I haven't updated in a while, perhaps not since I came to Shanghai attempting to start down a new path. A lot has happened since then, both good and bad, and I have been seriously considering what I am really doing, what I should be doing, and what I want to be doing. One the biggest changes that occurred due to my time here, being busy, out and about in the world, and having new experiences, was that I never had the time to watch movies or TV. In the last couple of days, as things have calmed down, and I had some time on my hands, I sat down and watch The Matrix Trilogy, followed by Ghost in the Shell.
I call this post Thought on Quality because my recent experiences, both online and offline, and the films I viewed recently, made me think a lot about what I am doing. For example, I draw a lot. I have an idea I think it cool and I may draw a picture, a character or some other doodle. This is all well and good, but if my goal is to create independent animation, I should be animating a lot, not just drawing a lot. I haven't really animated much of anything outside of the many tests I did last year.
In all those tests, and in so much of my work, I was always trying to find "my style". This really makes very little sense because in reality your style finds you. What I was really trying to do was find what was easy. I was trying to find they way in which I didn't have to put in the work. Time was, no doubt, a factor, as I didn't want to spend a year on a ten minute short, but acknowledge that I was look for the easy road. It was clear as I posted those tests around which one people truly responded to. Deep down, I knew which one was the right one, but I chose to keep on searching for an easier one.
I recently read a book which said, "Successful people are concerned with pleasant results. Unsuccessful people are concerned with pleasant methods." — Brian Tracy
So I watched The Matrix. This isn't the first time I watched all three films back to back. Watching it as whole, I think I have come to understand the negativity heaped on the sequels. I have heard it said that it seems as though different writers were involved in the sequels, or maybe the studio reigned them in on the first one. I don't believe that to be the case. I think the problem lies with us as viewers, and how much we both like and respect Morpheus.
You see, Morpheus gives us our view of this world, by explaining it to Neo. We accept this view as being true, because he is a strong and wise character. We assume he must be right about everything on which he speaks. He has some of the greatest quotes of all time in that first film. We believe them because he seems to be speaking to us and it seems to fit our own feelings. Unfortunately, Morpheus is wrong.
In the scene pictured above, Morpheus says, "I have dreamed a dream. And now that dream is gone from me." This is a line from the bible, spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, after whom his ship is named. Here is where they signal us that Morpheus was wrong from the very beginning. Here is where he loses everything. From this point on, Morpheus is weak. He does none of the cool stuff we have come to know him for. He is almost subservient to Niobe for the remainder of the films.
I think a lot of viewers don't want Morpheus to be wrong. Like the character in the film, they simply can't accept that. I think this is why the sequels don't sit well with a lot of people. I do not, however, believe that this wasn't all planned from the very outset.
If nothing else, never before nor since have mechs been done so well in film or television. I have always said that motion kills most CGI, not the rendering. Things don't make perfectly smooth motions in real life. This is why motion capture always looks jerky. The system exaggerates the minuscule ticks that happen in every real life motion. The artist has a tendency to want to smooth it all out, and then even the motion capture looks floaty, weightless and fake.
Hand keyframes work, especially in films where the actors are real people, is even worse. Too often, especially in the case of machines, the overly smooth keyframes motions, with computer generated interpolation between frames, just doesn't fit. In The Matrix Revolutions, they animated to robots to move more like the stop motion work done in the old Robocop films. It was jerky and mechanical. It felt heavy. It felt real.
I think I have watched Ghost in the Shell 3 times now. Despite its flaws, I seem to keep coming back to it. Some of those flaws, though, are glaring. I never expected it to be a philosophical as the original. I know that wouldn't sell in today's market, but come on. They really dumbed it down. They ruined Batou as a character. He is no longer Batou with the unsleeping eyes, the ranger with abilities comparable to The Major. He is now just typical Hollywood, guy gets blown up and has to have some parts of him replaced. Basically, he wouldn't have done it if not for the accident.
Should I even get into the Major? This also feels so typical Hollywood. She is unique, the first of her kind. She is super special. No. Aside from being very skilled at her job, which is due to experience, she is not unique. She is not special. Most of Section 9 is just like her. The world is full of people exactly like her. The first film even intimates that someone else can use the exact same body as her. She is not special. Most of what makes her great at her job would still hold true if she were mostly human. She does not have technology that no one else has. This is what leads to the bulk of philosophical considerations in the original manga and films. In Hollywood, they basically made her into Robocop.
There are other things which bother me. Like the garbage men who are simply taken over and mind controlled, and starting shooting up the streets. In the original, the hack done to them (and the camo guy) was truly special, so powerful that they were doing these things of their own "free will". Kuze, in the original, was unnaturally likable. People wanted to hang around him, follow him, and do what he wanted. He never had to force anyone to do anything.
What bothers me most of all, though, is they used some of the best elements of both animated films and both TV series. If they somehow managed to be successful, what were they going to do next? Perhaps make things worse with a totally original story conceived in Hollywood? Well, unfortunately, the movie was a colossal failure, so we will never get to know what they would do next, or how they might have improved it going forward. If nothing else, the film no doubt screamed quality.
Which brings me to why we are here. We are here because we want to make animation, games, comics or other artistic creations, and it has dawned on me that whatever it is we are to create, it must be of maximum quality. Dare I say it must be competitive. All my efforts to find the easy road, my unwillingness to do the hard yard, are precisely why I am stuck where I am at the moment, and have no advanced. The evidence has been around me all the time, but I chose to believe that I could do things differently and still reach a goal only reached by others who put out maximum quality.
Like Morpheus, whose ship went down in ball of flame, so too must I adjust to a new reality. In this new reality it is exceedingly difficult to get audiences to give up their precious time and attention to watch something, even if it is free. Only by offering the best of the best can one even hope to gain a moment of someone's time. Time is everything. It is through time, and how we use it, that one finds happiness or loses it. In order to get someone's time, your offer must be worth it. I now realize that I must create with this always in mind. Think of it like this. How cool would something have to be to get you to stop what you're doing and watch it?
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You know how it is. As life goes on, and things change, opportunities arise and one finds new things on which to focus.
I am back in Shanghai and getting more deeply involved in the work I am doing here in China, and also my family, especially my 3 year old daughter. These occupy the vast majority of my time. Combine that with constantly rising web hosting and domain registration prices, and I feel the time has come to put to rest my web store and video training. What does that mean for you?
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Following up on the email I sent out concerning forgetting the rules, I really did something. After looking at the little clips and shorts that Kevin "Q" Quattro had done, I really got inspired. For those who were unable to find his Youtube page, you can search under the name "pixelsmack". His short videos and animations are sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes just expressing an idea. It's the idea that's the important thing. With that in mind, I decided to just make something.
You can see it on its own media page by clicking here.
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As mentioned in the previous two posts, I have arrived in a new place and have opened the door to the possibility of new focus on my projects. In celebration of this new beginning, I am starting the Autumn Super Sale which gives you outrageous discounts on everything available here.
This sale gives you 50% off most items in the store, with some specials, like Final Independent Animation Training , the best course there is for learning how to draw anime, over 66% off! Take advantage of this incredible sale while it lasts and get the training to help you get your projects done today!
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Secondly, as some already know, there is the modo 601 Interior Lighting and Scene Setups video. This video is both about how quickly you can setup scenes due to the speed of using the modo content library and bringing dynamic realism to your scenes through lighting. You can see that trailer here.
That's not the only new thing to report though. As mentioned in the last Indiegen video, I have once again returned to Guizhou Province in the south of China and Dede and I have found a new place to setup shop and really begin focusing on my projects. This place is amazing and the environment is very conducive to creative endeavors. The cost of living is so inexpensive that it makes the independent life a true dream.
As you can see from the trees outside the window, this place in not in a huge city like Shanghai. It's not exactly out in the country, but probably as close as you can get and still have all the comforts of modern life. With the rent being $110 USD for a fully furnished, 3 bedroom apartment, with a patio we can barbecue on, you can imagine why I am so excited about the future I can create here. That, of course, is not all.
