Nurturing Your Creative Houseplant

Whenever you read about a studio closing, your heart immediately goes out to the folks affected.  Your mind can’t help but to think about the droves of artists, shifting focus from doing their best work on a daily basis, to finding a way to put food on the table for their families.  With this at the forefront of an artist’s mind, its very easy to fall into a creative block.

In the past I have described “being creative” to my students as a house plant.  If you become forgetful or distracted, it will wither away and die.  Now ask yourself: “When do houseplants usually die?”  More than likely, it’s during a time of a major life-transition; a move, a death in the family, etc.  So how do you keep your creative houseplant from withering away during hard times?  There’s no right or wrong answer here, but I do have some suggestions.

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Usually, I’m approaching this topic from the other side of the spectrum – “How do you keep from burning out?”  The irony is that I’ve found the remedy for both issues to be IDENTICAL.  About five years ago, I wrote an entry called “Losing Touch” discussing how to approach the problem of creatively burning out in a studio environment.  It’s so incredibly similar that I’m going to paste the entire post here:

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LOSING TOUCH.

“Crunchtime”.  The sound of it would make one think that its a fun break during the day where you eat your favorite candybar.  If only that was true.  The reality of it is that we, the animators, are under such pressure to produce the absolute best work we can in as little time possible.

During severe crunch, the concept of “24 hour blocking” goes into full affect, where you have 24 hours to come up with the choreography of a shot and show your choices to the director for approval to continue with the idea.  Sometimes it goes good (“good idea”) and sometimes it goes really bad (“start over and just copy the storyboards”).  The end of every pitch (good or bad) leaves you questioning your worth as an animator and an artist.  After years of doing this type of thing and because of the time it takes to execute an idea to completion (making every frame look amazing @ 24 fps), it’s very easy to fall into formulas and become afraid to take risks for the sake of hitting your deadlines.  This rollercoaster can really do a job on your own personal creativity.

Where am I going with this?? I think it’s important to revisit that kid who was aspiring to become a professional artist as often as you can and ask them for help.  For me, it was 18 years ago when I was in my room doing little flipbooks from exercises I learned in this book:

while listening to these albums:

studying anatomy by drawing from these comics:

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and watching these movies:

When I feel like I’m down and out or losing touch with my creative self, I dig up this stuff and watch/listen/look through it and I feel refreshed afterward.  Another creative gold mine I return to often is thumbing through my old sketchbooks.  It helps to give me perspective of how far I’ve come as an artist and there may be a little doodle or two that gives me an idea.  So never toss anything that may be of creative value someday!!  You never know where your next masterpiece will come from!!

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It’s amazing how relevant this 2009 post is to the current situation my artist friends and I have found ourselves in.  So remember, to properly nurture your creative houseplant during difficult times, it’s not as important to create as it is to remind yourself why you wanted to create in the first place.  Best of luck to you, my artist friends.  If I can be of any assistance to you, contact me.

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I was asked by my brother Jeff to visit his college. They were hosting a workshop for some middle-school kids to introduce them to basic game development software. Jeff wanted me to talk about working in the business. During Jeff’s portion of the presentation, I noticed his professor watching intently. He is a Ukrainian fellow named Igor. I had to sketch him.

I will never forget this sketch. I did it for the twitter group Sketch_Dailies last week. I was working on it when I got the call that Irrational closed. Finally got to wrapping it up this morning. The theme is “Robot Monster”.

Very Early Game Dev

So I wrote a “point and click” adventure game.  My brother Jeff and my buddy Paul, helped me develop it with the intent of the 3 of us creating it someday.  I might actually be able to produce it now, but the scope is pretty big (would need a little help – ping me if you’re interested).  Here are a couple layout sketches, some early character designs and an image that represents the look I’m going for in-game.

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The Twins’ Birthday Cake

I decided to create the image for my kid’s cake this year.  I asked them what they wanted on it.  My son wanted the green Ninjago Lego character and Kirby.  My daughter wanted Totoro and Kirby as well.  Here’s what I came up with.

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My Work Flow.

I can remember watching Aladdin in the theaters and realizing that I wanted to animate…in 2D.  When I started my degree in computer animation at Ringling, I took a course in 2D animation and was happy as a clam.  Unfortunately around the same time there was a movement in the industry by a few notorious executives that “2D was dead”.  Ugh…It still makes me sick to my stomach.  So I put aside my aspirations of being a 2D animator and focused on actually learning how to use a computer.  I never stopped drawing.  Even when figure drawing was no longer a requirement in the later years at Ringling, I would spend time at a figure drawing club called FEWS and I would spend a great deal of time drawing everything with my buddy Ben Sprout.

Once I got into the industry, I was amazed to find that most of the animators didn’t draw.  I even heard some people claim that they didn’t need to know how to draw.  I still feel like the better animators out there can thumbnail ideas and successfully pitch their ideas with drawings alone.  I am a mentor at animationmentor.com and I am relentless in telling my students how important drawing is to animation.  In my opinion, there is NO BETTER WAY to learn the basics of body mechanics and posing than figure drawing.

Shortly after the completion of Ice Age 2, I started playing around with a program called Plastic Animation Paper.  I can remember using it to turn around ideas very quickly to the director at the time and it proved to be extremely efficient.  I can remember asking Blue Sky studio to consider buying the software and they went a step further.  With the guidance of Scott Carroll and I, a R&D genius named Hugo Ayala created an in-house software that is much more intuitive than anything available on the market to this day.

Blue Sky has embraced this work flow and is still used to this day.  Here is a shot that I animated on “Rio” showing it’s progress from it’s 2D choreography through it’s completion.

I am extremely happy to report that my new job at 38 Studios has fully embraced and supported this work flow of mine.  I now use a program called FlipBook to pitch ideas, but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as Hugo’s program.  If Blue Sky ever decided to market his software to the public, I’d be first in line.

The road to story…

About a year ago, I submitted a storyboard test in hopes of transferring departments.  A year later, I reworked some of the beats between the characters and timed it with sound.  Here is version 2 of what I’m calling “Un-Likelyhood”.

Sketches & Stuff

In between my neurotic refreshing of rottentomatoes.com, I put up a new page of all my traditional artwork.  Now keep in mind, I don’t consider myself a good draftsman, but I always like to try new things.  This page will probably be the one that changes the most.  So if you’re interested, be sure to check back periodically as I will be updating it with new digital paintings, sketchbook entries and pencil tests.  This is my newest piece of work I did for my buddy Ben.  Its still a work in progress.

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