In Search of Imperfection

TheGodfather_MichaelCorleone

Al Pacino plays Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece series, The Godfather. The destruction of Michael’s original dreams, honesty and faith, makes him a sympathetic character — one that is flawed and relatable. The dark path he takes creates tremendous interest in its tale of lies, circumstance and inevitability. To see a dissection of a moiety of The Godfather, go here.

“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” — Ben Okri, Poet

We strive so hard as humans to be perfect, and by default we set ourselves up for failure. Now, failure itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, failure is required for growth and happens every time we do something new. But if we become dominated by failure by being obsessed with perfection, we kill the very thing that makes our art worth doing. Nature is perfect in its imperfection, as is humankind. Each journey is a deeply personal challenge to ourselves, and thru that journey we learn about our world and discover what makes each of us and our creations unique. It’s the imperfection in things that make everything interesting.

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Modigliani’s off-kilter portraits of his most common subject, Jeanne Hebuterne, remain continuously interesting because of its strange and beautiful perspective of the human form. He took the simple, common-place portrait and gave it strangeness and uniqueness, influencing numerous artists and illustrators ever since.

In art, we don’t want just balance, but ‘imperfect’ balance. In film and animation, this applies not only to character development, but design, composition, color, timing and mood. Each is impacted by this principle that’s most difficult to master, not only in concept, but in practice. In our industry, thoughtless symmetry, tired visual gags, mindless action, cliche dialogue, and formulaic characters and stories have become an accepted norm. As artists we must fight this trend that could ultimately kill our craft.

“As a real person, he wouldn’t last a minute, would he? But drama is about imperfection. And we’ve moved away from the aspirational hero. We got tired of it, it was dull. If I was House’s friend, I would hate it. How he so resolutely refuses to be happy or take the kind-hearted road. But we don’t always like morally good people, do we?” — Hugh Laurie, on his character House

For education and inspiration, let’s look at some definitive examples where gorgeous imperfection does reign, where contrast, texture and appeal is maximized for the greatest possible enrichment of the cinematic experience:

Story: 

(From left to right) Anthony Quinn, Peter O’Toole and Omar Shariff star in Lawrence of Arabia, originally released in 1962.

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is a sprawling tale of desert warfare that apprises themes of tremendous aspiration, loss, tragedy and triumph. It’s a bold classic that explores every aspect of the human spirit through the life story of T.E. Lawrence who goes from being naive and likeable, to violent and vengeful in a marvelously soulful performance by Peter O’Toole. Along with stunning, unforgettable cinematography and a sweeping score, it’s compelling film-making that contrasts greatly from what’s being screened today.

A similar but more controversial example is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jordan Belfort, from Martin Scorcese’s brilliantly directed Wolf of Wall Street. Lead characters don’t have to be likeable, they just have to be interesting. Check out this marvelous video by Film/Screenplay Instructor, Jennine Lanouette, for more on this subject.

Characters: 

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The Toy Story Series from Pixar Animation Studio is arguably the best trilogy of all time.

John Lasseter’s Toy Story is a magical and landmark creation for many reasons. One of the keys to its success however, is its characters — each one unique, each one taking turns serving as either contrasting or complementary elements to each other, all the while ramping up the stakes for the audiences that feel so attached to them. The imperfection, both in the physical make up and personalities of the characters, make them fun and worth following through all their adventures. The entire series is a wonderful collated gem that will forever define Pixar.

For another great example of multi-dimensional casting, check out the wonderful ensemble of memorable characters in Akira Kurasawa’s 1956 classic, Seven Samurai. It may be the film that set the standard in multi-character development and thematic arrangement for modern films.

Composition:

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A powerful climatic image from the third sequence of Stanley Kubricks’ 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Stanley Kubrick’s immeasurable science fiction epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey (released in 1968) couldn’t be more relevant at this time in human history. Ahead of his time in dealing with themes about space travel, robotics and artificial intelligence, Kubrick laid out the atmosphere of his films using grandly open space. This space, often aligned with single point perspective, may give the illusion of simple symmetry and layout, but in fact allows for the contrast of mood and movement, which was often centrally located. The backgrounds serve as an encasement, as voids and tunnels that focus our attention to action where it matters most — in our hearts and minds.

Another film-maker who bucks the trend with standard composition rules is Wes Anderson, whose films’ stylistic choices (like in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic) play a huge role in both the atmosphere of the story and its impact on its characters.