I finally have my own perfect little space which I can setup to be my studio. There's not much there now, aside from the cool desk and shelves built into the wall, but of course I will deck this place out with everything I need to make the shows I want to make and continue to show you how to draw anime. One of the things I will surely be decking this place out with is the Samsung 10.1 inch Galaxy Note.
With this tablet solution, I won't be limited to working at my desk of course. I will be able to work anywhere. With the 3G model, that anywhere means staying connected while doing so. I guess I wouldn't be able to keep making updates to this site from out in the field, since I use Apple specific software for that, but I can do just about anything else I want for that. Who knows? Like I did in Korea, I may add a web based way to continue to add updates as was done while I was in Korea. Now that I think about it, there is a software extension to this web design tool that allows that. That is something to worry about later though. Right now, I am basking in the delight of new things, starting anew on ld projects, and creating a new life!
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This is something that has been a long time coming. modo 601 has finally given me the tools I need to really do the projects I was meant to do. After floundering around on the best technique with which to create Paragon, I can finally say I have found it! Even though modo 601 was release back in March, it took some time for me to really grasp all that this release meant. It meant being able to go back to the ways of Chaos. It meant being able to do all that was possible back then and more. Look for another Indiegen video with further explanation of all that is happening now.
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I believe in taking risks. I obviously took a big risk in coming out here in the first place. I am not just talking about coming to China, but leaving California in itself, as I did four years ago, and traveling around seeking my dream. I feel like I possibly allowed that adventurous spirit to get lost somewhere. I forgot my PURPOSE. I got too settled into things which, in the end, were not MINE. The result, as always, was that my true projects were not getting made.
Here is something interesting. Over a year ago, in the first post on this new site, I wrote, "I remembered days gone by when I just did my thing, and didn’t spend all my time on the internet, posting in forums, chasing down leads, managing ad campaigns, or worrying about internet marketing. I am still quite certain I never want to get back into that. I just want to create. I have stories to tell, and images to get out of my head and onto the screen." Nothing has changed since then, as far as my feeling, but part of the problem is also that NOTHING HAS CHANGED. This means I am still doing those things I supposedly never wanted to do.
In the second post on this new site, still over a year ago, I talked about media. I said I am an artist and that I want to create. My plan was to populate this site with media. The problem is, aside from GMO Shoujo and the first chapter of Paragon, that media page has not changed much in the year since I wrote that. What happened?! I suppose I could make a million excuses, but none of that matters now. The point is that IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. I didn't create. The media page did not get populated. I let things get in the way.
The solution to Paragon is simple. I wrote in the production blog for that show that, since modo 601 has introduced all the character animation and cel shading tools, that would allow me to do everything that was done back in the days of Understanding Chaos, Paragon will be done with this technique and no other. I spent enough time waffling on the best way to get that project underway. The best way to get any project underway is to GET THE PROJECT UNDERWAY. Task a risk. Stop thinking. Start doing. I write this as much for myself as for any reader.
As you might be able to tell from my writing I am very unhappy right now. That is why I am going to take another risk. I am going to make a big change. I am going to try something new. If I don't go down in flames, then it will mean this site can finally become what it should have always been. I can fill in that gaps that have been missing for the last few years and, wasting no further time, begin populating this site with the content that those readers who still come here looking for something can appreciate and then SHOW HOW IT WAS DONE. I remember that mission. That is how it began with Understanding Chaos. That is also how it will end.
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I am very excited about what has been happening over these last several weeks, but the things I foresee coming, in the next few weeks, are even more exciting, possibly challenging and, like my explanations of my experiences when I was actually there, more mind expanding!
Remember, back then I said the experience was life changing. I found I had less interest in the things that used to clamor for my attention. I found myself wanting something different from life, from work, from everything. Now, it seems, some of those desires are actually coming to pass.
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I have learned an incredible amount just this year and I am still learning. The evolution of my own production processes and those I have learned working with teams here in China will surely change the way I do things forever. Some of these things will be elaborated on in my Indiegen video casts. Others may appear in the Paragon production blogs. Still, others may appear in a new book, an update to Animation on a Shoestring, if you will, for our new, highly mobile world.
I have high hopes for the independent future. In fact, I see it as the only future for the creatives of our generation. Join me in making that future draw nearer to us everyday! I look forward to the amazing things that are coming.
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I read an article once that said that no other species on the planet has to PAY to live here. The world has been so organized that any normal man or woman needs a considerable amount of money to live anything approaching a happy or even normal life. We live in a world which is disconnected. People don't know their own neighbors and some don't even know their own family. I was completely a part of that world some years ago. Things changed when I began to travel and see a different world.
In my travels I came across simple villages where people still lived in a manner approaching the ancient ways. I saw people who grew their own plants, and washed them in the river, a river so clean and clear you could see to the very bottom. People were truly alive and happy in a way that I never saw back home. This literally made back home feel like The Walking Dead. You know what I mean by that. People in the west go about their routines and their lives like it were little more than a slightly interactive video game.
What brought me to these thoughts? WINE! Seriously, though, I was trying to record some videos this weekend. You know, the videos I said would soon replace my writing on this blog. Well, on the first day, I went to the office, with the idea that it would be relatively quiet on a Saturday and I could quickly get things done. I was wrong. I arrived only to find a number of people there, playing games, watching movies, loudly and talking and laughing. Disappointed, I left in a matter of minutes and returned home to sleep, feeling I had no place in the world.
Today I decided again to give things ago. This time I would forsake going to the office and just do it in home. It is summer now, and closing all the windows and turning off all fans and air conditioners for the purpose of recording was only the beginning of sorrows. Before getting a minute into the first video I began sweating visibly. Halfway through the recording, it seemed a construction crew decided to rebuild parts of building in which I lived. I am not exaggerating when I say that. Drilling, hammering, sawing and every other manner of sounds one associates with throwing up a new building destroyed all chances of continuing. I won't even get into the noise from traffic and the never ending stream of fireworks, even though there is no special event I am aware of.
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I APPLAUD THIS SENTIMENT! Now, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of rumors going around, even such that he chose to resign simply to avoid being fired. It has also been suggested that he commanded a $2 million per year salary, which led to the corporate bean counters wanting to axe him. I have even read comments to the effect that the company had been doing everything in their power to make life miserable for the "old guard" or veteran employees, in the hopes that they would leave. I am, of course, no stranger to this idea.
I read that Keane spoke of his future plans in a video, saying about the famous Disney traditional look, “It’s a style that looks that way because of a technical limitation.” He goes on to say, “I thought if I ever get a chance, I want to animate something where my original drawing stays on the screen.” My own sincere hope is that he goes off and does something Bill Plympton style, rough lines and all, that is ENTIRELY HIS OWN CREATION. Can you imagine what GREATNESS, what ARTFULNESS, what CREATIVITY... I truly want to see that.
There is really something to that line of his about animation being that ultimate art form with endless territories. I fully intend to explore these territories myself. Those video updates I mentioned will be forthcoming, and projects like the one above will be explained. More importantly, though, something about this Glen Keane story has really inspired me to EXPLORE those territories rather than just talk about it.
I have seen comments on the internet that suggest some fans desire him to follow Chris Sanders, the director known for Lilo & Stitch who left Disney and found himself at Dreamworks Animation doing How to Train Your Dragon. As much as I love that movie, the last thing I want to see is Glen Keane going into that company and doing 3D. I want to, like he said, see his original drawings on the screen!
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So why haven't I been writing? Well, perhaps that fire has gone out. Back in the old days, when I populated my previous blog with over one thousand articles, there was a fire behind that writing and it flowed so naturally. I never had to think about writing. I never had to think that I should write. I simply did it and, at the time, I had a lot to say. I remember I would even, while coming back from work at UFO, stop in my favorite Thai bar and post to my blog from my Sony PSP. Nowadays, though, I sit down on this blog and I feel I have absolutely nothing to say, at least that I want to write. As such, this may be my last post.
