Special Announcement: Animation Services


Luke carries Yoda in George Lucas’ Star Wars. Private training is the best way to get to the next level.

After various inquiries and interest shown by readers and industry professionals, I’ve decided to offer PRIVATE TUTORING as part of my services to the animation community.

If you’re an aspiring animator or a professional seeking to upgrade your skills and push your career to the next level, I may be able to help.

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Shot Analysis: Sword In The Stone

The Sword in the Stone (1963) Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman

One of Disney’s all-time classics in terms of pure character animation at its finest, Walt Disney’s Sword In The Stone (1963) is a film I would come back to again and again for inspiration and learning in my entire career as an animator.

Today we’ll look at a favorite shot of mine from the marvelous Frank Thomas*. At first glance, this appears to be a simple scene but it’s actually one loaded with ingenuity, strong staging and elegantly-timed action.

The Shot:

Since film passes by so quickly in real time, it’s easy to miss out on the wonderful thought process and all the juicy details that go into a shot such as this.  Notice, for instance, that (if we listen carefully to the dialogue track) there is no basis for the creative and convoluted business that is Merlin’s battle with his wand and beard. Since the sound effects — like in all animated films — are added afterwards, that contrasting element is created entirely by the artist alone to add fun and personality to the scene that might not have been present in the storyboards or script. From Disney’s Sword In The Stone.

The Breakdown:

In this analysis, I’ll be focusing mostly on the fundamental importance of the key posing, placement of action and directional elements that I believe Frank Thomas had intended. Please enjoy!


In this starting position, Thomas composes Merlin in the midst of thought and action. He’s looking at the younger Arthur (off screen) and is about to turn his attention to the objects lying about the room. The shape (as recomposed in lite blue on the left) is stable yet interesting. The wand, hands and head clearly display his direction of focus.


Here the artist draws your attention with his rhythmical tapping of his wand against the stool and, like a conductor, he begins his work with his orchestra. A nice touch is displayed here when Merlin moves the beard towards his waistline, clearing space for the action to read.


As Merlin shifts upwards, you can see the arms and body curve inward, creating a nice inside-outside maneuver of his hands before ending up in the commanding position which follows. A lessor animator would’ve taken a less interesting path.


Here Merlin stands in command like the wizard he is, holding this position of strength with order and dignity in a perfectly timed pause before the main action. The line of action (in red) is clear and strongly arced as his energy is projected upwards and outwards.


Merlin “pops” into the next action jumping right into the air — a surprising yet colorful move for an old wizard. The dramatic anticipatory movement gives the action and the character a sense of fun and vitality. Note the strong underlying anatomy as the head overlaps the chest cavity giving the pose depth and volume.


Here the pose is curled up small, as Thomas directs your attention towards the open bag. The head and face along with the curvature of the hands and arms, triangulate the action.


As Merlin performs his spell, he unknowingly curls his beard into his wand in a beautiful display of the artist’s control of movement and drawing capability.


The swirling spell action ends in an abrupt and sharp halt, pulling Merlin’s chin and head forward while sending reverberations throughout his entire body and clothing. The sharpness of the action and clear directional forces give the movement power and thrust.


A series of actions and poses play out, as the character zigzags in chaotic fashion and frustration to free himself of the entanglement.


In a final anticipatory pose, Thomas creates a complex yet decidedly clear arrangement, displaying multiple forces at play, each taking turns in different directions of push and pull. He even uses his feet!


The battle with his beard and wand end in a explosive release — one that splays out in a beautiful star-like formation.


After that great expenditure of energy, Merlin is decidedly fatigued — the ordeal proving too much for a wizard his age — as he deflates slowly sagging down towards the stool, the weight of everything bearing downwards along with the force of gravity. All of this is completely consistent with the acting choices that define the character.


After the brief reprieve, the wizard re-composes himself, as he calmly erects his posture back upwards, displaying the fortitude fitting of a commander in charge of his subjects.


A final rotational move back towards screen left — where the action started — completes the scene perfectly. All in all, a great performance created by well-planned acting, strong staging and perfectly executed timing.

In summary, shots like this are great to study and learn from. It should, at the very least, keep us inspired. The appreciation of the works of other artists, especially great ones like Frank Thomas is critical to the understanding of the craft and retaining the humility necessary to stay grounded. We must be always looking, seeing and learning.

“Observe Everything. Communicate Well. Draw, Draw, Draw.” — Frank Thomas

Check out my analyses of other shots, including work by Frank Thomas colleague, Milt Kahl, from 101 Dalmations, and modern animations by my own colleagues, Mike Thurmeier from Robots, and Aaron Hartline from Horton Hears A Who.

(* Note: This shot was incorrectly credited to Milt Kahl in the original posting.)

Artist Spotlight: The Films of Woody Allen


A caricature that marvelously captures Woody Allen’s signature look by the one and only, Al Hirschfeld.

“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.” — Woody Allen

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and unique voices in American cinema. To quote a friend; “When Woody Allen is at his best, he’s one of the best.” I wholeheartedly agree.

In his long cinematic career as writer, actor and director, Woody Allen has created over 53 films in his sixty plus years. He’s as famous as much for his brilliant writing and studious humor as he is for the character he often plays — a slightly neurotic yet likeable Jewish left-wing intellectual living in New York City. In reality, this persona is ironically nothing like him at all — Allen’s known to inner circles to be calmly articulate, organized, athletic and a wicked Jazz musician and enthusiast. He also doesn’t get enough credit for his acting abilities because he plays his character so well. No one ever accused Charlie Chaplin of being a type cast actor for creating the Tramp.

“I’ve never been an intellectual but I have this look.” — Woody Allen

Woody Allen, seen here playing his clarinet with his New Orleans Jazz Band inside the legendary Café Carlyle at the ripe old age of 75.

Woody Allen created a personal and distinct style of writing, acting and directing that’s unique in an industry that’s sorely lacking in diversity and innovation. And despite making films on very low budgets that appeal primarily to more sophisticated yet limited audiences, he still manages to be continually busy and make so many of the kind of films that no one else gets to make. Famous actors have lined up to be cast in his movies and every one of them takes significant pay cuts to do so. (His actors are paid an identical fixed fee.) This isn’t all so surprising considering his films have garnered over 18 Oscar Nominations for acting alone. As for Allen himself, he’s received 24 nominations and has won 4 — one for Best Picture and three for Best Original Screenplay). That said, he’s true to his principles of avoiding spectacles and excessive accolades. He has never once attended the Academy Award Ceremonies.


Woody Allen — A Documentary (2012) is a marvelous film about the prolific American filmmaker. Directed by Robert B. Weide.

“I think being funny is not anyone’s first choice.” — Woody Allen

Today we’ll look at four of what I feel are his best films — Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Manhattan— my personal favorites. Each one delivers a combination of innovative cinematography, brilliant writing, memorable characters and, of course, his signature humor at its very best. Whether you’re a story artist, camera enthusiast, editor or animator, you will learn much from his films. The writing, cinematography, cutting and acting are all first rate.

If you haven’t seen these films, or have not seen them in some time, I highly recommend grabbing a free night for a viewing. Woody Allen is one of the most creative voices America has ever produced.

Annie Hall (1977)


In Annie Hall, Woody Allen created a film first with his now trademark humor, deeply introspective characters and playful plot developments that surround themselves around one central theme — the romantic human relationship. The story begins with the childhood upbringing of standup comedian Alvie Singer, played by Woody Allen himself, but dives very quickly into his relationship with Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton (who would go on to win an Academy Award for her performance as Best Actress).

A creative and comical scene set in upstate New York where Alvie Singer (Woody Allen) is introduced to the upper-middle class family of his girlfriend Annie Hall ( Diane Keaton). The innovative split screen interaction with Alvie’s lower Brooklyn family magnifies the wonderful contrast in their status and cultural upbringing.

From the excitement of new found romance to the final break up, all the wonderment and inevitable challenges that relationships go thru are explored here in depth. Allen does this while toying with recurring themes such as creative integrity, psychoanalysis, anti-semetic paranoia and even the merits of adult education. It’s a delicious tale that holds its viewer from beginning to end with originality and humor. The film signaled the arrival of Woody Allen as a premier film-maker, winning him his first Oscars  for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Buoyed by memorable scenes and a sensational Diane Keaton (who delivers a performance that captures the spirit and beautiful nuance of femininity as perfect as any portrayal I’ve ever seen), it’s a film that’s worth multiple viewings. It’s arguably the funniest film he ever made.

Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)


Hannah and Her Sisters is a story about three sisters whose lives are intricately linked by their famous yet overtly dramatic former movie-star parents and their relationships with men. Hannah, played by Mia Farrow, is the perfect sister — too perfect for anyone’s liking, including her own husband, played marvelously by Sir Michael Caine who also happens to be lustfully obsessed with Hannah’s youngest sister Lee, played by Barbara Hershey. Lee is young, bright and beautiful but completely unsure of herself and the direction of her life. The middle child Holly, played by Diane Wiest, is the offbeat and neurotically-insecure sibling —considered by the family (and herself) as the undesirable and talent-less “loser” of the three sisters.

A surprising yet delicately textured scene that exposes Elliot’s (Michael Caine) longing for Lee (Barbara Hershey) and how far he’s willing to go to pursue her. The setting is the most unlikely of places for Elliot to make an advance towards his target— inside the apartment of Lee’s live-in boyfriend Frederick (Max von Sydow). The scene ends in wonderful two-folded conflict, first between Lee and Elliot, and then almost at the same time, between Frederick and Rusty (Daniel Stern) who are engaged in the negotiation of a possible art purchase arranged by Elliot himself, concluding how ridiculously far and stupid men can get when overcome with lustful obsession.

The intertwined actions and reactions of the three sisters and their counterparts make for fun social experiment. Sometimes poignant, other times laugh-out-loud funny, the movie bounces elegantly yet playfully between moments of beautiful human desire and fear. Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the richest yet most positive stories told by this master story-teller.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)


Crimes and Misdemeanors is Woody Allen’s most daring and challenging film. It’s one that not only ponders meaning of existence but how our interpretation of life’s events plays into our own beliefs. Allen beautiful juxtaposes these questions in the telling of two stories, one a drama (the crime of murder) and the other a comedy (the misdemeanor of questionable flirtation).

In the story of Judah Rosenthal, Martin Landau plays an upper class ophthalmologist (the theme of seeing and being seen is a powerful metaphor here) who is challenged with dealing with the obsessive clinging by his mistress played with empathy and consuming intensity by Angelica Houston. In his decision to rid himself of his problems — she threatens not only his marriage but the revealing of Judah’s financial indiscretions — he’s forced to confront his ethics and religious upbringing. It is a test of whether he can weather the storm of his own fears and paranoia knowing that the eyes of God are watching.

In a chilling scene, bathed in shadow and ominous lighting, Judah (Martin Landau) contemplates doing the darkest deed — murder — as he lays out his dilemma before his friend and client Ben (Sam Waterson), a Rabbi sworn to trust and confidentiality.

In the second story, Woody Allen plays Clifford Stern, a financially deficit, but seemingly noble documentary filmmaker who seeks hope and redemption through the possible romance with his producer, Halley Reed, played by Mia Farrow, who also happens to be the targeted love interest of his brother-in-law and super-successful TV mogul Lester (brilliantly played by Alan Alda) whom Clifford vehemently despises. Clifford, who proudly voices his economically self-sacrificing way of life, is conflicted in his choice to pursue Halley given that he is married.

A short but funny moment between Clifford (Woody Allen) and his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda) regarding finance and the integrity of film-making.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is brilliant not only in its execution of such complexity in story-telling but also in the way that it tempers the emotional heaviness of the viewer — deftly balancing the scenes of dark and serious drama with moments of witty and delectable humor. There’s a plethora of rich acting performances and purposefully subdued cinematography (by Sven Nykvist who is famous for his gorgeous work with the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman). The film may be nihilistic —it pulls no punches with it’s themes — but it’s also daring and gripping story-telling that’s illuminated with creative discourse and compassion. This is Woody Allen’s boldest film.

Manhattan (1979)


Manhattan is Woody Allens’ most visually sumptuous film. Shot in glorious black in white by the incomparable Gordan Willis (who also photographed Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather) it’s a film that resonates with anyone who’s ever lived in New York City. A story about unrequited love, social approval and loss, it’s also an essay on maturity, suggesting that it might have little to do with age. This is evidenced by the subtle yet poignant portrayal of the romance between Isaac (Allen) and the teen-aged Tracy (played with beautiful innocence and sincerity by Mariel Hemingway). But convinced by both himself and his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) that a relationship with a girl half his age is not worthy of further development, he focuses his attention on the alluring Marie (Diane Keaton) who shields her own loneliness and insecurity with her high level of intellect and esprit. The problem is that Marie is also Yale’s former mistress and this makes for interesting emotional baggage.

Isaac (Woody Allen) and Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) bump into Yale (Michale Murphy) and Marie (Diane Keaton) at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and go on to engage in an academic and comical debate about art.

Manhattan is a film that juggles the delicate moments of human life in the midst of big city aspirations in the world’s most interesting city at the time, New York City in the 1970’s. The look, feel and sound (Gershwin!) of Allen’s Manhattan captures a time and place that is forever unique to America and to American cinema. It is (to me anyways) the most beautiful film in the Woody Allen library.

In Summary, the films briefed here are the meatiest in terms of originality and theme. But Allen’s made many excellent movies — A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Husbands and Wives, Zelig, Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, Bullets over Broadway and more recently Before Midnight to name but a few more — and they are all worth exploring. In fact, even when he’s not in top form, his films are better than most of his peers. That’s the trademark of greatness.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” — Woody Allen

Paying Attention


Mark Osborne’s wonderfully directed film The Little Prince, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, captures the real spirit and beauty of the wonders of childhood and the joys of living 100% in the moment.

“You´re not perceiving what’s out there. You’re perceiving whatever your brain tells you.” ― David Eagleman

Dr. David Eagleman, the notable Neuroscientist and author of the book Incognito: The Secrets Lives of the Brain, showed that time is always relative to our experience. Einstein hinted as much in his own scientific experiments. We also know, at least subconsciously,  that time expands and contracts based on our levels and quality of perception. For instance, whenever we face life threatening situations or novel encounters, time seems to take longer and the memory of it lingers for a more notable overall experience. Car accidents and scary spiders come to mind. So do first dates and big pay raises. More importantly for us artists is that our perception and ability to express our experience of what we see is crucial to our work.


Infinity by M.C. Escher. Escher’s work is both intriguing, creative and mind-boggling. What is real, what is logical and what is not? Perception is relative and thus experience.

Time, and our level of attention in a sense, are intricately related. Things are hardly objective. We’re more often wrong than right in our estimations of the longevity of events or the size and color of things. Contrast is what helps us identify things and helps us make sense of it. Relativity matters. The quality of our interpretation matters. And when it comes to living, we know that time poorly spent is time that’s forgettable. What doesn’t really grab our attention vanishes into the ether.

“When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.” ― A.W. Tozer

Paying attention to things changes everything. Our ability to focus and our sincerity of attention to something changes our relationship with it. Look at our efforts long enough and you can either begin to see what’s not working  or we begin to see in it what we want to see. There’s no laws or rules of logic here. It’s up to us how we respond to the things around us and how we make our art.

Yoda gives Luke SkyWalker a lesson in focus and faith in George Lucas’ landmark 1977 film, Star Wars.

Slowing down to see things clearly and really giving something the due time and thought opens up our ability to perceive but also to receive. Perception is heavily dependent on our reception to the data in front of us and vice versa. It’s why a teacher or a master can see things the student or novice can’t — experienced eyes see farther and deeper. Great artists respond to their art as much as they envision or create it.


The longingly romantic film In The Mood For Love, starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, is a beautiful and moving viewing experience. Auteur Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar-Wei is notorious for not following a strict outline when filming his scenes yet his movies seem to glide effortlessly and elegantly all the while delivering powerful statements about the human condition.

That said, really paying attention is tough and it’s why attention is something that needs to be practiced — an ability that needs to be developed. It’s why ancient civilizations, from the Native American Indians to the Taoist Chinese, adapted to ways of living that paid great respect to their surroundings — by listening and abiding by the laws of nature. They developed techniques — like meditation, prayer or spiritual dance — so they could attune to its forces and be aligned with the universe, to gain clairvoyance and live conscientiously. It’s not surprising that even today, those who devote regular episodes to such practices achieve greater levels of happiness and fulfillment at greater rates of frequency.