Design: 

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The three good fairies from Walt Disney’s 1951 classic, Sleeping Beauty.

In Sleeping Beauty, the three little old fairies are the stars of the show. The leads, Prince Philip and Princess Aurora, are mere place holders that represent the standard heroes and damsels in distress from a bygone era of storytelling. All the color (both literally and thematically) lies with the fairies — Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather —  who feature the most important ideals, emotional interest and conflict. Their physical design reflects all their different strengths, personalities and flaws. They make for beautifully perfect ‘imperfections’ that drive the humor and heart of the story.

Mood/Energy: 

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Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman star in The Shawshank Redemption, a film about injustice, self-evaluation and absolution.

Frank Dabaront’s 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, is the kinda of drama that seems to flow so beautifully due to its largely unseen yet carefully constructed action. In this film, two clearly but subtly flawed individuals, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) and Ellis Redding (played Morgan Freeman) take turns finding humor, sadness, victory and defeat. Nothing looks or feels perfect here, not the characters, nor the surroundings which make up their environment and their predicament. Excellent writing, direction and editing move this film along in a way that results in a experience that moves swiftly and surprisingly, rewarding us each step of the way.

Color:

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The Incredibles color script by Pixar Art Director Lou Romano.

These beautiful color keys by Lou Romano show the carefully assembled alignment of chromatic magnitude and arrangement. Color is often the biggest factor in relaying mood, tension and atmosphere, and in feature films, art directors like Lou carefully assess the storyboards and script to formulate the most appropriate designs for each individual sequence. Changes in color intensity, hue and value can alter the energy of a scene or sequence dramatically. These changes can be monumental, miniscule or unexpected. They are never perfectly the same.

Check out the color scripts of other films and artists that inspire you for it’s important to be periodically touched by outside inspiration. There are many, seemingly ‘unsung’ talents, that help make these films so effective.

Timing:

A scene during Woody’s escape from SunnySide from Pixar’s Toy Story 3, animated by Doug Sweetland.

This marvelous Toy Story 3 shot by then Supervising Animator, Doug Sweetland, showcases brilliant contrast in design and timing. The poses, movements and phrases of action are dispersed in a framework that is rhythmically colorful and textured. The irregular and unexpected actions displayed offers a great variety of patterns of movements from the beautifully awkward jump to the frantic circular actions that suddenly follow Woody’s brief moment of accomplishment. Furthermore, the purposely ‘unrefined’ designs of Woody’s postures fit his character and toy design to a ‘T’ — making for a wonderful display of character and action formulation by the artist.

In Summary, it’s good to remember that our obsession for perfection can cloud us and deliver us away from our ultimate goals. For maximum results or more importantly, maximal experience, we must seek change, contrast, balanced asymmetry and imperfection in our artistry. If we must step back or away in order to do so, then that is what we must do.

“The detail adds an element of unexpected something. All fiction is false; what makes it convincing is that it runs alongside the truth. The real world has lots of incidental details, so a painting also has to have that element of imperfection and irregularity, those incidental details.” — Shaun Tan, author/artist of The Arrival

Process over Product

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The art world suffered a great loss recently. Argentine painter/illustrator/writer/sculptor/cartoonist Carlos Nine (1944 – 2016) left behind a legacy of creativity and immeasurable beauty. He lived completely devoted to art and his creations are evidence of a life fully expressed. To see more of the artist’s work, go here.

“What do I mean to infer? Just this – that the art, the art of living, involves the act of creation. The working art is nothing. It’s only the tangible, visible evidence of a life. ” — Henri Miller

As artists, we’re always fighting that battle to create. Whether it’s getting ourselves off our butts to make something that matters, or finding the spirit to give that little bit extra for paid work that has lost its luster.

There’s dignity to doing the work, and doing it the best we can. We can call it professionalism or we can simply call it living fully, each and every moment. We have to keep feeding the mind and express what’s inside.

“The unfed mind devours itself.” — Gore Vidal

Duet. The great Glen Keane could easily just ‘hang up the skates’ so to speak – he’s achieved everything imaginable as an animator – having created numerous memorable characters, achieving all kinds of awards and accolades that will assure his legacy. But instead, he continues to explore, and continues to create, testing new mediums, sharing what he wants to say and expressing his craft, the way only he can.