You know? People's interests change over time. As you know, I have been traveling for four years now. I've been through the Philippines, Korea, Japan and now China. Throughout this journey I have had many experiences, met many new and different types of people, and seen many things I could scarcely imagine before my departure. As a result, the things I was interested in back then hold little, if any, value to me today.
Let's talk about the iPhone. I got the first one that came out back in 2007. I even waited in the long lines which wrapped around buildings. At the time it really seemed worth it and, for a while, it was the coolest device I had ever owned. I did everything on it, even work on my site. Some may remember I had another site devoted to creating comics specifically for the iPhone screen. Two of those comics still survive in the media section on this site. As they say, though, all good things...
I should note that I am not knocking these devices. I still like gadgets and technology. I am particularly interested in tablets these days, especially if I can draw well on one of them. That fire, however, is not like it was when these two devices first came out and totally captivated me. I would not, again, consider creating content specific to a device like that. Who wants to bank on a device that may not even be here two years from now?
So what do these examples have to do with my writing? Well, in the same vein, my experiences during my travels, and the slight shifts in perception that come with them, had the same effect on my writing as on the toys I once loved. I would say the biggest shift was getting into Facebook. That was probably the beginning of the end for my writing. I spent so much time on there and was so connected with everyone it seemed only natural to update through those little one line status blurbs rather than writing a blog. Of course, now I no longer have access to Facebook, so once again I see how it is such a waste to get attached to any of these things.
After I arrived in China and new things were happening every day, I thought I would be excited to write about it, but that was not the case. Everything had already changed. The writing fire simply wasn't there. Maybe if I had a Twitter account I would throw little blurbs on there, but true blogging was no longer in me.
So what, then am I interested in?! Well, one thing I am certainly interested in is video. I may very well continue updating this site through the use of video. This may come in the form of a series like Anigen, my first series made to teach you how to make anime, or simple video updates, tips and information like the clips I do on Japancast.net. So I didn't mean to imply there would be no more updates to this site. I suspect they will simply be approached differently. Aside from that, I am very interested in drawing!
I have been drawing more in recent weeks than I have been in the last four years it seems. A lot of that is for the development of Paragon, but that is not the only project in the works at the moment. I am actually quite surprised how much I have still to learn as an artist. I am discovering great new things to this day. I suspect I will continue to make discoveries the more I create. I feel a challenge in it, and that is exciting. It makes me want to create more.
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After seeing the Japanese live action production of Space Battleship Yamato, based on the 1974 anime TV series marketed in the west under the title Star Blazers, I hope to never again see a Hollywood remake of any anime show. I know there are a few either in the works or rumored. The previous efforts by Hollywood to turn anime into big screen western entertainment, such as Dragonball Evolution were dismal failures on so many levels. Recent Japanese efforts, though, have more than proven that they have the technology to do their own projects as live action, and do them very well.
I just watched the Space Battleship Yamato film earlier today. This film is of great importance to me because I was really sucked into the original 1974 series, though I saw the heavily edited english dubbed version Star Blazers. It wasn't until many years later, around university time that I saw the second animated film. You can imagine what it was like to see the sequence of the Yamato launching from the water, while that original theme song played, after not having seen the show in over a decade. Now, still many years later, I see this live action version, and again hear that amazing theme song and watch a realistic, live action Yamato launch from the scorched earth and fire the wave motion gun. It felt like I was a kid again!
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This is not to say I have anything against video. I very much enjoy making videos and some things are certainly better demonstrated by video. If, for example, you wanted to learn how to draw, watching a video or a show like The Joy of Painting, will take you further than reading about it, even if the book has pictures. Learning 3D software by way of training videos serves far better than the manual in almost every case. There is no question that video is better for a number of things, but that's not what I am really talking about either.
With the partial exception of mainstream news, we have seen blogging and article writing descend into tweets and Facebook updates. We are seeing video pop up everywhere and it seems there is no one without a Youtube channel these days. We also have more people consuming online information via their smart phones or tablets. Everything is becoming instant and bite sized and few seem to take the time, or even have the time, to sit and read anything.
All of this makes me think about how I convey information here, and whether or not this site would be better served by making the move to video. This doesn't mean going so much in the direction of the original Anigen, a series built to teach you how to make anime, but perhaps something a bit similar, a way to disseminate the information, tools and techniques to readers, or viewers, and meet them where they are. If viewers would, in fact, rather watch a quick three minute video clip, than read a long and informative article, I would certainly prefer to make said video clip. In fact, I've been doing it already, as can be seen by the clips I do on the Japancast.net video episodes.
It seems that with the Youtube generation, there just isn't a lot of reading going on. The comics industry has been steadily declining and viewership on animated content has never faltered. Even comics in the digital realm, now revitalized on tablets like the iPad, are trying to add elements of sound and motion. What does that say about simple reading? Well, we all know there are different audiences for different mediums and the success of independent authors on Kindle shows that there are clearly people with no interest in mainstream books that will come out in droves for something more catered to their tastes. Still, that's not the internet, which is where we are now. It seems that video may rule the roost when it comes to web, mobile and tablet content. Am I wrong?
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The mass media infects people with ideas, whether they be true or not, that are difficult to get out of their heads. Even when those same media outlets retract their negative stories, or they are proven to be outright fabrications, the damage has already been done. Those who wish to believe the original negative story will continue to do so. They would rather follow sensationalist hype rather than listen to the experience of someone on the ground, who has been there. All the writing in forums, even with pictures, is never going to change that.
There really is only one way to counter this. That is to show a new image through art. It won't happen writing in forums and arguing the points with people there. One has to create something. That is what I hope to do. What I have to say, I will say here. What I have to show, I will show right here. Those who come here and read may find something new and counter to the information often presented out there. I am no longer, however, going to chase people down and try to show them what's out there. Those who wish to follow and validate their outmoded beliefs will continue to do so regardless of where I meet them. Those who wish to see another picture may find it here.
In my next project, I will begin to show some of the things I have experienced, and present some of the images I have seen. I want to show the character and heart of the people and places I have visited and lived. Animation is a great way to do that. Even with my current project, Paragon, which is undergoing some change at the moment, some of these ideas may be injected into it, because they are so close to me. As much as I like to write, I feel it serves so little purpose, and from now on will only so so here. I welcome those who continue to read.
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Back in the office, I can begin to think about the next steps, and here I will try to give you a rundown of some of the things I am contemplating, and some of the motions I intend to make. The first on that list is Paragon. New technology has made it possible to achieve an even higher quality that I originally envisioned for this show. That technology is Poser Pro 2012. The new innovations in this software will bring a lot to the table. Those following the Paragon production blog will so more on that as it develops.
The budget for this show, through the crowd funding website, did not reach where I had hoped, but that is not going to stop this production by any means. I have always said you don't need millions of dollars or major studio backing, and I am going to continue to prove this to be true, producing the best show that can be done with the available resources. It does mean I will have to intersperse its creation with other projects and time in the office, but doesn't that seem to be the way labors of love always work out? Either way, there are no limits today, only time.
There certainly are no limits when it comes to technology, and that brings me to my next issue. As you well know, the iPad started something of a tablet revolution and now every major electronics manufacturer has some form of tablet based product. Among those, that majority of which are very similar to the Apple model, are a couple which sport pressure sensitive pens, much like the Wacom tablets or Tablet PCs of old. You may remember the days when I was constantly drawing on my "Mirage Nomad" Tablet PC. Even though these modern tablets are underpowered compared to todays desktops and laptops, I suspect they might perform well against that older computer, and I want to put this to the test.
So what exactly will I be drawing on this tablet? Well, that gets into future projects, not the least of which will involve the things I have seen and experienced during my travels. The ideas and inspirations which have come to me as a result of my journey must be put to the screen. Of course, this will take time, but I am excited at all the new possibilities. On one hand, I honestly feel that something was lost upon my return to so-called "normal life". Still, I know there is a lot to be gained in getting down to some serious production and creating new things.
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I stood in a village, high among the clouds, and wondered what life was really about...
