Going Analog

Original_1976_Apple_1_Computer_In_A_Briefcase
Steve Job and Steve Wozniak’s breakthrough invention, the Apple I personal computer in a briefcase.  Where would we be without the invention of the personal computer? (Image courtesy of the Sydney Powerhouse Museum.)

“You can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas… when you actually do something physical.” – Twyla Tharp
We live in a time where technology is dominating our world – its methodologies, design and implications have taken hold of almost everything existing or even imaginable. This path of action is also not likely to come to an end anytime soon, as we become, as a society, more digitized, more mechanized, and more comprehensively integrated in how we live. Barring a “Madmax” type of scenario, stopping the advance of technology is neither possible or even ideal. Truth is, despite it’s problems, technology has brought us incalculable good as we can no longer imagine living in a world without electricity, travel, medical breakthroughs, and worldwide communication. Technology’s advance is both a threat and a hope.

 

Dr.Strangelove_Sellers

 Peter Sellers plays Dr. Strangelove, in Stanley Kubrick’s noir classic, “Dr. Strangelove or How I learn to Stop Worrying and love the Bomb”. Kubrick combines dark humor and brilliant cinematography, to force us to ponder our latest fascination with technology and the age old obsession for power.

Working and living in a digital universe, it’s all too easy to forget and/or ignore analog solutions to current problems. We always want the faster,  easier route – searching desperately for effectiveness and efficiency packaged in a nice bundle ready for us consume or even worse, exploit. Such is the more insidious side of technology.

frozen-food
Freezing is a practical time and life saving invention. But what is the price of packaged frozen food? What about quality, taste, health, social and environmental considerations? Recent studies have revealed that taste has been and continues to be a huge indicator about the quality of nutrients entering our bodies.

 

Ironically, some of the best solutions and innovations come not from technology but from human ingenuity and resourcefulness. Some of the most ingenious technological designs come from imitating and studying nature. Life itself, is often the greatest source of inspiration for technology.

 

0911-essay-b_x900
In Tom Samonite’s Technology Review article, Chasing Nature, he discusses the marvelous efforts being made at top universities around the world, to invent tiny insect/bird inspired robots that could be used in applications such as rescue missions. To see the full article, go here.

 

Animation artists who still make preliminary drawings, paintings and sculptures with raw tangible materials before executing their final creations on the computer are often more thoughtful, creative and productive. And of course, there’s nothing quite like actual physical interaction with tangible materials.

 

ABlasich_Standing_woman07
A marvelous sculpture of a Ronald Searle drawing, by a very talented former colleague of mine, Andrea Blasich. Andrea has created numerous inspiring character sculpts for many top flight animation studios. To see more of the artist’s work, visit here.

Throughout human history, scientists and artists embraced nature as a source of inspiration for innovation. Today, nature serves not only as a continual source of knowledge, but also as a reprieve from our “plugged-in” lifestyle. We must guard against losing that connection with a world that has been largely natural and unchanged for millions of years.

 

JurassicPark
Steven Speilberg played with the idea of “what if” in the pioneering VFX film, Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for millions of years before we even came around – the largest growth in science and technology has occurred primarily in the last 150 years.

 

Theory and abstraction (i.e. modern art) has it’s place, but things we’re connected to, both real and imagined, spring forth from our lives and the world we live in. Our history and our environment matter. Without nature, there is no springboard. Abstraction needs something to abstract from. Nature in all its wonder, makes you ask, what if?

 

GeorgiaO'Keefe
One of Georgia O’Keefe’s lovely paintings, from her ‘Sky Above Clouds’ series. Indicating a transition to abstraction for the pioneering artist, these paintings were inspired by her many flights around the world experienced late in her life. These magical pieces, some of which reached 24 ft in size, were made when she was nearly 80 years old.

 

As an artist, you always have to ask yourself, are you actually seeing or just looking? Are you really listening or hearing? Is this tactile sensation or mere physical contact? When was the last time you felt the texture of velvet or marveled at a raindrop on a blade of morning dew grass? Children do this all day until they’ve learned not to. Among my own greatest memories of growing up was trekking out in the misty fields to see my father, who had been already working diligently since the break of dawn. The morning air was never fresher, and the excitement of seeing my dad, before heading off to school, was a rare chance to spend real time with him. It’s all too easy to forget, that we ourselves, are a part of nature. Moments, and memories of such moments are stark reminders of the necessity to live with presence.