It’s not always so easy to do — keeping in mind “process over product.” External pressures such as deadlines and quotas put intense strain on the faculties. Sometimes what weighs more heavily is our own internal pressures — our desires to improve and our wish to excel, our wish to not disappoint. We all suffer these challenges as creatives.

What helps is getting lost in the work. But that can’t happen without first getting started.

Here are some simple tips that can be helpful:

1. Have a regular ‘start-up’ routine. Top athletes and musicians all have that little “thing” that they do that gets them going before the performance. Visual artists should do the same. You may construct your art, but the doing of it, is still very much a performance. You need to enter a state of mind, body and spirit to create at the highest level. The famous psychologist William James noted that only by rendering daily life as “automatic and habitual,” are we able to “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”

Shamus-Culhane-Animation-From-Script-To-Screen

Former Disney animator, Shamus Culhane wrote one of the very first books on how to become an animator. Animation From Script to Screen was first published in 1990. It stressed the importance of quick sketching as a warm up before animating, and thus helped numerous artists (the author included) to become better draftsman and more prepared for the rigors of classical animation. He was also one of the first classical artists to insist that new animators at the time learn computer animation which “would be” the future.

2. Have a well-prepared work station, or open space. Nothing is worse that having to clean and prep everything in order to work. Any inertia or laziness you have at the time will soon overwhelm you. This is part of being a professional. Inspirational urges don’t wait – you‘ve got to be ready for action.

“Once it starts to go, it requires no effort.” — David Foster Wallace

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World renown architect Le Corbusier, seen here in his studio in 1961. An artist’s work space needs to be a place of comfort, inspiration and be conducive to creative activity . It should trigger the mind.

3. Focus on the work. Close the doors if you can, turn off distractions, and set aside a time slot free from appointments or meetings. (This is especially important for those who both create and lead teams.) Social media and checking your neighbors new addition to his figurine collection might be fun, but when you work, keep it a working atmosphere, one that remains conducive to creative production. It’s hard enough getting into the groove of things at the best of times, so don’t let others take you out of it once you’re there.

“There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” — Ernest Hemmingway

Hemmingway_Biography

The great Ernest Hemmingway wrote early in the mornings to avoid distractions. He was a soldier, and carried the discipline of a soldier to this artistry.

4. Look at the big picture of what’s working and what’s not, but break things up and start with a manageable section or piece. Top professionals all work on one section/phase at a time. This is especially important on large or complex pieces. Do not feel small or overwhelmed. Every little accomplishment builds confidence, results and fortitude.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

Degas - Four studies of Jockeys

Studies of Four Jockeys. Impressionist master Edgar Degas did numerous studies before proceeding with any final painting. Creation is a journey, not a race. One thing at a time, is best.

5. Proceed regardless. Once you’ve decided to work, WORK. Trick yourself if you have to. Whether I was designing, animating or directing, I was never ever 100% sure of anything — I took action in spite of strain or fear. I made choices. Your art is defined by your choices. Know that you’ll be challenged as you go through the various of phases of work from preparation to finish. As they say, just do it.

“Painting completed my life.” — Frida Kahlo

FridaKahloWorkstation

The details of Frida Kahlo’s work station reveal her preparedness and dedication. Despite being crippled with pain and incapacitated from her over thirty-five operations, she was always ready to create. Art’s a lot of work. You’ve got to fight through resistance and overcome the unexpected. Creation and excellence is not for the weak-minded.

6. Practice and develop your skills. That’s all part of the process of being an artist. Again we come back to how performers in other competitive fields do it. It’s common knowledge that professional athletes should train like they compete. So whether you’re doing a life class, sketching or acting out a shot, don’t do it sloppily. Do it with focus. This doesn’t mean not having fun, but just know that our monkey minds are easily weakened by the sloppy repetition of bad habits. And if you get used to only giving 60%,  that’s likely what you’ll get when the stakes are higher and the pressures mount. Our attitude matters.

KeithHaring

American artist and social activist Keith Haring (1958-1990) seen here in one of his many famous exhibits. Prolific, daring, and personal, Haring’s remarkably simple yet beautiful work both profoundly altered the art scene and emotionally moving millions around the world. He produced as much art as he could before he succumbed to HIV-related illness.