INSPIRATION PART II
If there is one thing these experiences have given me, it is focus. I like to call it creative focus. I can see so clearly how to apply my skills for best results rather than dissipate them on too many endeavors. I can see more clearly what I must create, and that I must create to find any sort of fulfillment. Although there may be pockets of fulfillment in all corners of life, things must eventually narrow down to that one main goal, that one thing that you know is your task. When you have discovered it, this is the thing you must devote yourself to fully.
My time in this fantasy world, and in this unreal life, will soon come to an end. I will be back in Shanghai among the maze of great skyscrapers, video screens and gadgets in every hand. I will not, however, be the same person that walked those streets before. I am more focused, and with new goals in mind I will move forward, ever so determined to create more of what I should create, rather than being pushed and pulled by perceived market forces and outmoded ideas. I have talked to the people that have done it, and are doing it. They do exist. Perhaps now my life among the rigors of big city and back in the office will be the one that seems not real.
Thanks to all that I have learned, the motions made over the next few months will be big. You already know about Paragon, and some will follow its production, but there is so much more on the horizon. It will not, however, be rushed. Nothing will be. I have already made that mistake and will not repeat it. This blog may not be big enough to describe everything going through my mind these days. Projects big enough to do that are on the way.
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Here in the south of China, in the province called Guizhou, I have seen many amazing things. This really got me thinking. Where does inspiration really come from? The day before yesterday, I travelled to a small city called Duyun, about forty minutes from where I am currently staying by bus. On the road to this city, moving along an often elevated highway, we passed through many areas of beautiful country. The scenery was astounding, sometimes appearing like something out of fantasy. I had a similar experience when I first arrived here, viewing misty mountains hidden in fog with but the tips of trees peeking out.
I can imagine that artists like Hayao Miyazaki and his staff visited places of similar wonder as they gathered reference material for making a fantasy epic like Princess Mononoke. The location itself visits upon you idea after idea of mystical creatures, magic and hidden treasures. Of course, this doesn't happen only in nature settings. Our purpose for visiting this town was primarily to see the lantern festival, which is a tradition that runs throughout the Chinese new years.
It is not, however, only the things you see with your eyes that can bring inspiration. It can also come from experiences, particularly the more outstanding things that happen to you in your life. A few days, we took a similar trip to another small town. This time, we were not on a full size bus using the highway. We took something more like a small van along narrow, winding country roads. Once again, one can imagine an artist who experienced such a travel wanting to capture that feeling on film.
One the way back, shortly after we left that town, our van broke down. We were sitting on the side of a little country road in the middle of nowhere. There were a few seemingly abandoned buildings around, but almost no people. I immediately began to imagine bandits riding down the hill to loot the unsuspecting travelers. Luckily, that didn't happen. What actually came down the hill was a herd of goats!
There was a man walking along that road with a large bucket. He began to shake the bucket, rattling the contents inside. This apparently alerted the goats that it was feeding time and they came streaming down the mountain to where he began to throw out, what I guess was some grain, on the ground for them to eat. We all decided to get a good look at them while waiting.
Eventually, another van stopped and gave our driver something in bottles. Maybe it was oil or gas, I don't really know. In order to get back on the road, though, we had to push the van until it was on a downhill slope before it would start again. This worked, and though it soon became dark, we were back on the road. The driver continuously apologized and rather than take us to the bus station, he actually drove us right up to the front gate of our building.
You can't put a price on real experiences. The number of things I have seen and done, since I began my travels, eclipses practically all of my previous experience of adult working life. Inspiration is not likely to strike while sitting in front of a computer or television. It's out there. It is waiting to be experienced.
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I am currently in the south of China in a province called Guizhou participating in their Spring Festival. This is also known as the Chinese New Year. The event is marked by the getting together of families on every level for food, fun and a lot of fireworks. In the day, I was gather with 18 people, a family ranging from grandparents, parents, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and even babies. It was quite an event. We set off a large line of fireworks and then set down to the ultimate. Later that night, as 12:00 rolled around, we prepared for the spectacular fireworks display you saw in the video above.
Unlike a major fireworks show often associated with events like this, in this little town, everyone is doing it, not just an organized group. Normal everyday people are shooting fireworks on the level of a huge Independence Day parade. This means they are everywhere, all around you, and if you're not used it, it might seem like you're in a war zone. I can scarcely describe how amazing an event it was to witness and experience, and then it got me thinking.
It was January 23rd. A new year? I can imagine many of us are used to December 31st rolling around and making all kinds of plans and resolutions about how we will make next year the year of our success. We are finally going to start that novel, get that new job, create that new animation. Usually these resolutions don't last two weeks. People start off all fired up and ready to really change their life, but after a short time the flame is more like a cigarette.
What if, however, you could do it all over again without waiting another year? Imagine, in just 23 days, after the first, another new years celebration rolls around. You have the opportunity to look at where that fire started to go out in the past three weeks and rethink things. Go over your accomplishments so far this month and you will get a fair idea where you stand. How do you feel about it? If you feel like making change, Happy NewYear!
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How certain are you that you really want to do the project sitting in front on you at this moment? How do you know that it is really yours and not something that you think you have to do, for whatever reason. I began to consider this because I, once again, read Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. In it, he talks about quite a few important things, but two stand out for me. One is, of course, finding what you really love. The other is about knowing that you are going to die, and what that means.
As to knowing that you will someday die, he says that your time is limited, and so you should not spend it living someone else's life. I completely agree with this. Most of us, go through the usual levels of school, go to university and then get jobs because that's what everyone else is doing, or what our parents and society say we should do. Some of us get married and start families thus further entrenching us into that lifestyle, making it ever more difficult to change, eve if we come to the realization that we, somewhere, made a mistake.
For the independent animator, the normal pathway really doesn't work. Of course, we hope to support ourselves and even our families by our creative efforts, but these efforts require a considerable investment in time, which one may not have if they are stuck in a 9 to 5. What if, however, the 9 to 5, the bills, the mortgage and everything else is simply the trappings of someone else's opinions? What if the project you think you want to do is little more than the same?
When Steve Jobs talks about knowing you are going to die, he asks the famous question that if today was your last day on Earth, would you want to be doing what you are doing right now? He says that if the answer is "no" too many days in a row, then he needs to change something. It's a good question, but it doesn't quite work well for the animator. A day is not enough time to do much, right? That, at least, was my first thought.
If I had a day left, would I even draw at all? Probably not. I would spend it with family. Give me a week, though, and now it becomes a little bit more possible to make something, but I still might fight the temptation to go to a great vacation destination and party on until my time is up. With a month to live, though, I could really make a short film, leave something behind. I could do it in three weeks and still spend a week in that vacation destination before I go out happy! With a year, now we are really talking. I might spend 11 months making the most kick-ass animation I can fathom and then spend the last month in partying in that vacation spot.
In the end, the question still shows what I really want to do. Even if a day or a week is not enough time to consider it, there is no doubt where my time should be spent. Right now, however, I am spending it in far too many other places. That gets back to the issue of being trapped in the opinions of others. There may be those who are relying on you, even counting on you to provide them with something. The question you need to ask is are these obligations really yours? I am not talking about walking out on your family, or anything, I am really talking about your choices. It is your choices that have really landed you where you are today. It doesn't matter what influenced those choices or even if they were made with faulty information. They are still your choices. You can choose to make new ones, right now today.
If your choices have landed you in the wrong location, the wrong job, or worse, the wrong life, you may have to continue in it for some time, but there is a way out. The best way to change is by growth, not by making a hasty getaway. Still, everything that makes up your current situation can also contribute to making a new one. Use your current job as a way to get to another better job. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote stories like Tarzan and John Carter while working as a pencil sharpener salesman. There is always a path from where you are to where you want to be with but a little patience and imagination.
It's a new year, right? Take a good look at your current project, or anything else you are involved in. Is it really yours?