 

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. ” – Ray Bradbury.
Naussica
Miyazaki’s gorgeous hand-drawn masterpiece, Naussica of the Valley of the Wind touches upon many themes. Those who have visited the Ghibli museum in Tokyo will know that Miyazaki is a huge collector of European artifacts and folklore. By grabbing those very tangible things and history, and intermixing them with his own Japanese culture and history, he was able to explore rich humanistic themes in exciting, fantastical worlds that are both relatable and magical.

 

The real world also helps us ground our work, especially in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. If the world we choose to create is loaded with aliens and/or spaceships, we’ve got to ground it with real human problems, both physical, psychological, and historical. The question of “How do we adapt?” is often the underlying subtext to many brilliant science fiction stories.

 

Interstellar-Cooper
Christopher Nolan’s illuminating 2014 science fiction film, Interstellar, ponders some big questions about space and time, but it’s still grounded in the human need for connection – love, loneliness, friendship and family – and not merely survival.

 

So, as much as we’ve talked (on this blog) about hard work and persistence in pursuing excellence and expressing your dreams, we must find time to be with nature – a physical and direct interaction with the world around us – for it serves as the foundation from which our art launches. We are, for now at least, still wholly natural beings – our experiences are tangible, not theoretical or imagined. Going analog will not only help us find answers to and around technology’s struggles, but ultimately ground us as to why we’re looking for those particular solutions in the first place.

 

“When you start to lose steam, head back to the analog station and play.” – Austin Kleon, author of Steal like an Artist

Rituals — How They Can Help You.

WileECoyote_plans

It was part of Wile E. Coyote’s ritual to always have a plan. His didn’t work (that was the joke), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Image from Warner Bros.

Rituals are cool. They help you get things done without having to stress too much about them. As animation artists, our jobs often feel too overwhelming, and if you’ve got the added responsibilities of running a team, the more you have to do, the more you have to think. Thinking requires extra energy and having rituals helps ease that burden.

Take for example the issue of exercise – exercise is so incredibly important yet it’s stunning how so many people don’t make it a ritualistic part of their lives. The modern life of working on the computer for long periods of time has been scientifically proven to damage the body leading to poorer vision, chronic pain, weight gain and increased risk of repetitive strain injury and heart disease.  Physical exercise alleviates a lot of these problems, including refreshing the mind, regaining energy and building confidence.

Goofy-gymnastics

Still from  Goofy Goofy Gymnastics, part of Walt Disney Studios’ brilliant “How to” series from the 1940’s.

Besides mental and physical maintenance, rituals, selectively designed and personalized, can help you as an artist and your growth as a human being in general. I couldn’t live without my particular rituals for too long. They help assure me that I’ve done something just for me. If something can ease the burdens of living or benefit in some way or the other, I like to think of it as a no-brainer to make it a part of my repertoire. Think of it as maintenance – like brushing your teeth.
Grumpy_Tytla

The legendary Bill Tytla had the curious habit of animating his characters in multiple colors – separating body masses from limbs, as well as items like clothing and held objects. Animation is a very long and complicated process and this was a great way for him to stay organized. Production drawing of Grumpy from Walt Disney’s 1937 landmark film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

I, for one, prefer to start the day with my mind cleansed and refreshed, so that it has a chance of performing well for the rest of it. Each morning, depending on the job/assignments I have at the time, I’ll partake in my ritual of meditation or exercise or both. It’s like shaking off the rust before you move. The things that follow, seem natural, like a good breakfast and getting things in order, such as reviewing your goals and activities for the day ahead. I know that no matter what happens from that point on, I’ve already taken care of me, and only then, do I have a chance to take care of others.

Superman

Unless you’re Superman, the best course of action is to take care of yourself first, so you can do a better job with everything else. Image courtesy of DC Comics.

As for doing art, when I turn on my lamps I know I’ll paint. And when I’m done, I’ll ritualistically wash and dry my brushes afterwards and leave myself a clean station to begin the next time around. When I animate, I automatically check to see how long I plan to take, whose shot precedes or follows mine, what references I need, and then sit down to listen to the track for the first hour or two, before I go about shooting video or doing thumbnail drawings. I don’t have to think about these things, I just do them automatically.