“What is an artist? He’s a man who has antennae, who knows how to hook up to the currents which are in atmosphere, in the cosmos.” — Henry Miller

It’s a huge privilege to be a working artist. Yes, it’s not easy. Failure is a necessity and we often have to make compromises. In commercial fields such as illustration or animation — where deadlines, quota, and the need to appease our superiors or clients is paramount – it’s all part and parcel of working in a craft that requires the talents and efforts of many. That is more the reason to enjoy every bit of the action. It’s what fills the day. And so we shall embrace it all the best we can and not get too insanely focused on the end results. The outcomes are inevitably a natural by-product of our efforts. Being an artist is all about the process of being alive and expressing ourselves as fully as we can.

Icon and martial artist Bruce Lee was all about the process — using each and every creative moment as an opportunity for full-out, honest personal expression.

Here’s the great teacher-painter, Robert Henri, to remind us of the value of our efforts:

These results, however crude, become dear to the artist who made them because they are records of states of being that he has enjoyed and which he would regain. They are likewise interesting to others because they are to some extent readable and reveal the possibilities of greater existence… The object therefore is the state. We may be even be negligible of the byproduct, for it will be, inevitably, the likeness of its origin, however crude.”

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Another insatiable piece from the collection of Carlos Nine’s many creations. There aren’t too many better than Carlos, a master who lived a life of constant creation. Rest in Peace.

Shot Analysis: Horton Hears A Who

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Vlad Vladikoff is one of the funnest characters from Blue Sky’s Horton Hears A Who.

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” — Dr. Seuss

Blue Sky Studio’s 2008 film adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who is a visually underrated, animated treat. Loaded with beautiful color, sets, characters and delightfully inventive animation, it’s a film that showcases loads of creative fun while remaining faithful to the essence of Dr. Seuss, both thematically and graphically.

Today, we’ll dissect a sequence of shots from Horton Hears A Who performed by then Supervisor Animator, Aaron Hartline (who currently resides at Pixar Animation Studios). Aaron is a tremendously talented and devoted animator whom I had the privilege to sit next to during my time at Blue Sky Studios many years ago. It was one of the most enjoyable working arrangements I’ve ever experienced.

Now, let’s breakdown this beautiful shot and decipher the amount thought, deliberation and creativity that flows from one set of actions to another:

The shot sequence in its entirety. Aaron Hartline’s shot is a marvelous demonstration of careful planning, dynamic staging and sharp timing applied to character animation.

(Note: The following divisions made here are arbitrary and don’t necessarily represent how the artist constructed or executed his shot)

Section 1:

Here you can see how the character sharply pops into position (perfectly staged on thirds) right in front of Sour Kangaroo’s moving position, ending with his swooping wings and cowered vampire-like position before slowly revealing the prop in his hand. The snappy entrance, held pose, and slow reveal give the entrance punch, clarity and texture.

Section 2:

This second section is both more elegant in movement and sophisticated in execution. Here, the artist chooses to showcase some playful action with a prop (a bone). He does so first, with an assertive grip which is confirmed by the attitude of the body language and stern facial expression. Then secondly, he tosses the prop up and catches it before lowering the overall body position in a lovely display of weight transfer. This sets up the big dramatic duo-wing pose and forward head motion as he delivers the words “DEVOUR IT,” which is followed by the final flourish of some chomping jaw action. The balanced yet textured rhythm closes out the sentence that precedes the wild events that are to follow.

Section 3:

This is where the big change of mood and energy occurs in the sequence. The visual comedy begins with a sudden unexpected cackle, which Vlad first contains. He subsequently loses control/comfort — which is depicted by the awful face in the second choking — before a third, monstrous cough forces him to completely abandon his wide-winged stance to one of a more humble position. A series of head/neck gestures and a quick glance of embarrassment then forces him to retreat to far screen left, where he hides behind his cloaked wing. The final choke and smile he delivers as he looks back to Kangaroo re-affirms his embarrassment before we cut to her tepid response.

Section 4:

I love how this new cut starts with him central in the composition, with his back facing the camera. The head peaking out to screen left directs your attention of where to expect subsequent action. The dialogue “HOLY MOLY” reads beautifully in profile after the wonderful shrug of the shoulders. Then comes another cough which is more severe, built up nicely with the exaggerated action of the body first, then anticipating the next major action with the claws flexing in open isolation before a ‘grab the chest’ move leads us to a discharging action reminiscent of a horrible sneeze. The final extra ‘flop’ of the head/jaw gives the scene a wonderful flair before showcasing the stuck bone in his throat which he pulls out in a textured sequence of pause, snap and crackle.