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The holidays are upon us and we are approaching a new year. It's time to start thinking about those resolutions. When it comes to independent animation, my resolutions will be plenty. Far from the usual bids to quit smoking, lose weight or get that better job type desires we often hear about, my resolutions are really about creating, and creating more masterfully than ever. After all, 2012 is approaching, right? :)
In my previous post, I mentioned Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, the writers and directors of the independent animated film My Dog Tulip, which is animated entirely by two people in TVPaint. I've known Paul for, perhaps, over ten years, thanks to the TVPaint community, and he was the first person to get me into Wacom technology and paperless animation way back when. Recently, I have been corresponding via video chat and email and he has given me a lot of advice, inspiration and ideas on where I could go with all that I am doing. As a result, my greatest goal for 2012 will be to simplify!
Simplifying things can have a lot of meanings. You may remember that in times past I had way too many websites. There was this one, the iPhone Alchemy site, the mobile manga reader, the Zahur site, my travel adventure site and a couple of others you probably never heard of. On top of that, I was selling 3D models on Content Paradise, writing articles for Ezine Articles and doing gigs on a few freelance sites. All of that, in the end, served to keep me from the one thing I should have been doing, which is creating more independent animation.
Realizing this problem, I began to, over time, pair things down to just a couple of sites. Later, of course, all my sites went down because my web host from that time wouldn't accept payments from a foreign source. Now that I am back, I have only this site and no others, with the exception that my modo training videos are being sold on Source3D.net. That is one aspect of simplifying that is getting me closer to my goal of creating more. The other aspect deals with simplifying different facets of the work itself.
In the past, I was always heavily influenced by the work of Production I.G., particularly Ghost in the Shell and Jin Roh, as far as anime was concerned. In the 3D world, I always leaned towards very realistic works like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Beowulf. This led me to spend a lot of time attempting to draw, or create in 3D, very realistic, anatomically correct characters with little stylization. What I eventually found out was this created a situation where I often enjoyed the results of an animated project, but not the process of getting there. I'm sure you heard it said that the journey is more important than the destination. If you don't enjoy the process of creating your own anime work, why do it? I needed to get back to where I enjoyed the doing of the work, because it is the doing that counts, not the final product. As with Stephanie Meyer, the creator of Twilight, the process of writing brought her joy even though she never intended to show it to anyone. Still, look what happened when her sister pushed her to get Twilight published.
Too alleviate this problem in the world of 3D and cel shading, I created the WYSIWYG method which I expounded upon in Anigen: Final Secrets, and which you will be able to see in its entirety when the completed video comes out next year. Even inside that method I began to learn more ways to simplify the process. In the world of 2D, I had to take another path. To simplify meant to rethink my character designs. Studying the work of creators such as Katsuhiro Omoto or the directors at Studio Ghibli, you can see that their character designs are very simple yet so full of life and expression. It is little wonder that they are able to achieve such a high frame rate in their films because their characters are so much easier to draw. See for yourself. Put up a frame of Ponyo side by side with a frame of Ghost in the Shell 2. The difference is night and day. The gains from this consideration are quite a bit larger.
In the 3D world, characters which are very realistic enter into what we call "The Uncanny Valley" where something about them, which we cannot express, turns us off. Something similar can happen in 2D as well, if the designs are too realistic. They don't look alive. In Ghost in the Shell, the often expressionless faces worked for the film because the characters are mostly machine, questioning their own humanity. Even there, characters which needed more expression, like the chief, where more stylized. When you simplify a character's face, it becomes so much easier to add life and expression. Compare a character from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to a character from How to Train Your Dragon.
After much discussion with Paul Fierlinger, and showing different examples to people around my work and home, I have begun practicing to simplify my 2D character drawings. There are two reasons. One is to add life, the other is to gain speed. I am not just simplifying the faces and adding stylization, I am simplifying the line work, with less emphases on perfectly clean and sharp lines. When I watched animation of this type, like the Kojiro Shishido short Naked Youth, or the anime series Kemonozume, it feels like it has more life.
As I move into the new year, my goal is to create more. I will also keep updating here on this one site to show you how to create your own anime as well. If I am so inclined, I may dare to write a year end review in the next few days. I haven't done that in a while and it is a very helpful exercise to see where you have been, where you are going, and what you are leaving behind. If not, have a happy holiday season and keep creating!!
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You may remember back when I started doing Anigen videos, the series which teaches you how to make anime, I talked about an artist named Yasuhiro Yoshiura, who almost singlehandedly created a short 2D/3D, hybrid, animated film called Pale Cocoon. I bought that DVD from Japan back then and studied it well. Lately I decided to check up on what independent artists like him were up to these days, and I discovered Time of Eve, a six episode original net animation (ONA as opposed to OVA) which he wrote and directed.
This series uses similar techniques as his previous works, combining highly detailed 3D backgrounds and engaging camera work with fully hand drawn, 2D characters. The overall effect is nothing short of amazing. As you might expect from a smaller independent series, the show has very few locations. This is not a globetrotting adventure. The entire story almost takes place is a single cafe called Time of Eve, which does not allow its patrons to discriminate between humans and robots. Only a few scenes take place outside of this venue, in 3 or 4 other locations we see over and over. None of this detracts in the slightest from this amazing story.
Another interesting note is the pace of the production itself. Most episodes are about 15 minutes in length and it was produced at a rate of about 3 episodes per year. He did not, however, animated this by himself as in previous works, and a staff is listed in the credits. When the series finished its run on the net, it was collected, with some scenes updated and some new scenes added, and it was released as a feature film in Japanese cinemas. You may remember a similar path was followed with Macross Plus over a decade ago. IN both cases, the quality was more than good enough to get there. The point here, though, is that if you wish to learn how to make anime, with your eye on seeing your project on the big screen, there are many possible roads to travel. You needn't waste your time or energy pitching to studios or trying to sell your script. DO IT< even if a little bit at a time, and it will get done. If the quality is there, you will find your place among the greats!
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If you want to learn how to draw anime, it stands to reason that your basic drawing skills need to be up to a polished level. Even if you have been drawing for a long time, you don't want to rest on your laurels. Only by doing so everyday will you be able to gain speed, create better and sharper lines, or generally improve the quality of your images and animation.
I have jumped back and forth between 2D and 3D for years. At times, especially while working in Hollywood, I did 3D exclusively for a very long time. My drawing skills began to slide, naturally, as they did not receive everyday use. Now I am getting back to work on really sharpening those skills. Another issue that arises, though, when trying to learn how to make anime, is the tools.
Of course, if you just want to sharpen your basic drawing skills, a pencil and paper is all that is needed. Still, in the world of digital paperless animation, you might be thinking about things like a Wacom Tablet or Cintiq, or even a tablet PC. I currently use a Wacom Bamboo, the first Bamboo model actually. I have been told it should be retired to a museum. Going back and looking at some of my drawings when I used the Mirage Nomad tablet PC, and comparing them to what I am doing now, the old stuff looked a lot better. While I am certain I need practice, a lot of this is also due to the tools.
When I first got a Wacom tablet, an Intuos 2 9x12 model, it tools me a few days to be able to draw anything on it I would dare show anyone. I had to relearn. That was back in 2002 or so. Even many years later, while living in Korea. Me and my friends pulled out large reams of paper just to sit around and draw for fun. I was shocked at how much faster I was on paper and how much better my drawings looked. To this day I still cannot reach the same level digitally as I can on paper. Does this mean I should draw on paper and scan the drawings in? I would have to say no.
If your goal is to learn how to draw anime, you have to take into consideration many factors. In the studio where I now work, the 2D team did, in fact, still draw on paper, using a light box, and these drawings were scanned in, and probably cleaned, before going to inking and color on the computer. A one-artist-show can't really afford to do that, especially if speed is a consideration, and it should be.
Ideally, you need to adapt your style to fit the tools you have, or get better tools. If you can't go out and get a Wacom Cintiq right now, or a tablet PC, do not sit down and wait for the best tools to fall in your lap. They will probably never do so. Practice every day with the tools you have and improve. If need be, adapt your style to fit the tools you have and start creating. Before you know it, the tools you really desire will find their way to you. The key is to never stop. If you want to make your own anime movie, you should be doing something about it right now, today.