A visually memorable and profound scene from Kim Ki-Duk’s serene and critically acclaimed 2003 film, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring.

As artists, we need our attention to be razor sharp. The conscious practice of mindful attentiveness helps. In many ways we’re not too different from athletes or musicians or stage actors; we need to perform when it counts and that performance hinges heavily, not only on preparedness and planning, but an acute ability to see and react with clarity and precision. Without such focus, it’s not possible to have any sort of boldness of action in living and being true to ourselves. Too many artists (in both the commercial and fine art camps) scramble mindlessly, hoping only that the mess in front of them becomes something usable. Haphazard approaches often lead to haphazard results.


Excavation by Willem De Kooning. People get the wrong idea that abstract artists just messed around hoping for something to come to form. There is much deliberation and internalization prior to what seems to look like mere “action” painting. De Kooning, like Franz Kline, Vasily Kandinsky and many others were thinkers who felt very strongly about their ideas and their technique.

Many artists, both young and old, rush through their choices, actions and responses. The young do it out of immaturity, impatience or lack of knowledge, while the old do it out of habit, laziness and loss of inspirational spirit. When this happens, we can’t make the best choices, and hardly ever does it make for something unique or original. Remember that it’s new experiences that jostle our minds and bodies.

In Dr. Eagleman’s discovery of the cognitive phenomenon called repetition suppression, it seems that “once the brain has been exposed repeatedly to the same stimuli, it doesn’t have to expend as much time and energy recognizing it.”  In other words, with new experience the brain makes quite the effort to absorb, interpret and store the information but once it’s recognized, any subsequent repetition of the same stimuli loses its shock power and we begin to formulate shortcuts to save both time and energy. This principle is what makes habits both effective and dangerous. The efficiency created by this biological ingenuity is also what sacrifices the novelty of experience. This is harmful to the artist who is trying to do something new.


Guernica by Pablo Picasso was his statement about how he felt about the war in his native Spain and is one the most powerful pieces of political art ever created. Much of what makes Picasso so fascinating has a lot to do with his constant reach for new ways of seeing and new ways of interpreting the world around us. Few artists stretched themselves in so many different aspects of visual art.

How do we keep things fresh then? Especially when so much of life seems so regimented and repetitious? How do we fight off our tendencies to just react as usual, short-cutting our experiences?

Dr. Eagleman’s own suggestion to this dilemma is both simple and incredibly profound: engage in life-long learning.  Being a dedicated artist demands everything we’ve got as human beings. You’ve got to engage in it, love it and nurture it. We create our art and it in turn creates us. And this thing —  this way of living, this challenging road towards mastery — will take up an entire lifetime. Learning is hard, but it’s truly the most interesting and fulfilling way to live each and every day. We must allow more moments that force us to think, see and behave differently — and always with a greater mind and more open heart.

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” — Molière

Our biology and our ability to survive owes a lot to habits and building efficiency but it also depends on our ability to innovate and see things anew. We grow by breaking new ground. Creativity is one of the biggest things that separate man from beast. And when the opportunity arises, we must give it our all; we must make it personal. To derive what we can from our direct experience is to accept the challenge that’s directly presented to us.


Sunbather. British artist David Hockney’s art is intensely personal. He moved to sunny California and painted his experiences there. His paintings consists of people and places he knew intimately and to this day they remain as fresh and innovative as they did when he made them.

Learning encourages physical and direct interaction, both with nature and our fellow human beings. It’s why feedback is important and how we respond to criticism. We also learn when we alter our schedules or our environments. I personally re-arrange my home and studio set up every six to eight months, and each time I do so, it seems that not only do I feel re-invigorated creatively but I’ve actually gained more physical space and openness! (Another skill developed!)

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

But as amazing as a change in scenery can do for our minds, the most important thing is how we choose to interpret our circumstances. Learning to live a creative life is in many ways about interpretation — finding ways of seeing it all fresh, with a new mind as much as a new set of eyes. Learning is growth. This is what raises our odds of getting the most out of life. If we do that, anything anywhere at anytime can be exciting and inspiring. Being an artist is both fun and a privilege. So be grateful about choosing a life dedicated to learning, creation and contribution. We just have to remember to pay attention.


Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining. Kubrick was always tackling something new. Visually and thematically he dared and devoted himself to explore as many genres of cinema and human history as he could. His films couldn’t be more diverse, ranging from dark comedy (Dr. Strangelove) and drama (Eyes Wide Shut) to ancient history (Spartacus) and far into the future (2001: A Space Odyssey).

If This, Then That


To mankind, gears and machinery represent both progress and automation. Their function is decisively simple — it goes one way or the other.

We all deal with problems, large and small, from time to time. More often than not, there just seems to be too many of them. It’s all very overwhelming and yet we know that it’s all connected — failure in one area of work or life is bound to affect another. We know that multi-tasking doesn’t work. A simpler way to approach this dilemma is to have a bit of a strategy in how to approach all these challenges, especially those that force us to act with immediacy.

“IF THIS, THEN THAT” is a tactic to eliminate the hassle from the entire decision-making process. It helps with both the mundane repetitive chores that hound us and sometimes the tougher, more meaningful challenges as well. It ensures that we get things done and that we keep moving forward.  We don’t want to use up all our time and energy for every single task we face. That’s not a wise usage of those rather limited resources.

There is one profound rule to apply however, and that is, we must stop and look before proceeding. We must always gauge the situation first because gaining perspective is paramount to any kind of progress.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy” ― Isaac Newton


The 13-part scientific documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a follow-up to Carl Sagan’s marvelous 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was the milestone documentary that gave us a newfound perspective of our universe and our significance in it.

Here are some basic examples of applying “IF THIS, THEN THAT” to make our lives easier.


a) IF your work is looking messy, too confusing or hard to read, THEN it’s time to simplify. Take an overall view of the whole shebang. Ask yourself, what it is you’re trying to do? Have you strayed off the main path? If so, what can you remove or reduce to get back to your original vision? How can you simplify your artistic choices so that the essence of it reads while still attaining the levels of depth that you want? Are you listening to the track or the internal direction your body is leaning towards? Did you get external feedback throughout the various phases of work?

This wonderful scene by Supervising Animator Michal Makarewicz disregards complex movement for simplicity. The effort perfectly captures the state of the character’s dilemma. From Pixar’s Inside Out.

b) IF the work is looking bland or flat, THEN perhaps it’s time give it something extra. Here’s an opportunity to step up and do something special and original — the time to dig in for a bit more research and get more feedback. Can a new element be introduced? Or is there a way of adding some texture to your work to make it really sing? How about a change in rhythm or boosting the level of caricature either in shape, timing or attitude? What more can you give of yourself so that you can rest assure knowing that you’ve fulfilled your call of duty? As long as you’re careful not to deviate too much and let the icing ruin the cake so to speak, giving more of yourself is the only way to achieve something spectacular.

Done with careful thought and planning, this Frank Thomas scene is a perfect presentation of contrast, texture and simplicity. From Walt Disney’s Sword In The Stone.


a) IF the task looks too overwhelming, THEN you must look to reduce either the quantity or quality of what you’re doing. Too many people try to do too much with too little resources. If your deadline is in two weeks, but the work you want to do requires four — and you can’t get that extension — you must redesign you work so that it can be accomplished. Professionals always finish their work. It might be time to take out that extra move or idea you had or reduce the complexity of certain parts that are probably extraneous anyways. Sometimes doing less is more. Doing one thing at a time assures progress. Using the simpler, less original option might actually be the better option. Simplification is a very powerful and underrated concept.

In this marvelous scene by Glen Keane, an incredibly rich and meaningful moment of the story takes place — the deep inner connection of what it means to be human. A lessor animator would’ve tried to do too much. From Walt Disney’s Tarzan, released in 1999.

b) IF the work you’ve done seemed easy or lacking in challenge, THEN you must go back and look for what’s missing. Chances are you saw something you liked and lowered the critical bar in your analysis. You’ve either attained an excessive feeling of accomplishment or you’ve fallen back on you laurels and got formulaic. We’ve all done it from time to time. Rarely is great work accomplished without some sort of serious challenge being met. If you have time and energy here make better use of it otherwise you’ll regret it. If something looks too easy, it’s a glaring sign that you’ve missed something.