My old colleague Aaron Hartline always put in the preliminary work before animating his shots. This assured him that he’s explored as many options as possible, as well as having a solid reference point to work from. Video from his work on Blue Sky Studio’s hit series, Ice Age. (To see more of the artist’s work, go here.)

Like all routines, you have to try and experiment many things. It’s all very personal – what works for others may not work for you. That’s part of the fun in finding yourself.

“Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking … Learn your own possibilities.” – George Bellows
GeorgeBellows_father

Painting of the artist’s father, by George Bellows.

Here’s a list of routines you might want to consider incorporating into your daily life as an artist:

  1. Review the days’ work ahead, write it down before beginning any work.
  2. Set a timer for that break at 90-120 minutes. You’ll never remember to stretch, rest or walk away if you don’t.
  3. Have a regular time of the day for that extended coffee break and walk outdoors – get away from that stale, office air.
  4. Get into a habit of leaving the work day no later than a particular time  – again, set a timer or alarm if you have to. If you work from home, get some separation from your job – close the door and don’t return.
  5. Set up regular activities, spent solo, or with friends or family, that will serve as something to look forward to after work – it’ll make you more focused and efficient.
  6. Try your best to leave any internet browsing/chatting to certain times of the day — but know that it will NOT serve as a break from the computer.
  7. Have references, materials and tools conveniently placed so you don’t have to drag stuff out in order to perform. (i.e. Always keep your work station clean and conducive to peak performance.)
  8. Get into the mindset of showing your work to your peers regularly — don’t just wait for dailies.
  9. Have the same organized routine for starting work. If you’re animating, it should be automatic to set time for listening to the track, to collect/record video, and to do thumbnails.
  10. Have the same routine for finishing up your work, including file naming, folder clean up and basically a  standardized way of delivering things — this way you always ship and ship without issues.
  11. Have a regular time of day/week to work on your skills as an artist — professionals in all fields do this. Don’t stop learning or sharpening your tools just because you have a “job.”
  12. Tailor your routines to you and your body only. Only then do they have any chance of working.

These things may seem like a lot to do or even think about doing but that’s precisely the point; if you don’t make it a part of your “auto” routine, you’ll HAVE TO think about it. Once you’ve automated the procedure, you just do it, and you’ll be glad that you did. Routines will actually save you time and energy. And remember, it’s good habits and routines that separate professionals from amateurs.

JamesJeanSketchbook

A page from James Jean’s marvelous collection of sketchbooks. Jean, a prominent comics illustrator and fine artist, has a habit of drawing everything he sees, everywhere he goes. His works are filled with life, beauty and authenticity. (To see more of the artist’s work, go here.)

In the words of Twyla Tharp, Dance choreographer extraordinaire and author of The Creative Habit:

“I don’t think that scheduling is uncreative. I think that structure is required for creativity.”

What’s your ritual? Do you have one? And is it one that gets you going or keeps you going? If not, why haven’t you changed? Rituals and habits are powerful things — first we make them, then they make us. Make and design yours. One of the greatest sensations you get from having rituals is knowing that you’ve taken care of things. Not many things in art or life give you that feeling of security.

The Power of Posing

Penny_OllieJohnston

This poignant drawing by Ollie Johnston, shows that sometimes just a single pose can tell everything there is to know about a character and its situation. Production drawing from Disney’s The Rescuers.

For animators, the importance of posing can’t be overstated. It’s one of the key components that define this art form in terms of performance, appeal and story telling. Poses, fundamentally, should be thought of as a visual representation of an idea in the form of shapes. After all, animation is defined ultimately by the shapes and how they move. Hence the commonly heard expression that animation is all about pose and timing. But poses always comes first, everything else comes afterwards.

“The key part of action (needs to be) done first, ‘inessentials’ (are) added after the main action is completed.” – Bill Tytla

A marvelous, albeit short, arrangement of “key” drawings (shot mostly on 4’s) by Ollie Johnston from Walt Disney’s The Rescuers . You don’t need a lot of poses to define what you want to say – but everything you do say must be strong, clear and accurately define the energy of the scene.

The pose test is the ultimate expression of the importance of shapes. In such a test, animators aim to find the most expressive shapes that define:

a) the story (main ideas)

b) the emotion and physicality (inner and outer forces)

Therefore, there is first the need to find the correct, most basic expressions that define the skeleton of the scene – as defined by the key story poses – the ones you’ve identified via your thumbnail sketches and notes.