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WOW! It's been over two months since I released the first chapter of my new series Paragon. That is not to say I have been lounging around here, though. As I may have mentioned before, some of the other projects I have been working on may appear on this site. This is one of them! GMO少女, or GMO Girl, is my latest short animation. Have a look. You can watch it on the page or download it in HD. I am not, however, getting sidetracked from Paragon. Look for chapter 2 of that series coming real soon! Until then, check out GMO少女!
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Anyway, there's a lot of interesting information about the real history of witches floating around on the net these days. Especially interesting is where the legend of the witches flying around on broom sticks comes from. Look it up. You might be very surprised. Also of note is what may be the true basis behind the epidemic of witch trials and that there was a lot more to gain from them than something ass simple as stamping out paganism. What might that be? The same thing that is behind so many major movements, money! It is said that, in that day, women could only own property through marriage. So, if a widow who owned a great deal of land were to be branded a witch and burned, the accuser, the state or the church suddenly gets all that land, free and clear. Witch hunting was good business apparently.
You never see these kinds of stories being told in animation do you? So why should you think about them? Well, consider this: you are an unknown indie who wants to make your anime and independently publish. It is unrealistic to think that a load of customers are going to drop $20, or so, for your DVD without the marketing dollars a company like DIsney or Dreamworks puts behind a product launch. For this reason, if you did something in the same vein as those large outfits, no matter how well done it might be, chances are you will get lost in the competition.
The key is, of course, to do something wildly different. Do something that the customer cannot get from the majors, thus giving them a reason to take a look at you. If you did something that truly stands apart from the mainstream you can find yourself in a true to life, "If you build it, they will come" situation. Word of mouth will spread. People who are looking specifically for what you have to offer will be led to you and they will happily open their wallets. Piracy will not even be a consideration.
Like Nintendo did when they created some "out there" concepts like Nintendogs or that cooking game, and suddenly the elderly and housewives became avid gamers, you may find yourself with an audience who may not have otherwise watched any animation were it not for what you created.
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The news is everywhere already. Apple CEO and pioneer of the digital age, Steve Jobs, has died. This man truly changed the world with his ideas and innovations and should ever stand as a role model to creators of any industry who wish to carve their own path. His passion for his work gave us devices that made our lives fun, easier and more enjoyable. He made our work simple, and in some cases, even possible because he chose to think different. In a statement from the Apple board of directors, the write, "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."
As an innovator, Steve Jobs has been compared to likes of Edison, in as much as he has truly transformed our world. A great example would be when his foresight allowed Apple to release the iPod in combination with the iTunes music store when the record industry slowly dying because of file sharing. The iPhone was a similar breakthrough. One only needs to look at how nearly every major handset manufacturer has copied it to understand the power of this idea. The great change to the world, though, might be found in his first product, the Apple II, which some consider to be the world's first personal computer.
Imagine for a moment that before this system, computers were something that existed in laboratories and universities. They were huge machines dedicated to work and there was nothing personal about them. The idea of a single person having one on their desk would likely have been seen as absurd. Contrast this with today, when nearly everyone has a PC on their desktop or in their office. If there is another revolution on this scale coming, Jobs will be behind this too, as it may be the iPad and iPhone, or smart phones in general of course, replacing the PC forever. That will be my next article, though.
Back in August, I wrote an article called, "A World Without Jobs" which touched on his resignation from Apple. In that article, I told my Apple story, of how I came to use and enjoy their products, as I still do today, and I also touched on the issue of work and health. I wrote, "I have been working hard for many years to build a dream. Right now, it seems like I am working 16 or more hours every day. I am lucky to get 6 hours of sleep, and, in fact, rarely do. I have been told I am destroying my health and making myself old too fast. So how does one find the balance?" Steve Jobs has written before how much he loved his work, and it shows in every product Apple creates. I do have to wonder, however, if that passion drove him to overwork and neglect his health.
The story of his passing is significant to me, not just because I am typing this on a Macbook Pro or dream of getting the next iPhone, but because I also very much love what I do and, perhaps, overwork at the expense of my health. I have a desire to do what Steve Jobs did. I don't design cool devices or create world changing technology, but animation is about ideas too. The impact this man has had extends far beyond his own products. He was something of a mentor to other great creators who have changed the world on some level.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you." We all know that Facebook was a latecomer to the world of social networking, but quickly took over that market. The founder of Yahoo similarly wrote, "Steve was my hero growing up. He not only gave me a lot of personal advice and encouragement, he showed all of us how innovation can change lives. I will miss him dearly, as will the world." HIs wisdom, however, wasn't limited to the technology field. There are statements from politicians, entertainers and CEOs of nearly every type of industry claiming great thanks to Steve Jobs for sage advice that helped them achieve what they did.
I never met Steve Jobs, though I wish I did. His creations, however, have had a tremendous impact on my life, allowing me more creative freedom than I dreamed possible in the old days. More than that, though, his ideas have made me want to be the greatest creator I can possibly be, so that I might also change the world, even if just a little bit.
I think nothing can sum up the loss of this legend better than this quote from President Obama, "The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented."
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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. You want to make your own anime. 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 as 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 animation project should always be your biggest rock, and it must come first.
Of course, here you realize that your independent animation 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 anime 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.
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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 greater importance on that incentive than his health. It is the artist who placed greater 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.
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, 3D, cel shaded, anime 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? If you want to make your own anime, 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 independent, 3D, cel shaded, anime 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 make our own anime movies or series and get them 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?
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After a long hiatus from any independent creative endeavors, I am finally back with a new animated series. I took many turns and went down many paths that didn't lead to what I really wanted to do for ages, but I finally found my place again. My current goal is to make this series weekly. Because of other commitments, that may not be possible as yet, so I will say, for the moment, that I will get the episodes out as fast as I can. Anyway, check it out!
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This is quite a personal issue for me. It's not because I am a card carrying Apple fan. I'll tell my Apple story later. It's because Steve Jobs is a model of independent success. He is not an animator, of course, but his story follows a creative path that those of us who want to contribute something to the world via our ideas could only dream of. As someone who intensely studies the mechanics of success, through stories like that of Jobs and other visionary CEOs like Henry Ford, this raises some very important questions and strong emotional reactions for me.
First let me tell my Apple story. I was never a big fan of Apple. I got my start in the late 1980s on a computer called The Commodore Amiga. This followed my introduction to computers with the previous Commodore 64. This Amiga computer was light years ahead of its time. I could do much of what I am doing today that, now, 20 year old machine.
Apple computers were, of course, in existence back then. I would inevitably, in the world of computing in that day, run into the professors of the Mac religion, touting how their computer had more colors, or better fonts, or whatever might have been the case. I admit, I saw some impressive graphics, especially since Macs were really coming to prominence in the print advertising world at that time, but I didn't see anything that led me to believe I could make what I wanted to make on those computers. Even some of the software that allows me to do the shows I do today, like Lightwave and TVPaint, were around on the Amiga so many years ago, and got their start there.
In the early 1990's the Amiga died out. It was time to embrace something new and different. The world as whole seemed to have moved in the direction of Windows, and so did I. It would be almost ten years before I regained the ability to do everything I wanted to do again. Starting in the horrid Windows 3.1 I felt like I had lost an arm.
Over time, each version of Windows improved, and the software I knew and loved began to migrate to this platform. Before long, I was able to create again, and had all the power I once enjoyed to do full video with sound and editing and music. This was thanks, in large part to the advent of MiniDV. Not long after, I created Understanding Chaos.
Over the years I continued to grow with Windows, refining my workflow, gaining efficiency, and dreaming of creating new things. I was not wholly unaware of Apple and the Mac. There was a MAc guy working in one of the studios, who often touted the greatness of his chosen platform. He was often the guy who got the most jokes thrown at his computing preference. I also was already using iTunes, and Apple product, for my music and organizing my sound FX libraries. It is because of iTunes, actually, that things changed drastically.