“I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt


a) IF you can’t see straight, THEN you must step away. If you’re tired, dazed or confused, you can be assured your work reflects the same. You can’t do serious work without serious focus. Too many of us today are easily distracted. We’ve losing our ability to focus and mindfully attend to the tasks in front of us, and by default, we’ve become more fatigued, lowering both our stamina and potential at the same time. It’s good to take a time out. Taking a break away from work isn’t laziness, it’s wisdom. How often have you put in tons of overtime in the evening only to realize the next morning that you did absolutely nothing of positive consequence in those extra hours? People max out in terms of performance. Sacrificing endless hours to battle your inability to see or act effectively is never the solution regardless if you’re being paid overtime or not. Doing more bad work ensures only a bigger mess to deal with the next day. Only by gaining perspective can you see the sum of all moving parts.

“We have as many planes of speech as does a painting planes of perspective which create perspective in a phrase. The most important word stands out most vividly defined in the very foreground of the sound plane. Less important words create a series of deeper planes.” — Constantin Stanislavski (Author of An Actor Prepares)

b) IF you’re feeling sharp and energetic, THEN your job is to dive right in. Take advantage of that wonderful feeling or deep inspiration and activate yourself! A visit from the creative muses must not be wasted.  It’s time to grab the brush, move the pen or start animating. If you’re in bed, and great ideas pop into your head, write it down somewhere. Be ready to receive, be ready to perform. A failure to act here — usually caused by inertia or even the sudden onslaught of fear (our left brains like to do this) — will result in not only the loss of the idea or inspiration, but will ingrain in you the habit of laziness or worse, paralysis by analysis.


Henri Matisse, in his old age, was very much incapacitated by his physical troubles but that didn’t stop him from creating at any time.

In summary, we can’t and shouldn’t always make our decisions in this sort of automatic or binary way — many things require the dedicated time and contemplation to make the right choices. That said, “IF THIS THEN THAT” is a useful tactic in our arsenal to achieving success and happiness. We’ve all been trained to brush our teeth when we wake up — there’s little debate or thinking about the consequences —  we simply do it because the benefits of doing so far out weigh the costs of not doing so. Automating certain processes saves us the strain on the mental and physical resources that our craft demands. Sometimes, the simplest way is the best way.

“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ― Albert Einstein

Special Guest Interview: Mark Behm


“Theft” by Animation/Illustration Artist Mark Behm. Personal work done using himself as reference — a common practice among artists in every era.

Today we are privileged to have the multi-talented Mark Behm join us at the Animated Spirit. I’ve known Mark for over 15 years, and he’s one of the most diverse, talented and humble artists in the industry. He can draw, paint, animate, design, model, rigg and program. Seriously, I don’t know what Mark can’t do. He’s animated at the highest levels for feature films at Blue Sky Studios and Dreamworks Animation, and created gorgeous designs as a visual development artist at Valve and Epic Games (where he now serves as a Senior Concept Artist). His work has been showcased in art galleries, “Art Of” books as well as in highly acclaimed collections like Spectrum, which showcases the absolute best in science-fiction illustration. He’s a prolific artist whose spirit and creativity is highly valued in the art community. You’re in for a visual treat!

Watch Mark demo his work live, on his Twitch Stream!

1. Welcome Mark! Thanks for joining us!

Thanks for the opportunity, James!


“Riddle of Steel.” Personal art by Mark Behm.

2. Can you share a little about yourself, as to where you’re originally from and what your early interests were before becoming an animation artist?

I’m from New Jersey — in the pine barrens east of Philadelphia. My early interests were about the same as what I do during the day.


Mark Behm artwork for Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

3. What inspired you to be part of the animation industry, and what were those first steps like breaking in?

Toy Story! I was working doing multimedia stuff and freelance illustration. A few artists and I went to see it and I was blown away. It set in motion a plan to make a change. I’d spent my childhood around animation art and defaced all the corners of my notebooks and schoolbooks as little flip-books. I got the Illusion of Life for Christmas when I was 9. I wanted to be in special effects when I grew up. I invested a ton of money in an old SGI workstation and a copy of Maya 1.0 and set to making a reel.


More Pathfinder Art done for Paizo Publishing by Mark Behm.

Through a friend, I met Chris Gilligan, a stop-motion animator who was starting a NYC animation shop and wanted to mentor some guys in a more traditional way. He asked if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance. I took off work (multimedia artist at the time) twice a week to take a 3 hour bus and subway ride to the studio” to work on mentoring and projects. It didn’t last very long but it solidified my childhood foundation, wet my appetite and focused me on what was important. From there I worked on a series of short physical and dialog clips for my reel. That is what got me working. First in NYC commercial work, then direct-to-video work in Chicago, then my first feature job back in New York at Blue Sky where we met.


Concept Art for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

4. You’re one of the rare artists that excel in multiple aspects of this art form; character animation, rigging, modeling, and visual development (concept art). How did that happen?

When I started animating, rigging and modeling was a requirement. If you wanted to animate a character there was only one way: go make one. I don’t enjoy rigging or the technical aspects of modeling but I do enjoy modeling and sculpting in 3D. I like to make stuff and that’s just another creative outlet. I use that skill all the time in vis-dev work.


Concept work for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

5. You primarily do concept work now, what made you ultimately decide on this path? and do you miss the other aspects of animation pipeline?

Like I said, I like to make stuff. I’ve been inventing things and drawing heroes and monsters since I was a kid. I went to school for illustration. The whole time I worked in animation I was doing concept art and illustration in a freelance capacity. It’s more like I detoured to work as an animator. An Intentional detour to be sure, but what I do now is more where I belong. When I was animating full time in features, I spend too much of my free time drawing, painting, designing monsters. It was a sign. When you are painting on your tablet PC as you wait for a playblast… you need to start asking why.


Concept work for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

I don’t miss animation from a large scale production standpoint. I’d rather reserve it for personal work. I also enjoy the creative and advantageous scheduling aspects of the early part of the pipeline. Everyone is less rushed and stressed. They tend to be more free and creative. A little pressure and touch of fear can be a good motivator but the sharp teeth of a deadline and the ‘suits’ tapping their watches rarely makes for good work.


Concept Art for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

Someday I’d like to work on an independent short with a friend. We’ve been talking about it for a decade but we both still have bills to pay. He somehow finds time to do his but I’m too ADD to focus on one big project at the moment.



Hammershot Concept Art done for Epic Games’ Fortnite by Mark Behm.

6. Tell us a bit about your work day. How do you get started each day? What’s your routine?

At Epic Games we have Dailies with our art director just like we do in film. I get in early, work on whatever is on my plate and maybe go to Dailies if I have something to show or want to keep up on what’s going on. After that I spend the rest of the day drawing and painting — and sometime modeling if I have some hard-surface thing to work out and 3d might be faster. Go out to lunch w the guys. 2pm is workout time. After that the AD comes around to desks if you have something else to show. Work on changes and new stuff till I go home. I have anywhere from a single task to a half dozen to work on at any given time. It might be a character, creature, costume, environment, or hard-surface design. That kind of variety is something I love about this part of production. I have been lucky enough to work on both Paragon and Fortnite, so I get to play with two stylistically divergent worlds.


Epic Games’ Paragon Khaimera character designed by Mark Behm.

7. You’ve produced a book and continue to creative work outside of production. What inspires you to keep creating?

When I produced the images for the book I was in a particularly un-creative point in my career. At the time I felt my directors were getting more and more conservative in their decision-making processes.The focus seemed to shift from idea and performance to polish and finish. Watching great work from all my peers get neutralized in Dailies was hard. As a creative person — that energy had to go somewhere. So I spent all my down-time on 2D art. I didn’t even realize it was happening for a long time. I noticed this trend in my behavior at some point and have since found it’s been a reliable indicator that something is off with my day job.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast’s Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast’s Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.

8. Being an artist is challenging. As a family man, how do you balance yourself in the face of all the external, as well as personal demands?

