Harrison Ford takes a leap of faith, in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Fear of the unknown is scary, but it can also be a good thing. It’s a natural reaction. It warns you of danger but it can also prompt you into decisive action.
Industrial pioneer, Henry Ford stated:
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”
In art, fear of the unknown is a necessity. It can paralyze you like any other kind of fear can but it can also be the perfect confirmation that you’re onto something curious — something new and exciting. If it ain’t there, you face the most serious dangers an artist can face — sloppiness, stagnancy and banality.
Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean was a curious cat.
When I animated I was always unsure. Do I know enough about the character? Do I understand the sequence? How will this connect with the shots around me? Can I make this work and do it on budget? If I wasn’t sure of a detail I’d go find out. Confirm the pitch. Do the research. Shoot the video reference. Act it out. Prepare, plan, and test. I had the same concerns and took similar action as a director. Even after all the preliminary work, that uncertainty would always persist. It’s there to remind you that you’re actually doing something new — an experience you can learn from, something that might matter. When that’s missing you won’t have fear. You also won’t make any big mistakes. Nor will you impress anyone let alone yourself.
The lesson is this: If you haven’t suffered any fear or uncertainty in your work process, then you know you’ve missed the target or worse, you weren’t even aiming for the right one. If you’re near what you think is completion yet you hadn’t faced any real difficulties then you’ve likely not challenged yourself (or your team). You’ve chosen the safe, easy path — the formulaic — the one you’ve chosen many times before or at least one that others have. Now, there are moments where it might be wise to pull out the old tricks, to cash in some hard earned chips over a long career, but be careful — this is how artists get careless or lazy and seasoned pros are especially susceptible.
Tortoise beats Hare by master director, Tex Avery.
It can be as simple as letting that first part of the sequence slide. You know, the part that no one commented on, or a semi-standard color key that slipped by with a relatively unconvincing “approval” during dailies. You’ve let it slide, setting aside any issues you saw earlier. But later on, you’ll notice that the other areas, those that displayed obvious problems and you’ve worked hard at, are now far better than those early, easy successes. You’re like the runner who’s coasting at the end of the race because of a good start or lucky break, and later finds himself shocked to see other runners surpass him at the finish line. We see this movie replayed all the time. Be wary of it in your work process. I look back at my career, and the work I’m most proud of, that is, work that has some hope of surviving the test of time, is work where I battled my ass off. The other stuff? eh.
The young visionaries Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, co-founders of Apple computers, 1976.
Throughout one’s career, you’ll notice that some people have formulas or routines that give them comfort, that get them thru it all. They have skill and confidence. They also know they’re not doing anything surprising or special as they repeat what’s been the tried and true. Formulas tend to do that in art. They fail to connect. The truly brave and tireless take on their challenges with zest despite fear or fatigue. They know they might not succeed but feel the calling that is theirs in each task they take on. These are your warriors, your innovators.
“Innovation distinguishes between leader and follower.” — Steve Jobs
So take chances. Embrace the fear and move forward. You’ll thank yourself later.