MiltKahl_Rescuers

This beautiful page of thumbnails by Milt Kahl, done for Disney’s The Rescuers, was used to help find and define story poses, rather than animation poses, which aim instead to support and refine the stated expressions in terms of a more complete physicality. Story keys lay the framework for the entire scene, and need to be very carefully explored.

A note about the concept of posing. The key pose is not so much a static “pose” (for example, like what’s commonly glorified in fashion photography), but a moment in time that defines an idea. It is the common mistake of beginners to think that these keys are frozen. More often than not, key poses, especially in the blocking phase,  represent an area defined by a particular expression – an expression that may take, more often than not, a range of frames which will continue to progress or recede in any particular direction. In other words, major story keys, are often just place holders for a region of movement, that defines a singular idea. When any animation is complete, story keys, like any other key frames, often appear seamless among other frames that surround them.

A lovely animation test from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by the magnificent James Baxter. Notice how each key demonstrates excellent weight, beautiful flow and is loaded with personality and charm.

Only after the basic outline of your scenes are set up, can you, as an animator, begin to refine and clarify the physical path your character takes in order to best express those ideas. This is where you define the physical, visual path that your scene must show so that your ideas, can come across believably. The story (idea) is the goal, but the visual shapes and movement are the foundation (physicality). Or as Paul Rand said so clearly:

“When form predominates, meaning is blunted. But when content predominates, interest lags … the genius comes in when both of these fuse.”

Although timing and movement is as crucial in making any animation complete, it is the poses that ultimately define the ideas, much like a great photograph, painting or logo, can say so much even when idle. Your images, i.e.  your poses, should be so strong and clear that the content that you are trying to get across to an audience is unmistakable, even before the additional elements of form, that is, the use of time and movement, are added to the equation.

StoryvsAnimKeys_web

The differences between “story” vs “animation” keys. Story keys form the foundation of the shot. Individually, story keys may change as supporting animation keys are added.

In terms of working order, it’s always best to know and test those key story poses first. Only then can you fill in the rest of the framework so to speak. Since your story keys are the major pillars of your shot, your remaining animation keys serve more to accurately flesh out the rest of the structure – defining all those elements that make for solid and entertaining animation.

“Start by thinking like a comic strip artist – if you can develop the ability to encapsulate an expression of attitude in a single drawing (pose), then you’ve already gone some distance towards successfully communicating to your audience.” – Eric Goldberg

When it comes to poses, I personally like to simplify them – thinking of them as remarkably obvious statements of shape and form. In other words, they work, even without detail or polish, or anything fancy.

With minimal detail, Milt Kahl’s wonderful rough animation test clearly defines the joy, enthusiasm and spirit of its wooden-puppet hero, Pinocchio.

Poses should have all the elements that make for great visual presentation. Here’s a list of things to consider:

  1. Clarity of expression (idea)
  2. Unmistakable visual form (reads even without movement or sound)
  3. Balance (accounts for gravity and momentum)
  4. Staging (what’s the point of view?)
  5. Sense of movement and life (expresses/implies past, present and future action)
  6. Line of action (unifies form and energy)
  7. Believable construction (respect for anatomy)
  8. Line and form (interplay of internal and external form)
  9. Solidity in dimension (real depth)
  10. Solidity in weight (acknowledgement of forces)
  11. Absence of distraction, or disharmonious elements
  12. Appeal

While mastering each element is a monstrous challenge to any artist, such a checklist would be a great way to assess your work. Failure in any one of them risks making your animation anything less than spectacular.

True, there is a lot more to making great animation than ‘just’ posing, but aiming towards making more distinctive and appealing posing will give you a stronger foundation for the rest of your animation to build on.

“For it to entertain, it must capture… it must rivet you to the screen, (and) it must demand your attention. It must hold the audience.” – Glen Keane.

We conclude this post with a delicious collection of scenes by the always excellent Doug Sweetland.  A sequence of animation like this is defined by great posing and supplemented by marvelous execution of movement and timing.

Doug Sweetland’s character animation of the Pelican, from Pixar’s Finding Nemo, stands, in my biased opinion, as one of the best sequences in animation history. It defines all the elements that help distinguish this artform for its unparalleled combined expression of emotion, form, movement, and beauty.

Professionalism

jean-reno-as-leon-in-the-professional-1994

Jean Reno, plays the amiable hitman Leon, in Luc Besson’s marvelous action thriller, The Professional.