Yes – something has to give! I made sure it wasn’t my family or my relationship with my wife, or my art. So it was sleep. I tend to need less sleep than most people and I often take even less than I need. Even when I’m not working I don’t like to put the day away! It’s not good or healthy, but it’s what I do. I think I inherit it from my uncle. I’d go to bed — him reading in the living room at 2am. I get up at 7 — he’s up reading in the same chair. Wait — did he change clothes? Can’t remember. Does he sleep? I never found out.


A beautiful environment piece done for “Sketch A Day” by Mark Behm.

9. A hypothetical; if you were to choose anyone in history that you could apprentice under, who would it be?

Oh there’s a new one every couple months and many are still alive and younger than I am! I’m a big fan of the apprentice/mentor relationship model when done right. As it implies the critical element of skill-development rather than just knowledge acquisition and accumulation.


Creature” by Mark Behm. Another personal piece displaying Mark’s lovely sense of color and light.

Can I have a few?! I’d love to sit in and watch Norman Rockwell’s work in the 30’s. And J.C. Leyendecker. And Mucha. And Sargent. Wait – Frazetta!! How much juice does this time machine have?

Another live video demo of Mark’s marvelous working process. Absolutely amazing!

10. Thank you so much for your time Mark! We look forward to seeing more of your awesome work!

To see more of Mark’s artistry, visit his Website or his various accounts at:




One Thing At A Time — The Power of Less



The danger and complexity of Wile E. Coyote’s plans (and his use of ACME products) were a sure sign of imminent failure. Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

“The more simply you see, the more simply you will render. People see too much, scatteringly.” — Robert Henri

Less isn’t more, but it can be more effective. The modern world may not agree, but our obsession with doing more, acquiring more and being busy all the time hasn’t exactly created more happiness. As artists, constant doing doesn’t necessarily equate to greater success or creativity. We need to be present and focused to be at our best. Our art demands it.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” — Aristotle

If there’s one word in the 21st century that haunts us it’s multi-tasking. The excuse is that we’ve got so much to do with so little time that we all have to multi-task. We sadly think that by doing it all, and doing it all at once, is balance. We couldn’t be more wrong.


Cartoon strip from Scott Adam’s comic Dilbert.

Science has shown time and time again, that multi-tasking doesn’t work. Many people claim they can multi-task, but what they’re actually doing is jumping from one task to another while doing none in particular at any level of respectable competence or honest attention. Some individuals can appear to juggle many things at once successfully — switching quickly between activities — but a majority of individuals fail and tend to do so spectacularly. Juggling is a rare skill which can be learned, but regardless of our adeptness, there is always a risk and price associated with it.


The Letterman Techroom at Lucas Film in San Francisco. Render farms are a huge collection of processors designed to handle all the rendering needs of an animation studio. Photo by Peter Sciretta.

What about computers? Don’t they multi-task? Aren’t we just computers? Well, even computers don’t multi-task — they operate by time splicing which consists of giving a very short period of time (usually milliseconds) to one task, then a few to the next and then to the next and so on. In other words, even the fastest computers in the world only switch from one task to another, only they do so at very high speeds. Now, computer systems with multiple CPU’s connected and working together are able to drive multiple programs or calculations at the same time. In animation studios, we all know the look and size of those render farms (stored in that one big room no one dares to enter except the IT guys). Substantial computing requires substantial power.


The two halves of the human brain. Each side has its own priorities and responsibilities. Illustration by VaXzine.

As humans, at least for now, we only have one brain (one processor) and even then that one processor is split into two halves — a right hemisphere (for gestalt, social and creative tasks) and a left hemisphere (for logical, analytical and mathematical calculation). Moreover, these two halves of our one brain don’t seem to operate so well together or even at the same time. One tends to dominate over the other with the balance of power constantly shifting at different rates among different individuals.

“It’s very hard to get your heart and your mind in the same place.” — Woody Allen


Image from Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Are you also juggling too many things of different size, weight and complexity in your life?

Multi-tasking is like juggling eggs. With two hands, we can hold on to two eggs quite easily even if we can only feel the weight and texture of one egg at a time. Once we add more eggs, we need to keep our hands moving in order to keep them eggs in mid-air. This can be fun, if not entertaining, at least for a short period of time. The more eggs we add however, the more speed and focus you need to place on the act of juggling while risking dropping any or all of the eggs. The fun stops and the stress rises. Not only does multi-tasking rob us of the entire physical and relational experience we have with the object(s) in our grasp, we also exponentially increase both the size and the odds of failure. We’re talking eggs in this example, but we could easily swap these eggs for more substantial things, such as our job, our health, time with family or our personal happiness. A significant fail in any one of those departments have incalculable effects on the others.

Here then, is a list of some of the benefits of doing less:

1) Increased attention (focus)


Archery requires the utmost in focus and strength. Here, Errol Flynn stars as the legendary archer-hero, Robin Hood in the 1938 classic film of the same title directed by Michael Curtiz.

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” — Alexander Graham Bell

When we reduce our attention to fewer things, more our of creative and physical energy gets directed to the immediate challenge before us. With decreased distractions, we give our minds and bodies the opportunity to get in sync, coordinate and align together for maximal performance. When the path is clear and empty of distraction, deviation is limited and the job is actually easier.

2) Achieving simplicity


Picasso’s remarkabe sculpture, Head of a Bull, which is made out of bicycle parts is perfect in its simplicity.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak” — Hans Hofmann

This is true in art as it is in life. To accomplish the simple things well is often the hardest. It’s why the greatest performers, when they reach their peak, act and express simply. Their work is clear, decisive and remarkably effective. This is true in sports, music, and the arts. The masters always seem to be able to slow time down while expressing themselves with directness and clairvoyance.

3) Seeing the bigger picture


Artist Franz Kline was a very skilled, traditional easel painter who discovered a new way of painting to address his individual needs and the needs of an emerging America. By venturing into abstract expression, he and his fellow modernists helped define a new era of art, one that was grand in size and remarkably bold, much like its homeland.

“Big thinking precedes great achievement.” — Wilferd Peterson

With less on the table, it’s far easier to see what’s at stake. We can access problems, pitfalls and make better plans. We gain time to question our desires, assess our options and by default decrease the tendency to rush into action, which in turn of course, decreases the odds of failure and having to do it all over again. As artists, we don’t want to repeat the past. Doing something new has always been the aim of artist, both past and present. We are not here to copy or mimic. We want to boldly step forward. To do this, we must step back and look at what’s really here or there.

4) Remaining flexible


The strength of bamboo is in its flexibility and is both commonly used and revered by Asian societies.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”  — Albert Einstein

With less obligations, we’re also more flexible to adapt to unexpected challenges that are sure to happen. Taking on less things opens up our reserves for handling adversity. The best people aren’t necessarily the ones who can do more, but those who are most adaptable to the forces at hand. In our age of advancing technology and accelerated human and economic activity, flexibility is a powerful asset.

5) Improved learning & performance


The great Bruce Lee practiced a multitude of techniques and trained with all kinds of equipment, but he always worked only on one thing at a time, fully committed, fully focused.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee

We gain both effectiveness and efficiency when we’re focused.  We learn better when we give things the time that they need. And when we repeat those tasks our skills develop, making us stronger and more adept at handling similar challenges in the future. This is the essence of practice — the ritual of rehearsing our minds and bodies on singular tasks for excellence. It’s the foundation of greatness.

6) Ability to see the details that matter


The Artist’s Mother by Lucien Freud. Freud’s pain-staking approach to painting revels in the details. They make the picture.

“There’s something in the very small minutia of life that tells us something about the big, big picture that we see every day all over the place, and so I think the more specific and creative and revelatory you are in the micro, the more powerful the macro will be.” — Philip Seymour Hoffman

When we are looking at too much or doing too much, we simply can’t see or feel the details. The mind needs to be clear and calm to do so. If you multi-task, it can be pretty much guaranteed that you’re missing out on the easily overlooked, but important details. Sometimes these seemingly minute concerns, are like that tiny screw that holds the whole thing together. We all know that a slight miscalculation or misstep here or there can be the difference between success or failure in our art. Life is oftentimes very fragile and temperamental. We need to know when things matter, no matter how small they may appear.