There came a time when I wanted to do a series called Anigen. I wanted this series to be in the form of a video podcast, properly synched with iTunes and easily downloadable to supported devices. Me and a friend of mine struggled to figure out how to make all this happen using out Windows computers and software. We worked on it until 5:00 AM in the morning and never saw any progress. The next day, in the studio, I mentioned to that Mac guy we always laughed at what I was trying to do. He said something like, "Oh, that's easy!" He was already sitting at his Macbook Pro, and he opened some different iLife tools and did everything we were struggling all night to do in about two minutes. That very day, I went to the Apple store and bought my first Mac.
So that's my Apple story. It doesn't seem to have a lot to do with Steve Jobs, right? Well, let's look at some aspects of that. First, I still very clearly remember the emotional impact of the death of the Amiga computer. In many ways that changed my life. It seemed to sidetrack my dream of creating. In the first couple of years, there was no more Lightwave, no more TVPaint and no equivalent software that, at least not that I saw as viable, with which I could continue. I was handicapped.
I should say, at this point, I do not expect Apple to suddenly die off like the Amiga did. I believe they are in good hands with Tim Cook, the former COO running things. I do however, believe that, over time, things will change. Things must change. Right now, though, as I have reached my highest level of productivity and the greatest workflow I could ever devise, I don't really want things to change, not anytime soon anyway. While it is true that all the major tools I use, like TVPaint, Vue, Poser, modo and others, exist on Windows, and the latest versions of WIndows are being touted as quite amazing, there would still be an inevitable downtime during transition. Worse, I don't see anything resembling iLife, which is really the glue that makes me current workflow as strong as it is. Everything talks to each other and is able to share data seamlessly. I would seriously miss that and feel, again, handicapped without an alternative.
Although that issue is something of a worry, it is not a huge deal. I have transitioned before and came out unscathed for the most part. The other issue, relating to Steve Jobs, is WHY he is resigning. It is because of his health. As I mentioned before, I am somewhat who intensely studies success and follows the stories of those, especially in any kind of creative field of endeavor, who have achieved success. The story of the self made man who puts everything into building success, but loses his health in the process is far too common. Is it a prerequisite? This is about finding balance. We all know that Jim Henson (The Muppets, The Dark Crystal) dies of an illness that is hardly life threatening in this day and age, but he died because he refused to stop working, take a rest, and go get treatment.
I have been working hard for many years to build a dream. Right now, it seems like I am working 16 or more hours every day. I am lucky to get 6 hours of sleep, and, in fact, rarely do. I have been told I am destroying my health and making myself old too fast. So how does one find the balance? My way has always been by improving my workflow, gaining efficiency and leveraging technology to make the impossible a reality. Is it enough? That remains to be seen. I certainly have no desire to work like this for the rest of my life, long or short. I know what my ideal life would be like and I am doing this now in order to get there, but what if when I get there I am already fit for the wheelchair? These issues of work/life balance have been of greet concern to me for a long time.
Although I don't have all the answers, and I doubt Steve Jobs does either, there is another issue surrounding this story, which I have to mention
What is with all the hate? Reading the comments indifferent news sites and blogs concerning this story, I am astounded at the amount of hate being directed at Steve Jobs. While I understand that no one can please everyone, and I myself have stopped even concerning myself with it, why would people actually wish this man dead, and his company gone? That, to me, is unfathomable.
For this reason I will do what makes me happy. By that I mean where the doing is what makes me happy without caring about the result. It may sound like strange proposition, but that is one thing I have found in common with all the successful people I have studied. Steve Jobs worked so long and hard, perhaps too hard, because he loved what he did and reveled in every second of it. I want this same thing, though I also desire to keep my health while doing so.
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Many things are different in the online world here. Of course, there are the banned sites, but it stretches far beyond that. There are also speed issues with connections to certain servers. Visiting a Chinese video portal may be lighting fast, but doing a Yahoo search may be excruciatingly slow. It becomes difficult to know, being faced with all new software and tools today, where a problem lies. For example, on my computer, I may click on a video and see the Quicktime logo, so I wait. The video doesn’t load, but the internet may just be slow. On another computer, however, I see the broken Quicktime link. Only then do I know there is really a problem. This is how all these things work out.
It can be the same way in managing independent anime production. I spend a lot of time focused on things other than making my own anime movies. This has moved me away from how things got started in the first place. I started everything with Understanding Chaos, a ten minute short, 3D, cel shaded, anime that launched all of this. Thinking back, that is what has been missing for a long time. That is the reason I created my media page. The idea is to populate it with new comics, manga and anime or animation. It is there I must place my focus and continue to work out the kinks to get this site up and running at the level it should be!
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I was having a discussion, recently, with a fine artist, here in Shanghai, about making a life from your own work. The idea that seemed to interest both of us was gaining the ability to earn one's living by their own hand, their own skill, and use one's time to do exactly what one wants to do. I actually know people who do this, some even in forms of art one would never expect could make such a life possible. I myself have done it. This makes me ask the question, what would you be willing to give up to make such a dream a reality?
The artist I was talking to does oil paintings and exhibits them in local galleries for potential sale. This is apparently a very difficult prospect and one can go a long time without making any money. He seems to have little interest in commercial art, and he shouldn't need to have such an interest. The question here is about doing what one really wants to do, after all.
I know an artist who does reproduction Greek and Roman pottery. From my background, I couldn't begin to understand how such a line of work could result in a living, but it does. One reason is because the artist was willing to make sacrifices to make such a living possible. I am not talking about living like a pauper, certainly not forever. I am talking about making sacrifices to gain the time needed to build your name. Having done so, this pottery artist not only has loyal clients who buy her work, but was even commissioned to produce pieces for a couple of recent huge budget fantasy movies. Her sacrifices early on netted a tremendous gain in the long run. Would you do that?
So what about me? Those who have followed me at this site since its inception (it's been ten years now! Can You believe that?!) will know that I have done exactly what this article speaks of on more than one occasion. I began, pushed into it by my layoff from Westwood Studios actually, with selling the DVDs of my original, independent, 3D, cel shaded, anime movies, Understanding Chaos and Shadowskin from this website. Compared to working in a large game company, the income represented a drastic cut, but it was, or at least could have been, a living. I hadn't yet learned how to make the necessary sacrifices. I was still wasting money in the same fashion I did as a single guy, with no debt, and with a huge salary from a large game company.
I am, of course, older and wiser now. As the saying goes, if I knew then what I know now I could have made that early run build into something great. We live and learn, right? I followed up with some freelance and then the original manga works for TOKYOPOP, which was still living mostly by my own hand and power, but not exactly doing what I wanted to do. In 2005, I returned to the world of full time employment in a studio, this time a Hollywood studio doing film VFX work.
Working in the studios lasted about 3 years, but luckily, in this case, about halfway through, I really began to build up my website, name and products, teaching how to make your own anime movie, with creations like Anigen, The Ultimate Model Bundle and others. When the writer's strike hit and the major decline in production, and thus jobs, hit, my site was already going again. Of course, it wasn't going well enough to live in an expensive city like L.A. This raised the question, how far would you be willing to go to make this work? For me, the answer was about 10,000 miles.
An old friend of mine had retired early from the company where he worked with a small pension. He also rented out the house he had in the U.S. His monthly income would barely cover the rent in the place I was staying in L.A., but he was living an amazing life of adventure in SE Asia. Most importantly, he didn't need to work, ever. Granted, he used his spare time mostly for World of Warcraft, but I saw different possibilities in what he had done. I began to really look into this. I found more stories, even one of a guy who began doing freelance online, for what might be considered peanuts in California, but it got him out of the rat race and over to Asia where he was happily living a dream life. I won't dare tell you what he started out with. Anyway, this had me convinced.