“My idea of professionalism is probably a lot of people’s idea of obsessive.” — David Fincher, director of Seven.

What does it mean to be a professional? What separates him/her from the amateur? Is it merely skill? The fortune of being chosen or paid? Or something else entirely?

Disney's NineOldMen

Disney’s famous Nine Old Men are widely regarded as the ultimate pioneers of the animation industry. Besides their immense talent and creative contribution, what marked their prominence was that they always delivered, making them the trusted cornerstones upon which Walt Disney could reliably build his empire.

There are many good artists out there but what distinguishes true professionals is that ‘pros’ aren’t just paid for what they do, they also provide an assurance as to a degree of quality and an expectation of delivery. In other words, the professional is accountable. This is why reputations matter and why word of mouth is still the most powerful determinant of whether someone is worth taking a chance on or even worth hiring.

GlenKeane_pocahontas

Charcoal animation drawing by Glen Keane from Walt Disney’s 1995 release, Pocahontas. When people worked with Glen Keane, they always knew what they would be getting — consistent excellence in performance and the exciting possibility of him creating something absolutely outstanding.

There are basic considerations that run through the evaluation process about whether an artist is the consummate professional or not. Here are some of the common considerations:

Professionals, in general, are individuals who :
a) Meet their deadlines.
b) Are always accountable,
c) Readily available and always communicable.
d) Leave a trail of astuteness and clarity, so that others can follow their footsteps in case of any unexpected challenges or emergency.
e) Consistently deliver on time.
f) Meet a “higher than usual” standard of quality

g) Are respectful of the process and the people they work with regardless of relative title, position or authority.

In animation, “I got this” are the best words a supervisor or director can hear from his staff. (For those of you who are married, this is also highly effective with spouses!) When I ran a crew, there were individuals that I knew I could rely on. They removed concern, provided predictability and alleviated stress for me as a director. I knew I could trust them and count on them even if things were to go wrong.

The-Godfather-Robert-Duvall-Marlon-Brando

Carl Hagan (Robert Duvall) takes orders from Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather. Carl Hagan defined the always trusted and dependable council – a man who took care of whatever and whenever it was asked of him.

Being a professional is as much about consistent mental fortitude as it is about talent. Top professionals are skilled individuals who’ve not only built up their expertise in their craft, but carry a mindset designed for delivery. They set goals, persist, adjust as necessary and finish things. They don’t fail others nor do they fail themselves. (Note: we aren’t talking here about awards, financial gain or public approval but rather more integral matters such as dignity, excellence and due diligence.)

AndyDufresne

In Frank Darabont’s marvelous film, The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, showed that moment by moment, stone by stone, you can chip away at any wall or obstacle in front of you. The film is an important allegory for the power of determination, diligence and perseverance overcoming any challenge. 

There is one major caveat however, and that is, when you make it as a professional, you risk losing the inner spirit of being an artist — that eagerness and drive you had as a beginner. As professionals, we must guard against this – you must continually find ways to “stay young” in spirit.

NicolaiFechin_YoungWoman

Painting by Nicolai Fechin, a masterful Russian artist whose entire life was completely devoted to his craft.

In the words of Nicolai Fechin:

“A professional, having achieved some technical feat or twist for which he has gained reputation, often fears to leave it behind in order to move ahead … Instead of making further efforts towards self-development, he allows his success to become a dead-end; he stops and begins to go backwards.”

So remember, if you love something so much that you want to do it for a living, then aim to become a professional by working to acquire any and all the skills and knowledge necessary to get there. If you’re already a professional, find ways to maintain that spirit of learning and devotion to excellence that got you there in the first place. Young or old, your spirit as an artist must remain the same, that is, one that is ever devoted to consistency, improvement, and the evolution of your craft.  Often what separates the good from the great is a matter of inches, or in our industry, frames and pixels.

In conclusion, I leave you with this inspirational speech by Al Pacino from Oliver Stone’s, Any Given Sunday:

Al Pacino delivers one of the greatest speeches in sports movie history in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday.

Stealing or Borrowing?