7) Higher level of engagement


Bill Waterson’s funny and often poignant comic book series, Calvin and Hobbes.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.” — John Wooden

Being constantly busy or doing a million things at once robs us of the experience of doing. It’s like cooking ten dishes at once and not getting the chance to taste or eat any of them. All presence is gone when attention is so fleeting, and such is the state we’re in constantly when we attempt to multi-task. To feel presence, we have to be present. One thing at a time assures us of living in the now.

8) Greater fulfillment & more memorable experience


Arnold Schwarzenegger, seen here during a break from his training enroute to his 6th Mr. Olympia title. From the definitive film on bodybuilding, Pumping Iron.

The most powerful thing to emerge from doing one task at a time with complete and utter devotion is that we get more out of it, both immediately and in the long-term. When we’re fully engaged, we’re completely absorbed and sight, sound, touch and feel become ingrained in our minds. How wonderful it is engrave our sweetest experiences into memory! Think back to the many mindless, busy tasks that we’ve all succumbed to in our past and you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about here.

Many of our actions and feelings are so fleeting when we’re not fully engaged. I don’t remember a single thing from my numerous hours studying organic chemistry or macroeconomic equations in University where I was often going through the motions. They feel blank, like time and energy sucked into a black hole. But I always  remember the time when I was so immersed in my evening figure drawing class that all the existed for me was the model and the drawing. When I “awoke” from my trance, I was alarmed to see that the entire class was standing behind me watching me draw. Singular focus has great power.


“So much to do and so little time.” Such are the words of the Mad Hatter from Walt Disney’s interpretation of Lewis Carol’s Alice In Wonderland.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with shifting from one task to another — we must all do that once in a while or else we couldn’t function. Staying with any one activity for too long can also be taxing and unsustainable. But our aim most of the time should be to tackle one sustained challenge at a time. Life is complex enough and we’re all riding this wave towards the unknown, hoping to grow, hoping to battle through the tough times and enjoying the ride while it lasts. Why complicate each and every precious moment with ever more stress and responsibility by trying to do too much in too little time?

We mustn’t feel obligated to rush or to multi-task just because everyone else is doing it. We can choose our own way — one of presence and fulfillment — doing one thing, one moment at a time.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E. Frankl

Acting Analysis: Daniel Day-Lewis


Daniel Day-Lewis plays the heroic Hawkeye from Michael Mann’s inspiring epic, The Last of the Mohicans, one of many character portrayals in his brilliant on-going career.

“I like things that make you grit your teeth. I like tucking my chin in and sort of leading into the storm. I like that feeling. I like it a lot.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

There are actors and then there are ACTORS. Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson — these artists command the screen and have come to forever define the characters they played. Any thought of an alternative encompassing those roles is unfathomable. Today, we look to the acting talents of Daniel Day-Lewis, an artist some would consider to be the greatest actor of all-time. It’s a proclamation that is difficult to argue with.  A winner of the Academy Award an unprecedented three times, he’s widely known as a devout performer completely immersed in the method form of acting, an actor who becomes the personalities he creates. From moving our hearts with his performance as a man suffering from cerebral palsy to playing one of the most important leaders in American history, there aren’t that many actors that have demonstrated such great range and receive such wide critical acclaim.


Daniel Day-Lewis and Lina Olen star in Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Philip Kaufman, a film about a man who battles with his choice of sexual freedom over matters of the heart.

“I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it’s no problem for me to believe that I’m somebody else.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

Today, we’ll take a look at a few scenes of his from a small four-film sample. In each one, we’ll see that not only are Day-Lewis’s creations wholly original but that he utterly encapsulates the full range of human expression — mental,  physical, and emotional. Like the aforementioned legends before him, he has formulated characters that have come to define the very films in which they place.

Gangs Of New York (2002):


In Martin Scorcese’s colorful, if sometimes cartoony portrayal of turn of the century America, Gangs of New York, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the charismatic villain, Bill The Butcher, a principled yet violent man, who leads an array of characters fighting for the rights to the underworld in the Five Points district of New York City in the late 19th century.

In this magnetic scene, Day-Lewis delivers a lesson in presence, rhythm and texture. Moments of stillness contrasts assertive action giving the scene weight and magnifying tension. Watch how he balances the use of body language, hesitations in his voice and cold hard stares, all of which culminates into a character who both interests us yet frightens us at the same time. When he reminisces, he lets us inside, and his Bill The Butcher is charming, human and likeable. Then, in the blink of an eye, the tone changes and the directness in which he dictates the terms pushes both us and his adversary (Amsterdam, played by Leonardo DiCaprio) back, as if he owns us, like we’re only here because he lets us be here. Afterwards, he draws us back in again, forcing us to listen attentively, playing us back and forth like the master puppeteer that both he and his character is. The scene wraps up beautifully with a series of telling physical gestures marking the end of a tale well told.

Gangs of New York may not be one of legendary director Martin Scorcese’s best, but Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill The Butcher shines, stealing scene after scene with his physicality, vocal delivery and command of any scene he’s in.

My Left Foot (1989):


In Director Jim Sheridan’s moving biography My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the real life story of Cerebral Palsy victim, Christy Brown — a spastic quadriplegic who later becomes a successful writer, poet and artist using only his left foot. The character is both inspirational yet unsentimental which is an unusual take on disadvantaged film characters who are typically portrayed with excessive melodrama and likeability. Day-Lewis creates a completely convincing character who challenges his environment and our view of someone living under the kind of circumstances which are beyond our comprehension.

In this five minute scene, Day-Lewis transforms his character midway by breaking out into a physical performance that grips the audience, first with stillness and then with action. Here, the physical challenges are magnified by the expression of the character’s deep emotional loneliness, creating both discomfort and empathy. Watch carefully how the tension builds and is ultimately expressed in violence. What results is tremendous sorrow and relatability. Director Jim Sheridan’s nice touch with the camera — panning around to other characters during Christy’s change in state — results in a larger perspective of the darkness and tragedy of human behavior. We feel like them — awkward, frightful and helpless — much like Christy has felt his whole life never knowing what might happen next.

The film is inspirational (and marks the first of Daniel Day-Lewis’ three Oscars). The performance is unforgettable.

There Will Be Blood (2007):


Day-Lewis plays oil prospector Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson’s turn of century film about a man whose family, faith and fortune culminates into madness. A thoroughly enrapturing character study, it’s a film that haunts us long after the film credits roll.

In these two scenes from the film (they need to be seen together to understand them), we have Daniel first having a meeting with some company men who aim to purchase his land. At the end of this clip, Plainview storms after being offended by the man’s remarks. But before doing so, he verbally threatens him as he makes clear his position when he’s pushed by either aggression or patronization. In the second scene, he’s with his young son at a restaurant before being irked by the arrival and presence of those same adversaries. It is in this scene, where the acting really shines, as we begin to witness his pride and view of injustice (according Daniel’s own principles anyway) boil in his eyes. You witness his outlandish mockery with his little playful act with the napkin, and then, when it becomes too unbearable to stay put, he makes his displeasure known directly.  The final act of drinking the other man’s whisky is the perfect exclamation mark of a proud and imposing man, who despite his flaws, earned his keep. (Note: This action affirms his character. There is a brilliant earlier scene in the movie where his character crawls his way back to town after having broken his leg from falling down a mine shaft. It’s a scene that showcases his character’s most admirable trait – his grit and determination – one that allows the audience to respect and follow him even if doesn’t morally justify his more abhorrent actions later on.

Lincoln (2012):


In this most subdued direction by Steven Spielberg, we get to witness one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ latest and most perhaps most brilliant creation — America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. It’s been rumored that the actor spent eight months in seclusion to develop the character, from his voice all the way down to how the president would walk, sit and gesture. The portrayal is so convincing, that it’s impossible to think Lincoln walked or talked any other way. It reminds me of the story of Gilbert Stuart‘s painting of America’s first president George Washington, known as the Lansdowne Portrait. It conveyed such a regal and dignified portrayal of the president that despite it not being the most accurate likeness of him, it came to define how he would look forever in history. Every minted coin and paper currency uses that particular portrait of Washington.

