Friday, March 31, 2006

The Inner Game or Zen Toon Making

There are days when the writer of a cartoon finds themselves asking “who’s in charge here?” It is not because they don’t know who their employer is or their supervisor, but because they find themselves writing about the adventures of characters who have taken control and exert a will of their own. In the sports world this state of consciousness or unconsciousness of action is often referred to as being in “the zone”. Tennis players who experience this state of mind during competition describe it as a sense that they can make any shot, that the ball seems huge and slow moving and the tennis court seems to be the size of a basketball court. It is an amazing place and most people haven’t a clue how to get there. It is really a place that you get to after lots of practice and a willingness to let your unconscious mind lead the way.

So it is in drawing or writing cartoons. If you are new to doing the work of creating and you have to think about the steps in the process and the “rules” of constructing a story, you are probably not ready to turn things over to your unconscious mind.

There was this great book written about playing tennis called “The Inner Game” which talked about the importance of letting your unconscious mind control your actions. It really helps on the tennis court, and it also really helps in creating animated content or any type of creative work. You can’t really force things but you can help them along by establishing a fertile environment. Some people talk about letting go and reverting to being childlike. Ever watch a couple of six year old kids playing? They assume roles in an imaginary story and go with the flow without a script or structure or any consultation. They just let their unconscious minds guide them.

Now most of us aren’t six any more, at least not chronologically, but we can gain a great deal by following that example. The practice part comes from letting yourself have the innocence to accept the “reality” of your characters. You have to be willing to suspend your adult prejudices and inhibitions and give over to the fun side of cartoon making. Let your characters become real and they will reveal all kinds of great adventures for you to chronicle.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Forums and Tigers and Blogs, Oh My!!

I really don’t know how my future articles will evolve, but beginning with today’s article I am going to be trying to write about topics that I previously would have posted in an interactive forum. If you are not new to my writings, then you have probably read many of those informational and instructional forum threads. I think Internet forums play an incredible useful and important role in facilitating idea exchanges and providing helpful hints and letting people share their opinions. I also think they can be over used or misused.

Forums are, or at least should be, highly interactive places where people give and take advice and opinions. Sometimes they are also places where information and instruction are presented. As someone who has used them that way for many years, I now believe that to be a misuse of the forum format. The logical evolution of the forum is in fact the blog.

A blog, by its very nature, is a personal communications platform. Some blogs are interactive. To me that blurs the lines between blogs and forums. So one of the early decisions here at Between The Frames was to not allow comments to be posted. Not because I want to discourage ideas or their exchange, but because I didn’t want this to become another type of forum. But, I do actively encourage readers to write to me directly using the information provided in my profile. And I get quite a few notes and comments and requests that way. So feel free to write, as your input and requests are welcomed. When appropriate, I’ll include significant ideas that people send to me so that I can share them with you.

Not Us, Unfortunately

I got a recent note asking about our involvement in the production of “Raid” TV commercials. I wasn’t sure what prompted that note, but then I realized that many recent scribble drawings that I included in my articles were “bug” characters. I would love to tell you that we are involved with those amazing “Raid” commercials, but unfortunately we are not. We do have “bug” like cartoon characters of our own, and those are the guys and gals that pop up from time to time in the articles. But that’s all I can say about that at this time.

Next Steps

I hope that you are enjoying the articles I write, I get plenty of positive feedback so I do know there are many readers who do in fact find these articles interesting. I am often asked about various software and technology products and their usage in animated content production. If you read my previous article,
My Animation Software Isn’t Making It, Because Something Is Stinking up the Room, you probably know that I just consider technology as a tool. My interest is to entertain through the content that our studio produces, whether it is in the form of instructional materials, commercials, or just cartoon shows. So I plan to write about that and to encourage others to expand their horizons in terms of their own creativity. Any reference to software, hardware, technology or other tools used in content creation is provided in just that context. They are tools. The content is everything, and it makes no difference how you produce it.

Drop us a note from time to time and let us know how we are doing and what you enjoyed and found interesting, your opinion is important. In fact, it is so important that we are writing this blog, not only to tell you about what we are doing, but to encourage you to get more involved in producing your own animated content. That way you can entertain others and have fun doing it. And also maybe make a living doing it, which is the really fun part. Getting paid to do what you love.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

My Animation Software Isn’t Making It, Because Something Is Stinking Up The Room.

I spend a great deal of personal time working to help other cartoonists and those who would aspire to becoming cartoon makers. I suppose that there are people who wonder why I bother. The answer is relatively simple. What goes around comes around. Life is all about the biblical Golden Rule. You know the one: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” or a close approximation. So I have always appreciated the help and encouragement I have received from others and I just like to return the kindness.

So I try to share knowledge and experience and yes, even opinions. Today’s article is a little of each. Life was a whole lot simpler when I was 17 and wanting to learn cartoon making. It was simpler but a whole lot harder. There were no computers in animation except some very simple ones used to help automate camera stand operations at the really high end studios. We were lucky to have some basic motorization on our camera stand. Everything was hand drawn on paper and then hand inked and painted on cels. And to get advice or to learn the business was a real challenge. Not like today with the Internet and forums and blogs to provide almost instant worldwide access to knowledge and information.

Yes it was simpler then because there were so many fewer alternatives to creating animated content and fewer forms of distribution too. It was easier to stay focused. Today the alternatives just keep expanding and it is a daunting task to cope with all those options. Technology is a wonderful thing and we live in an amazing world. DVDs and IPODs and video phones and the Internet itself are right out of the Sci-Fi stuff I use to read as a kid. OK that’s enough “well back in my day” recollections. My point in this article is with all that has changed there is one thing that remains the same.

The tools you use may save you time and labor and may make the work easier, but that just means it is easier to produce the cartoon equivalent of day old fish. Not a plesant smell for sure. It is really still all about the content and not the tools. I understand and appreciate the amount of time and effort it takes to learn to use new technology and how important software has become in animation production. I’ve been climbing that mountain for years. But one thing that I see so often as I frequent the forums around the Internet is the overwhelming preoccupation with software features and which software is better than which other software. There seems to be an almost endless obsession with trying to find the magic software that will make animation just flow directly from the mind of the user to the final product in a single mouse click. Yes it is easier today then it was when I was 17 but much more confusing.

It isn’t the software. It is still all about ideas, design, storytelling, and creativity. And you still have to master all the fundamentals which although aided by software are really independent of the software.

Why am I writing this article? Well simply put, I’m hoping to reach and inspire a small number of people who want to become better cartoon makers and to remind them to not abandon the roots of their chosen art form. There are so many great places to go on the internet to discuss things and to interact and collaborate. I would just love to see more discussion about the fundamentals behind creating great content and less mental anguish about the latest and greatest new software tool. Tools are important but you can have the hottest newest most powerful software on the planet and if you haven’t mastered the real cartoon making fundamentals of creating great content and you haven't developed your creativity, then all you have is a really expensive tool box.