Going Analog

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.



 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.

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.


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.


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.


Steven Spielberg 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?


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.
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.


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