“A voice is such a deep, personal reflection of character.” – Daniel Day-Lewis

In this crucial moment in the film, Day-Lewis’s character expresses not only his angst but his absolute determination and resolve when it comes to abolishing slavery in America. Here, you witness not only dignified physical expression but absolute control through his voice, which reveals deeply his frustration with the political process and the pain it has caused him. The verbal here leads and implies the physical. And as the scene plays, he becomes more animated and his drive extends more and more into his physical being, his strength building with his anger and resolve. It’s a great escalation of total human expression.

“Leaving a role is a terrible sadness. The last day of the shooting is surreal. Your soul, your body and your mind are not ready at all to see the end of this experience. In the following months after a film shoot, one feels a deep sense of void.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

There has already been so many accolades and so much said about Daniel Day-Lewis that one can easily disregard all this as another glorification of actors and their celebratory status. But if we do that, we forget to actually look at the work and study it.  We must always search for and analyze the technique, form and intent of great artistry to understand it and be touched by it and to come closer to it in our own work. And ultimately, we need to look and listen to it to be inspired because we always need inspiration. Day-Lewis’ devotion as an actor displays such tremendous comprehensiveness — taking in everything and then giving everything and more — that it reminds us that when our craft begins to defines us and us the craft, a great symbiotic relationship has been founded. This is a great personal joy to us as artists.

“At a certain age it just became apparent to me that this was probably the work that I would have to do.” — Daniel Day-Lewis



Time seems so endless and yet ever-diminishing at the same. Never in our brief human history has the concept of time become as dominant as it is now.

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” — Albert Einstein

As an animation artist the issue of time is a serious matter. As a subject it represents both a tool we use to execute our artistry and a constraint in terms of production (i.e. deadlines). But in life, time has come to be viewed as a commodity — something to possess, to get more of and to take advantage of. Speed and efficiency have become the buzz words of the 21st century.

Charlie Chaplin stars in one of his funniest films, Modern Times. Despite being made over 80 years ago, the theme of Chaplin’s film is just as significant today in its profound statement about the progress of technology and its impact on humanity.

For animators, time is represented by frames — units of measure that depict the spatial travel of objects or shapes. In typical film work, animating 24 fps (frames per second) is standard, while in Virtual Reality, the goal now is a mind-whopping 120 fps (to prevent nausea for the gamer). A solid understanding and control of time’s properties can help an animator tell a story by controlling the mood or energy of a shot. And when used in conjunction with sound posing and composition, wonderful patterns emerge forming rhythms not unlike what music creates — moments of action and stillness that trigger sensations that can’t be described verbally. Such is the beauty and power of this craft.


The suspension of disbelief through the astute usage of “hang time” are what helped make Wile E. Coyote’s foibles ever so interesting. From Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies series directed by Chuck Jones.

But like anything in film or any computer-enhanced imagery, nothing about animated time is actually real. Both the shapes made and the speed at which they travel are illusions. They can’t be physically touched and its information is contained only in an invisible digital format. Much like money and social approval, time is ultimately insubstantial — it has no physical bearing or weight. There’s nothing there. Units of time are just symbols, mere markers for the sake of convenience.

“We mistook the symbol for the real thing.” — Alan Watts


Chow Yun Fat burns counterfeit currency in his spectacular performance in director John Woo’s 1986 Hong Kong mafia flick, A Better Tomorrow, a film about money, power and brotherhood.

So the irony remains — the animator controls the units of time in his craft but not in his life. Tight external and sometimes unrealistic deadlines and creative demands generate immeasurable pressures on the production artist. We don’t have to be animators to live or understand that. This pressure is now everywhere, in every industry. We work to find time, and use that time to do more work. When do we stop or rest? What has happened to presence and leisure?

“Pruning minutes and seconds and hundredths of seconds become an obsession in all but a few segments of our society.” — James Gleick, from his book, Faster.

Having already mistaken money for wealth and social approval for love, we’ve now confused time  — or its synonymous cousin, speed — for power. The most valued artists, or workers, are not necessarily the most effective ones anymore but those that deliver “acceptable” quality the fastest. The most successful and popular product isn’t the best product but one that reaches the market in the most timely fashion. It’s why release dates, and thus deadlines, have become so important, so pressing. How did this come about? How did we so blindly and voluntarily give in to such madness? Is there truth in that old saying “It’s not a lie, if you believe it”?

Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishbourne star in the Warchowski’s brothers iconic film, The Matrix. Our minds often confuse fantasy with reality.

As a society, we have all bought into the hurry-sickness of our times. It’s hard to break free from this mindset when everyone else is on board the same ship. It’s why crowd behavior is so powerful, and manias and financial asset bubbles form. Trends and formulas get repeated. A wave of belief assures even the most suspicious-minded, luring them also towards conformity. As a modern people, we can’t stand idleness — we’re all Type A personalities now. We’re all rushing to get things done so we can do even more. Wants become needs and time is something everyone wants. Unfortunately, the more time we have, the more we tend to fill it up.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” — William Penn

Is it no surprise that every CEO, producer, manager and coordinator is trying to cram as much as possible in the schedule? I once knew of a producer who was constantly pressing his programmers to design tools to deliver animations ever faster, to reduce the need for customization and ultimately, to cut down the need for staff while at the same time, demand greater artistry and emotional connection (which of course, requires that same customization and personalization he sought so hard to eliminate). Motion capture tools, auto-animate controls, special dynamics scripts and preset lighting modules are all the rage when it comes to speeding up the animation pipeline. The motivations behind these technologies rarely have to do with advancing the art form or improving quality, but rather reducing costs in order to increase profits, which ironically is diminishing because of the constant out-bidding among studios. It’s truly becoming a fruitless and futile, lose-lose scenario. All we did was get faster.


Untitled V. The art of Abstract Expressionist Willem De Kooning looks like it’d be easy to duplicate to the untrained eye, but that’s far from the reality. Fantastic personal artistry is impossible to duplicate.

Fortunately, nature has its limits. Creativity, and the emotional impact that responds to the highest quality — which can only come from the personal space that lies within the artist’s mind and soul — can’t be duplicated. Did photography remove the need for drawing or painting? Do realistic animations remove the need for live actors? Will machines or programs replace artists? The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO. We don’t connect to any work that is impersonal.


If you’re Olympic Champion Usain Bolt, or any professional athlete for that matter, speed is paramount. But we must ask, for most other things in life, such as artistic creativity, why should it?

Time is a tool. As much as it is a tool to help us get things done, it’s a tool to help express our craft. Furthermore, clocks and watches helps us measure things like cooking times and athletic performance, as well as set up conveniences like meetings. But when time is used to measure artistic merit or self-worth, it fails miserably. A musician isn’t judged by how quickly he plays and neither should an artist be judged by his rate of production. No great piece of art in history, whether in the realms of music, film or painting is remembered for how quickly it was done. Yet again and again, we commonly hear how successful a person or company is because of the speed of execution or how quickly a fortune has been amassed. Let’s get over this delusion. Society has yet to realize that when one person or one company has gotten faster, so has everyone else. The end result being no one is further ahead. The goal of art (and life) shouldn’t be to do it faster, but to learn from it, dance with it, and having a bit of fun with it.

South Park Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker lend a little animation to some Alan Watts wisdom.

But what if the world refuses to behave and our deadlines remain just as real and foreboding? Well, then hard difficult decisions have to be made. We must ask, is the work we’re doing worth doing? If not, why should we keep doing it? And if it is, can we find balance somehow?  Is there a way of working within the external constraints? Musical talents like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen found ways to express their poetry in the standard three minute song. Within our everyday performance,there are many ways of working to improve our focus and effectiveness. Improved skill is highly correlated with improved efficiency and execution — it’s part of being a professional to bolster our abilities. Asking the right questions helps us get stronger. At the end of the day, we’re all  judged by the quality of our contributions. Shortcuts don’t work, they never have.

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” — Jean Racine

Now, the other concern we may have is whether our work will suffer if we can’t work quickly or be able to endure super long hours. My own experience has shown me that rushing decisions (for example, skipping the planning stage) and working when we’re tired both diminishes performance and results in poor delivery — which ultimately results in having to do things over and taking even longer. Bottom line is, we can only do the best we can in the time allotted — the key word being allotted. Mistakes and failure are bound to happen and we have to learn from them. They are acceptable outcomes of being an artist and being a human being. Wise organizations will make adjustments and set more achievable milestones. The unintelligible ones will remain short-sighted and have short life spans.