PicassoAfricanArtcollection

A young Picasso sitting among what was a tiny portion of his huge collection of African Art. It’s quite clear now, that a lot of his “inventiveness” surrounding cubism and abstraction, came about from the influence of ancient tribal art, of which Picasso was a huge collector and appropriator. (photo credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux)

In Robert McKean’s wonderful little book, Steal like an artist, he explores the issue of taking ideas and techniques from others. Is it disrespectful? Theft? Or just a plain lack of originality? It’s been a debate for artists throughout history this issue of authenticity and ownership. The reality is, everyone’s ideas come from somewhere else. It’s the nature of the word inspiration.

Here is the Webster dictionary definition of what inspiration is:

: something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something

: a good idea

Now, given that definition, how can anyone claim ‘complete’ ownership of an idea? It brings up the issue of companies today patenting every single thing out there, both in science and the arts. What is the fair and proper arrangement between investors of creative art, the creators themselves, and the consuming public? It makes one ask, what is art? What is science? And more (or less) importantly, who does it belong to?

Gustav_Klimt

This famous portrait, of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, was previously stolen and most recently returned. It’s ‘valued’ at $135,000,000.

The sporadic and unplanned nature of creative and inspirational work is such that it needs to come from something from which to be born, bounce off of or leap forward from. Therefore, claiming “ownership” is a strange concept, much like us humans claiming ownership over nature and the world around us – it’s not ours to claim. We are, at best, stewards of what’s been given to us. Ideas are no different.

“… things of greatest merit are public property. ” – Seneca
anatomy-of-human-body-da-vinci

It’s a fine line that separates science and art. A good example lies in the works and studies of Leonardo Da Vinci. One thing is clear however, and that is, his works should be available for everyone to see and experience.

What about originality? Here’s what Robert Henri has to say:

“Don’t worry about your originality. You couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”

I used to worry about originality far too much, and by doing so, it made me even less original. As artists, it’s all too easy to try so hard for uniqueness that you end up closing your eyes to what’s already there – thereby reducing your visual vocabulary and shutting off things that could inspire you and influence you in a positive, even impactful way. A limited exposure creates less originality not more. The truth is, your path will naturally take you to where you need to go, as long as you don’t fight it too hard. Be at ease to let your influences show because  it doesn’t mean that you’re a flake or a hack. Find what you love, and let it be a part of you – it’s kind of like knowing that you have little choice but to be influenced also by your family and friends – so why not let your heroes influence you? Work hard, but allow “yourself” to become what it will. This is harder advice to take than you’d think.

keith_haring

Keith Haring’s remarkably simple, yet magical art, doesn’t try to be anything special – it just is. Great art doesn’t have to be complex or intellectual – it has to be personal.

I’ve always liked the idea that artists and scientists are merely agents for change and discovery. Proprietorship is not the goal. Our role is to develop attentiveness to innovation and creativity, raising our abilities to make something from our discoveries, and then share it with the world. It is only in that way, by doing our jobs as deliverers of some good, do we have any hope of parlaying some insight, beauty and further inspiration for others to follow in the future.

toulouse-lautrec-divan-japonaiseebay

Toulouse lautrec’s artistry has left a huge imprint on graphic designers, painters and artists world over including the author of this blog.

How do we know when inspiration arrives? Like life,  creative discoveries and growth seldom arrive on schedule – so you’ve got to be ready and open with a notepad nearby. My best ideas can come during the grind of work or sometimes while just lying in bed reading, looking at pictures,  or listening to music – a state opposite of a frenzied search for answers. Be open to that. Be open to anything.

“Finished persons are very common – people who are closed  up, quite satisfied that there is little more to learn.” – Robert Henri

Be open, also, to copying. I spent years studying and copying the drawings and timing of animators like Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Glen Keane and James Baxter. There is nothing wrong with direct copying, if you’re doing it to learn. But if you’re deriving from the works of others, acknowledge the source, and show your appreciation. That is, remember to give thanks.

FrankThomas_CaptainHook
Captain Hook by Frank Thomas, from Walt Disney’s 1953 classic, Peter Pan. I loved the design and animation of Captain Hook so much that I made piles of sketches copying his work, analyzing deeply the lines, shapes, timing, and acting choices.

By studying the works of others, you get to be more original not less. And it’s sometimes nice to let your influences show. It’s inevitable, that you become a bit like your heroes. Don’t be afraid of that. There’s no such thing as pure originality. There’s only things that work.

“Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.” – Paul Rand

A short but inspiring video, by Imaginary Forces, on the work and words of Paul Rand, legendary graphic designer and logo creator extraordinaire.