Section 5:

In the concluding action, Vlad regains his composure and gets back into his fiendish pose. He thrusts forward with speed and confidence but then hesitates — his eyes and head shift in search for answers before the light bulbs flash inside and he thrusts upwards in sudden discovery saying proudly “I WILL DEVOUR IT.” The following move forward is another nice touch by the artist. As he says “SECOND TIME” he does so in an expression of self-assertion and persuasion — like when one tries so desperately to convince someone of something that’s in doubt. The final expression — which is preceded by a stupid yet genuine face that all dumb henchmen do when they suddenly figure out the math — is triply stated with a goofy face, forward nodding head and fork-like display of his two claws. It’s a great finish.

The Reference:

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Character sketches of Vlad by Sang Jun Lee. Property of Blue Sky Studios.

Bela Lugosi

Photo reference of the iconic Bela Lugosi in his 1930’s role as the immortal Count Dracula. Property of MGM.

Video reference performed by Supervising Animator Aaron Hartline. Notice that his video serves primarily as a base for the acting, as his timing, graphic choices and details all surface later in the process. Creation is often a multi-tiered process. (Thank you Aaron for kindly providing the extra references to this shot. What a most welcome update!)

In conclusion, it’s good to note that complicated shots and sequences like this require a serious knowledge and search for what ‘makes’ the character. Only a detailed exploration via video reference and intensive visual foraging for the best possible layout of the various phrases of action on paper can yield shots like this.  Aaron Hartline’s animation, like those of other top flight animators out there, are well worth the time studying in detail. You learn both craft and appreciation. It’s also a reminder of the kind of fun we can have with the job that we do.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” — Dr. Seuss

Inputs & Outputs

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The various interfaces and accessories of the computer define the very way we interact with them. The human mind and body has its own inputs and outputs that we must learn to respect to get what we wish out of them.

“You are what you eat.”

“A man is defined by his actions.”

– Two Common Proverbs

Sometimes life’s not fair. Or at least it seems that way. But we pretty much get out of it what we put in. Whether we’re talking about personal lives, economics or the environment, there’s a constant flow between what moves in and what moves out. Treat the earth or our fellow humans poorly, and we’re gonna suffer the consequences. The artistic process is no different, although the results of creative effort don’t always turn out the way we expect. The real beauty in anything is in the surprises.

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Pangu is the center of the ancient Chinese creation story. With the swing of his giant axe, he separated Yin from Yang creating the Earth (Yin) and the Sky (Yang). Yin and Yang is often interpreted as a symbol of balance between dueling forces but it’s also about the flow of things, how elements and actions counter-balance each other and the continued pattern of events that are inevitable. What we put in, we get out, which in turn, affects what we put in – making it all part of a huge encompassing circle of activity.

Balance, which is achievable in art, is a most challenging thing to achieve in life. It’s what we must strive for because without it, we’re bound to lose track of life and ourselves. But here’s one scientific fact that reminds us that we can always determine our future pretty much at any time. Aside from some noted brain and heart cells, we astonishingly replace 98% of the atoms in our body each year! We really can be what we choose to be! Neither mind or body are as fixed as we believe.

“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.” – Thomas Merton, from Thoughts in Solitude

The whole mind-body-spirit axiom is highly under-estimated in the daily act of living. Caught in an age of accelerated technological advancement and constant busyness, it’s far too easy to lose ourselves in one type of activity or another. We are seldom aware and scarcely mindful of what we’re doing. We often don’t even realize where we are in space or in time. Pure, distraction-free presence is all too absent.

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Few artists have accomplished as much or given as much of themselves to the art of animation as Richard Williams. Today, even at the age of eighty, he continues to devote to the art he loves. He won his third Academy Award Nomination this past year for his latest short film, Prologue.

When we talk about inputs it’s important to recognize what we put into ourselves – what we feed our minds, our hearts and our bodies. In other words, we can choose what enters our being, and in turn, our universe. The quality of our “inputs” and our choice of subsequent actions – our “outputs” – determine both our immediate and long-term reality.