Always remember that lack of success doesn’t break us, but rather helps us grow — it’s good and proper feedback. Rushing and pressing for more and more, with less and less time and resources, however, can break you. In fact, it will lead to a mental state that turns us sick in mind, body and spirit. If we let something as abstract as time dominate us, we will have invited impatience, irritation and aggressiveness into our lives and allow these attributes to define us. If we let go of expectation and perpetual haste, the anxieties attached to our creative performance diminishes.

At the end of the day, art requires the time that it needs. Varied pacing and balance are needed for great and interesting art. It’s only logical that the same goes with working and living.

Perhaps this moment from John Lasseter’s marvelous film, Toy Story 2, says it best. Good work requires skill, technique, care, and most of all, time.

“Art tends toward balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.” — Robert Henri

Dealing With Criticism


The always opinionated Statler and Waldorf from Jim Henson’s marvelous creation, The Muppets. This comedy duo lambasts everything and everybody. 

“Nature’s wants are small, while those of opinion are endless.” — Seneca

Everyone’s a critic. Family, friends, peers, the boss and your mother-in-law all have signed up as candidates. If your neighbor’s dog could speak, it’d probably have something discouraging to say too. Being an artist means facing an endless barrage of opinion and conjecture. And that’s just from people with neutral to positive opinions of you. Then there are those busy-bodies — people with nothing better to do than to put other people down — they should be completely ignored and their comments erased from memory. There is no value in defending against their tired vituberations and especially if they hide under the cloak of anonymity.


Shallow Hal, starring Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow, is an awkward comic romance that exposes the blindness of the small minded, judgemental critic.

As for those ‘impossible to ignore’ members of your social circle, you can (and must) forgive them. For most of the time, they do not know what they speak. When people don’t get what they expect, they get upset and frustrated, and voicing their displeasure is just a dolorous yet natural consequence.  When they’re the audience, it’s their right to do so. At the same time, however, that doesn’t make their opinions necessarily valid or worth paying attention to either. Unfortunately, whether the points contended are valid or not, and no matter who they are or how strong you are, it always stings at least a bit, and sometimes a lot. No one’s immune to painful criticism or attack. Art is a personal affair exposed to the world and dealing with feedback, mean-spirited or not, is an inevitable part of being a real artist.

“Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude.” — Joyce Meyer

Film-making is hard. Making ANY art, in fact, is a tremendous struggle. But mockery, that’s easy, and a lot of the time, it’s both weak and sad. The harshest critics are, more often than not, those who have never created anything. They can’t bear to look at themselves or their own work because they haven’t done anything worth analyzing. So why should we give these people any credit or attention?


Director Steve Spielberg and company on the set of the landmark film of CGI technology, Jurassic Park. Despite his numerous accomplishments, he is often derided for both his directing choices and choice of projects. Spielberg has five films in the AFI Top 100 Films of All Time List — Jaws,  E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. How many can his critics claim?

“The better a work is, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linens.” — Gustave Flaubert

Making art is an accomplishment. Courage, effort and diligence is to be commended. It’s an eye opener to respect the creator. It’s brave to be willing to see with eyes wide open, to let in what we’re not yet comfortable with. Action speaks much louder than words, and the active use of our imagination is the ultimate action of all actions.


Image from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was very poorly received when it was released in 1982. It has since proven to be one of the most loved and creatively acclaimed science-fiction films of all time.

What about sought-after or professional criticism? As a teacher, I have one cardinal rule — don’t judge the person when judging the work. We all have a right to an opinion, but we must remember that what connects or disturbs is personal, and quite often illogical. If criticism is expected or required, it’s got to be delivered constructively — it mustn’t be vindictive or political. That said, when worthwhile and constructive opinion is present, it is usually insightful, additive and generous. It takes time and care to do it right and its contribution must be respected and gratefully accepted.

“Art appreciation, like love, cannot be done by proxy.” — Robert Henri

It’s easy to be especially susceptible to external feedback. Given how much of an artist’s success and survival is dependent on factors such as appealing to the mass market or expert opinions from art journals — we shouldn’t be surprised that any lack of appreciation or respect for our efforts digs so deep. A single critical opinion can appear to make or break books, films, and careers.


Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock seen here with wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner. Pollocks’ radical painting style and life of strife and alcoholism brought great fame to his work and his persona, but ultimately, it is his art which shines and endures. Photo by Hans Namuth.

That said, formal criticism and the business implications associated with it, is not necessarily a realistic or true assessment of your work or abilities. Neither does positive or negative critical feedback guarantee financial success or predict failure. Therefore, we must take all such news in stride and with a healthy does of perspective. Of course, this is easier said than done. We are human after all, and as artists, we are all sensitive sentient beings whose work necessitates our keen sensory attributes. It is our willingness to expose our dreams and emotions in the most vulnerable fashion that makes us artists. How could it not hurt?

Want to know what it feels like to be a literary genius? Well, here’s a tiny sample of the criticism for Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick:

“I found myself having mini emotional break downs trying to comprehend how anyone could possibly enjoy such a terrible book.”

“Like choking down a week old doughnut.”

“‘Call me Ishmael.’ It’s undoubtedly one of the most widely recognized opening lines of any classical novel. Unfortunately, it’s also the best line in the book.”

“I think Melville was a genius*, yes, but the structure in which he wrote the book did not make sense. Don’t read this book if you don’t have to.”

(*Notice that even when you’re recognized as a genius, your work is still deemed unnecessary!)

A beautiful moment from Pixar’s Ratatouille, directed by Brad Bird. This wonderful gem about rats and cooking, tells a much deeper tale – one of prejudice and judgement.

So remember when things get hard, take solace in the fact that you’re the one doing the work, taking the chance and making it happen. Whether it’s received well or not, is irrelevant. It’s always good to know your work is special because it’s personal. The unknown, which both frightens and excites us, is also what frightens and excites others. It’s what makes this whole journey worthwhile.

“I need the enchantment of creative work to help me forget life’s mean pettiness.” — Søren Kierkegaard

This disruption to the status quo has always been received with opposition — harsh criticism or disdain by both critics and the masses is likely if not expected. It takes time for the world to catch up to our ideas and our artistry. What’s considered great today, has only become so after the test of time when all the dust settles.

“The big men have been rare because most men heed the dictators. Nobody wanted Walt Whitman, but Walt Whitman wanted himself and now we have Walt Whitman.” — Robert Henri

Still not convinced? Still feeling raw from hurtful feedback? Well, here’s a rule to remember that should soften the blow and that is: critics say much more about themselves, then they do of the work when they criticize. If you bear this in mind, then those rather painful moments of anger or self-doubt that accompany those nasty remarks will lose its power over you.

“Everything external is but a reflection projected by the individual machine.” — Henry Miller

Seinfeld is a great comedy series that exposes the hypocrisy of mankind, and in this case, critics. Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

Throughout history, the greatest artists have been mistreated, disregarded and misunderstood. The track record of the world’s juries and critics is incredibly poor. So ignore the noise — all the main stream media and social internet chatter — and just make your art. No one EVER remembers a critic. The greatest contributors to humanity became what they became because they took risks and lived with the consequences, both good and bad.


An image from the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film, Spellbound which received mixed reviews. Hitchcock was never afraid to try new things. Here, he explored the themes of psychoanalysis working with the visually creative mind of Surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

A final point to remember is that we artists are not alone — other artists share our pain. A powerful kinship exists that’s built on our mutual respect for our creative dedication and courage, one that stretches beyond the mere barriers of time and geography. And as a collective, we strive to work within the shackles society might put on us or break free from them altogether. We know that the solutions and hope always lie in our hands.

“Through art, mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge are established among men. They are the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.” — Robert Henri

So don’t worry about criticism too much. As professionals, we can only (and must) do our best. If our work is good, it will stand the test of time. Trends, fads, and trivia fade. Pay no heed to such nonsense. Trust in yourself and make your art instead.

The late Robin Williams, shares a little Walt Whitman poetry in Peter Wier’s Dead Poet’s Society, one of the most inspirational films of the 20th century.

“If you shape your life to nature, you’ll never be poor, if according to other people’s opinions, you’ll never be rich.” — Epicurus