your health and relationships will benefit greatly from this as well.
I was reading a thread in another animation forum, about people working themselves to death with long hours, bad food, and little vacation time, in return for the sometimes extremely nice salaries provided by the industry. This lead me to two topics I want to discuss. This article will cover the first of, said topics. I remember reading in that thread that someone once overheard George Lucas walking through the parking lot, of his own company, and he allegedly said, "You know what the problem with this industry is? Look at this parking lot! Too many BMWs!" We all know that George Lucas has operations in Singapore now.
From the stand point of big business in America, sadly, Lucas is right! That may not be good for the artists working in the field, but that is exactly what big business wants; Lower the costs and increase profits. If Davy Jones, from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, could be done in the third world for $10 per day, that's where they will go. I hate to say it, but I believe that day is coming.
With the advent of a global market, the idea that you cannot get high quality for extremely low prices has gone out the window! I once did a whole commercial, through one of those freelance sites, with graphics, voiceover and music, for something like $500. I was living in the Philippines at the time, so that money went a long way. The expectation that these are "low rung" or bottom of the barrel clients, who will get pitiful visual quality for their money, is outmoded. They can and will find someone who can do amazing work for that price.
I would say that the only exception to this rule is the highest tier (think ILM or WETA) VFX in Hollywood feature films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Everything else you see, on TV, games, commercials, print etc. can be and, in many cases, probably already is being done in Bulgaria, China, Korea, India and so on.
Even the big feature work won't be too far behind. Leading U.S. artists are being paid salaries amounting to several thousand per month (if not week) to train the up and comers in these emerging markets. It won't be long before they can tackle even the most difficult movie VFX for 1/10th the price. Take a look at the credits of your favorite blockbuster this summer. Chances are you already see a large number of Indian or Thai names in the credits. I am told that these small overseas outfits are limited to match moving, wire removal and other menial work for the time being, but how long will that last?
George Lucas doesn't want pay the artists, who make his films a reality, a salary that allows them to buy a BMW, and he shouldn't have to! Let's not think ill of him for holding this notion. If there was one guy who could do his film for him, and deliver it for $500, shouldn't he, if he be a sane man, go to that guy? Of course he should, and for this reason, the industry is going to change, and it is going to change in a huge way very soon. Luckily you needn't worry about any of this. There is one person who can do your film for you, and deliver it at the lowest possible price. That person is you!
Paul Fierlinger, the independent animated film director behind the movie My Dog Tulip, tells his students, at the university where he teaches, that the days of graduating and going into one of the large studios as an animator are coming to an end. The students need to prepare to create their own work. He should know. He's been doing it for 50 years! Only by creating your own work will you be able to open far more doors to far more opportunities than is possible as an employee anywhere in this global market today. Did you get into animation to compete with an artist willing to work for pennies in Bangladesh? I am guessing you got into it because you had a dream, a vision of something you wanted to create. It's time to start nurturing that dream. It's time to start creating.
September 08, 2011 11:07 Filed in: Personal
About a week ago, I moved into a new apartment, here in Shanghai. I should say, I moved into a real apartment, since the place I lived before was really more of a business complex with far more offices than living residents. Just this morning they hooked up 10Mbps internet in my room. The actual result I get from speedtest.net is quite a bit faster, but I am not complaining. It is smoking fast. This makes me think about how things are always changing. When I left California, 3Mbps was the fastest available. Warner Cable was about to roll out 6Mbps the very week I was moving on. Things have come a long way in some places, but not so much in others.
When I went to the Philippines, 2Mbps was the fastest offered in my area. It is likely the fastest one can get in most places outside of the financial district of their capital city. Eventually, one of the companies began to offer 12Mbps, but it was outrageously expensive and only in a limited area. When I went to Korea, however, I experienced the fastest internet in the world. The big drawback there, though, was that WIFI was not at all popular. People's cell phones were faster than WIFI so why would places carry it? Only in a few coffee shops could I work on my site, or do anything internet related from my actual computer, where everything is Mac based.
When I arrived in China, 2Mbps was the order of the day, even in Shanghai, arguably the most advanced city here. Some companies offered 4Mbps, but it was severely overpriced. Of course, I mean overpriced here, since standard internet service is about $100 USD per year. Things didn't remain that way for long, though, Soon there were rumors floating around the net of 10Mbps being offered by the largest provider here. It was available only in limited areas when I first heard of it, but now it already seems to be common. The price is not bad either, being about $300 USD per year. I also noticed, when I signed up, that they have a 20Mbps package as well. Maybe I'll think about that later when the novelty of 10Mbps fades. After all, even though it is nowhere near as fast as in Korea, where you could stream HD movies with little effort, I never actually experienced doing any actual work on my computer at those speed, so I am not missing anything.
Once, while traveling on the elevated highway, I saw a billboard for 56Mps service here in Shanghai. That is the same speed as is offered in Japan. I suspect it will not be long before we see speeds matching Korea here. Of course, Korea is talking about rolling Gigabit speeds next year.
The only drawback to the service I have now compared to the service I had living in the business complex, is that in that place, the upload was faster, a lot faster actually. This was a huge plus when uploading huge videos to my store. I guess I will have to learn just how much patience is a virtue if I need to upload another multi-gigabyte video to my website.
September 05, 2011 17:02 Filed in: Personal
I was reading some different blogs over the weekend and started asking myself why I stopped blogging like I used to. I even found an old post of my own that touched on this very subject. In that old post, I wrote, "One of things that has stopped me from posting so much is that I forgot the essence of blogging. I remembered a long time ago I used to sit in my favorite restaurant or cafe and blog on my Sony PSP. Today, though, I have an iPhone, which is a much better tool for that sort of thing, and is not limited to WIFI, since I can use cellular data networks, but I still don't do that. One of the reasons is because I got too caught up in pictures and making each blog post like a fancy magazine article layout. That's all well and good, but the need to do that made the barrier to entry for simple blog post to high, so I didn't do it so much."
Since that time, when I was in Korea, I believe, other factors came into play including, of course, my site being down altogether. That certainly didn't help things. In my old site I had over 1000 articles on various topics, usually related to independent animation, the anime industry and other somewhat related fields like games, movies and comics. Back then, there was no thought of SEO, internet marketing, or a lot of things I got into that totally sapped the fun out of blogging. Back then I simply wrote all that stuff because I wanted to.
Wanting to do something is one of the most important ingredients for success in any endeavor. It may sound overly simplistic to say it like that, but think about your day job. How into it are you? How much of yourself do you put into it? Now compare that to your passion, your personal project, or your own art. There is a difference, right? Basically, all that stuff I learned about internet marketing, though not entirely useless, I should say, turned my blog and my website into work!
Here is the interesting thing. When I was just doing it, I gained astounding numbers as far as readership and traffic. I had almost 100,000 monthly unique visitors coming to my site. I don't know where they came from, or how they found me, but they did. All the efforts I put into internet marketing didn't really change much. In fact, it only served to make working on my site a lot less fun and thus updates became fewer and far between and eventually stopped.
This new Paragon show I began is part of getting back to just doing it. Very similar reasons are behind my lack of new creative endeavors as well. I decided to stop listening to all the voices outside and just focus on the one voice inside. It had only one thing to say. "Make something!" So I am turning things around now. I have a new series underway, and another idea in development. I am returning to blogging, simply because I want to write, have things to say, and there is no place to say them. I have been on different forums here and there, but there is no place which is like what I once built right here.
The world of independent animation has changed. There are new avenues out there for all of us to get our shows done and in front of our audiences. There is a lot to talk about now, so I will start talking right here. Join me. Leave a comment. Let's start a conversation. Where will we go from here?