Still from Cordell Barker’s 1988 animated short film classic, The Cat Came Back. The expressionless cat in the film drove me nuts, and to this day, I still marvel at its effect on people and its karmic message. To see the film in its entirety, go here.
“(Buddhism) takes change as a given and suffering as the inevitable consequence of attachment and then asks what are you gonna do about it.” — Rebecca Solnit
Transience is both difficult and wonderful. We’re all born and we’ll all die. Mixing together past, present and future, each day we live, forget, remember, enjoy, anticipate, fear and worry. Life is a wonderful concoction — a mixed melody of experiences far too difficult to describe with mere words, sounds or images. As artists, we try our best to capture this essence despite the limitation of our tools and our abilities. The opportunity to capture such transience and the sensations that accompany it is what we yearned for the day we signed up.
Animation is among the few disciplines where we can exclusively isolate and control the visual representation of time and space. With such precise tools in hand, we’re sometimes able to evoke very intense emotions by bringing the past into focus, or inspire insight by looking deeply into the yet-to-be discovered future. It’s the magic that lies within the power of this craft.
As such, one must be reminded of the struggle that’s inherent with being an artist. Facing problems, both of large and small nature, can be daunting, for the artists takes all matters quite seriously. Animators fret for hours over the accuracy of pixels and frames, despite their seemingly endless count in any given scene. Determined to deliver, aiming to impress, and hoping to make a difference — it is easy to get lost in the challenge of getting everything right and even easier to take it all much too seriously.
The sage advice of animation pioneer Chuck Jones comes to mind:
“The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out.”
The expression “What’s up Doc?” pretty much sums up the attitude of the creator and his creation. From the magical, freckled hands of Chuck Jones.
Art, like life, is hard. It’s a great reminder of the risks we must take to grow and find meaning and enjoyment in our daily lives. Without taking chances, not venturing into the unknown, there is little opportunity for excitement or growth. Hence, formulas run their course – work gets stale, and the day-to-day routines lose their luster.
The endearing Oscar-winning Nation Film Board animated short “Crac” by the Frédéric Back, a legendary French Canadian animator whose work has inspired artists like myself since the early days of animation school. Now, it’s rare to find films done with as much care and natural faith in the process without excessive pandering or overt sentimentality.
In our work, we must remember to resist staying too comfortable, both with our abilities and our desires. Listening to the voice within is extremely important. Of course, failure could be just around the corner, and its message is there to remind you that you’re learning and that you’ve taken risks. This takes great will and courage, but it’s also immeasurably powerful and rewarding, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time – the blows of defeat and disappointment weigh on every single artist out there.
Take Ralph Bakshi for example, an animator who made a name for himself exploring more adult subject matter and who wasn’t afraid to break away from convention, like using rotoscope and mixing live action with animation. He took chances and pushed boundaries, tackling subject matter generally avoided by his peers.
Poster image from Ralph Bakshi’s 1992 Cool World, a live action/animated film aimed at an older audience. Featuring the talents of Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger and Gabriel Byrne, the film tested the boundaries of adult themes and good taste with fantastical art and animation. It was both adored by cult fans and loathed by critics.
Sometimes you have to take the wrong road to get on to the right path. When I switched careers (more than 20 years ago), My mother used to say to me — “why didn’t you study art in the first place?” I could only reply that “you just don’t know at the time” — which is a simple yet profound truth on how and when we make choices in life. Trials and mistakes are the path to a proper and well-lived life — one that is learned and fully experienced. Where else could reflection, growth and gratitude come from?
A moment of profound truth and revelation from the international indie hit, Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. (warning: scene contains mature language)
Life is lived taking chances and experiencing the day-to-day. If your daily routine stinks, change things up. If your environment proves not to be the cause of your problems, then change yourself by altering your attitude. I recently read an article about an athlete — one who had a storied yet controversial career — giving a speech during a team ceremony in front of its youngest and newest members. He said, “You don’t realize it at the time, but it all ends all too quickly.”
Savor the moments.
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” — Soren Kierkegaard