When the writer's strike hit, I had two choices. I could step into the unknown or stay where I was in California, where I knew exactly what was going to happen, and where I would be in the next five years. I chose to step into the unknown. I sold everything I had, got a laptop, and got on a plane. I made plenty of mistakes, to be sure, and I ran into some rough patches here and there, but in the three years since that decision, I have also been around The Philippines, Korea, and Japan, with no job, doing my own thing, making my own anime and teaching you how to make your own anime movies, and having total freedom. The point is I did it. The question is how was I able to do it?
Well, back to my discussion with the fine artist in Shanghai. Shanghai is by no means a cheap city to live in. It really is not that different from L.A. and some parts can be even more expensive. Basically, it is not the place to do this. Believe it or not, there are places in the Philippines where one could really live on as little as $300 per month, if one is willing to make sacrifices. I am not talking about the room being $300. I mean all life. It can be done, and there are actually places even cheaper. The adventurous soul may find locations in India or Thailand where a life can be created for less. The goal to keep in mind, though, is that the purpose of such a measure is to build your name, build your website or other means of bringing in income by your own power. You have all your time to yourself and your work, not someone else's.
After spending months in such a place, I had built my website to where it was making as much as $3000 USD per month. That would be enough to live in most places in the US. The problem is, though, I needed time to get there. This time I would not have had were I spending all my days working for someone else while in the US. Only through the freedom gained by this choice, and having every single hour of my days mine to use as I chose, to create my own anime movies, could I build my site up to that point.
So the fine artist asked me why I didn't stay there and continue to do that? Well, that is another story. Maybe I'll write a book.
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Normally I would post something like this on my travel and adventure site, but that went down the same time as this site, and I don’t know that I ever want to get back into it again. I am trying to consolidate my efforts into one place and my work into one focused path. When I am not working, however, I love to travel, and last weekend, I went to The Shaolin Temple.
The story in the previous post is actually part of my travels in the Shaolin, which translates as small forest. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen since I have been in China. That comes later, though. In the beginning, I was in the city in Henan, and we took a bus from there to the small forest, which is on a mountain. We continued on foot to the temple where after a quick introduction, we were presented with a martial arts demonstration.
After taking the tram ride to the mountain top, we were met with some of the most amazing sites one could imagine. We walked along a very narrow trail cut into the mountain side, from where we could shoot photos of the gorgeous scenery. This gave me so many ideas for the kinds of beautiful settings I would like to create in my future works. I may even do a training video on creating such scenery in the very near future.
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We talked nervously about what might lie ahead. No matter where we looked there was nothing more than a never ending grey. Finally we noticed the cars passing us on the other side, had no people in them!
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I immediately started building my pages. The basic skeleton of the site is all done already. Even though I still haven’t posted anything besides a quick “under construction” page, most things are all setup. The last major issue getting my online store going, which I remember to be a rather difficult task based on my previous experiences with iPhone Alchemy. Beyond that, there will simply be the task of populating the new site with media. That’s really what this new site is about. I am an artist, and I want to create my own anime!
In the last post, I said I would go into why I haven’t created anything worth noting in so long. There are a number of reasons for this which can be divided into a few categories. This first category which I wish to cover is:
Somewhere back in 2006, or maybe 2007, I discovered Poser. Up until this time I had pretty much used Lightwave 3D, modo and TVPaint for all my 3D, cel shaded, anime work. Poser, I thought, was not a useful tool for any professional graphics work, and had little value beyond possibly doing extras in the background or tiny people walking around in matte paintings. When Poser 6 was released, though, with the new characters therein, I changed my tune. I also discovered Vue Infinite around this time as well. Basically this was a radical change to my entire workflow.
Those who followed my old blog will remember how excited I was at the wonderful new tools available in Poser. I was playing with the Talk Designer, the Walk Designer, loads of content and posting every little new test I created with enthusiasm. The quality of my work, in my view, improved, but the speed at which I could create skyrocketed. Vue played a huge part in this too. It finally began to feel like I could realize a dream. I could create fast enough to make production of whole series possible.
The problem, though, was I got caught up with something. You could call it “Keeping Up With the Joneses.” This doesn’t mean there were actual people, certainly not named Jones, that I was trying to match or outpace. This means I was chasing after technology. Rather than taking what I had and getting deep into creation of a 3D cel shaded anime movie, I began to chase each new thing I could get my hands on with thoughts of improving even further. Poser 6 quickly gave rise to Poser 7. Vue 5 Infinite gave rise to Vue 6. Companies like Daz3D and Efrontier were constantly releasing new characters, new costumes, and great content, each thing being better than what came before it. This led to something of a backlash.
Newer characters may have looked better than those that came before, but they were also higher in polygon count, making them slower to work with or more difficult to control. Newer features often meant longer render times for 3D, cel shaded, anime characters, or more difficult setups. Couple this with the seeming need to produce everything in huge HD resolutions and suddenly the entire creative process became unnecessarily convoluted, and generally not fun. The result was nothing got finished, aside from a lot of flashy looking experiments with new technology.
I am sad to say, after all these years, that what I had discovered back in 2006, with those old characters and that old technology, and those first exciting test, was, in fact, the way to go. I remember not long ago, while being totally burned out on this overly detailed, super high resolution project I was doing, taking a step back and looking at the old ways. I did side by side tests. I then called a number of normal people, meaning people who don’t do CGI, don’t draw, and generally don’t care about the little things artists might fuss about, to look at this stuff. They saw no difference between the work I burnt out putting all that effort into, and the super fast creations using the old techniques I developed when I first got these new tools. At that time, I knew things had gone horribly wrong, and it was nobody’s fault but my own.
That incident, though, was back in 2009! I should have had the technical aspects solved at that time. Although I did get sidetracked with other things, the technical battle still wasn’t over. Poser 8 came along with even better features and more new characters and content, and I stated experimenting again. It took me many more months to get where I am now, realizing that I had it right early on, and feeling like I can finally just sit down and create my own anime film. I will look at some of the other categories into which I divide the reasons for my lack of productivity in future posts.
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I am currently living in the amazing city of Shanghai in The People’s Republic of China. It is a city of the future. Anyone who has followed me for the ten years since my independent, 3D, cel shaded anime, Understanding Chaos, will remember that very old blog when I chronicled my first trip to China in 2002. I have wanted to return to Shanghai since that time, and now I not only did so, but I live here. I have partnered with one of the guys I demoed with back then, who now has his own small studio, and we have a few projects in the works. So what does that have to do with my website going down?
I have been traveling for three years now. I have spent time in Japan, where the real anime is made, Korea, The Philippines, Hong kong and now China. Somewhere in all that, my bank accounts and cards eventually became all foreign. When it came time to renew my website payment, I found out that my web host didn’t allow payment from foreign cards or accounts, not even a foreign Paypal could work. Basically, there was nothing I could do, and after a short time, everything went down.The next question, I suppose, would be why didn’t I immediately get things back up? I don’t really have a concrete answer for that. I knew I didn’t want to host locally. I also knew there were probably web hosts that would accept Paypal. I guess, on some level, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do the site anymore.
I remembered days gone by when I just did my thing, make my own anime movies, and didn’t spend all my time on the internet, posting in forums, chasing down leads, managing ad campaigns, or worrying about internet marketing. I am still quite certain I never want to get back into that. I just want to create. I have stories to tell, and images to get out of my head and onto the screen. Still, I often come up with an urge to write and I had no place to do so. I still needed an outlet. I found outlets for some things. My modo videos have been selling on Source 3D, and that has helped me a lot out here. I was content, in fact, to just sell all my content on other sites, and enjoy my time off the internet. The problem, though, was that urge to write, and some of the topics had no fitting outlet other than my own site and blog.
Most of the time I spend on the internet these days is wasted, I feel. One of the reasons is because I am just consuming, often, useless material, but I am not creating, making my own anime, and I am not contributing. My time could be better spent doing other things. I am not sure how much time I will spend on the internet even with this new site. When I have the urge to write, and something to say, I will be here. Other than that, I hope I will spend my time creating content, original anime movies, and improving my skills as an animator and storyteller. That’s another huge issue I will go into at some later date, the question of why I haven’t really created anything in so long.
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