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. – Leonardo Da Vinci

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Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci was not only a prolific artist, inventor and scientist, he was also a healthy, strong vegetarian, capable of great physical feats of strength. He’s the ultimate renaissance man – a total mental, physical and spiritual embodiment of excellence.

To maintain some semblance of balance and good health, here our some things that we can attest to as being very helpful “inputs” as well as the necessary “outputs” that complement them with respect to the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our lives:

Physical Inputs – Insist on quality and consistent consumption of quality foods, liquids and fresh air. Artists and technicians studying and working in the arts are notorious for their poor diets. The image of the vice-inflicted, physically weak and impoverished artist is over-rated and out of date. Don’t live down to those expectations.

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Actor Kirk Douglas plays Vincent Van Gogh in Vincent Minelli’s 1956 film, Lust For Life (based off the Irving Stone novel). Van Gogh’s tragic story made him the poster child for the starving artist. People forget he suffered severe mental illness and loneliness, which ultimately lead to his death. Had he survived his condition beyond his meager 37 years, he might’ve prospered for his magnificent artistry was recognized shortly after his passing.

Physical Outputs – Move the body. Sitting for too long is the equivalent of a slow death. Recent scientific evidence shows that when the body is idol for too long, it goes into states not unlike that of hibernation where the body works to conserve as much energy as possible and thereby shut down important metabolic processes that would otherwise be active. You’ll still get hungry but you won’t be burning off any of those calories in front of the computer. The common occurrence of the pot belly is only one small evidence of this fact. Chronic illness and cardiovascular disease are far more deadly outcomes of a life in stasis.

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Matt Groening’s famous anti-hero, Homer Simpson is the modern day parody of the non-athletic, unintelligible and underachieving male. From The Simpsons.

Mental Inputs – The pace of the modern day artist is, all too often, too fast and too furious. It’s very easy to fall prey to inhaling the same nervous air and soupçon of limited taste and creative exposure. Feed your mind like you feed your body with quality literature, inspirational blogs, visits to museums and outdoor excursions to refresh and reboot the cerebral taste buds. We need outside inspiration so we can be reminded to live each day anew.

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Blogging maestro, Maria Popova. Maria’s marvelous blog, Brain Pickings, is one of the best and most followed sites in the world. It’s a beautiful and generous source for literature, art, poetry and meaningfulness. (Like this blog) Brain Pickings is also completely free and ad-free. (Photo by Elizabeth Lippman)

“Art appreciation, like love, cannot be done by proxy: It is a very personal affair and is necessary to each individual.” – Robert Henri

Mental Outputs – If you’re a working artist, this is the one area you’re probably fulfilling, at least mechanically. Artistic creation, after all,  is a challenging mental activity. That said, the nature of commercial work can be at times creatively stifling and the constant, hurried pace of production can sap the drive and energy of even the most battle-tested warriors. Many artists need to find alternative creative outputs to satisfy the mind, when paid work doesn’t. Personal art or a passionate dive into an alternative creative expression such as writing, music, or sports, often help visual artists achieve not only balance, but find deep inspiration and fulfillment.

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United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas. This brilliant new science fiction novel, which supposes an altered history of WWII, is the latest creative expression of the long-time accomplished digital film artist. Peter has numerous films under his belt from VFX blockbusters to Pixar’s latest features, but it’s his personal writing, that frees him to create his own worlds and express his wildest and most personal ideas. His books (including his Folio Prize nominated novel, Bald New World) have received critical acclaim and worldwide exposure.

Spiritual Inputs – Find time for peace and being alone. Give yourself the allowance to contemplate the meaning of things, even the seemingly littlest of things, no matter how trivial they may seem to others. Consider the practice of prayer or meditation, or just regular isolated walks in the woods. Moments alone are quite sacred and we’re all in great danger of losing this beautiful horological practice.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” – Henry David Thoreau

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The Universe Unmasked. Painting by Rene Magritte, a surrealist who dared to imagine the strange, the absurd, and the unimaginable.

Spiritual Outputs – Find ways to connect to things outside of yourself. Consider a commitment of at least a small allotment of time for others, not just family or friends, but to the community or the environment – so that we may give away and give back some of ourselves to the forces unknown. We ultimately enter and leave this world alone, but our connection to it, while we are here, give it meaning and fulfillment. We don’t have to look far into the future or past, or so deep into the galaxies to realize we are only an infinitesimal part of existence.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark… There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”- Carl Sagan