Storytelling - About Self Obsession

In story telling it is a smart idea to tell a story about something you know. This story stems from a simple idea. The synopsis might have read, "I take a selfie and another". It goes for only one minute. Look how much is packed into one minute! One minute is all you need for your project. With a simple, engaging story idea and a short time frame an animator can focus on making their project good.

Storyboarding - Eric Goldberg and Disney

Find out the difference between a great storyboard artist and a great animator.

Storyboarding - Colour Boards - Colour and Concept Art

As part of designing an animation project animators should think how they will use colour.

An example of a Pixar Colour Script by Lou Romano

Colour Script  

Getting Creative - Timing and Spacing - Finding Time and Space

This is a lecture to watch and reflect on in your eJournal. What are the five ways to get in the zone? Thank you to the 2nd year who emailed this link.

Stop Motion Animation Student Project

This is what other animation students are producing.

Walking the Walk

An animated character walk should visually communicate how the character is feeling and what the character is thinking, primarily through the animation principles of Timing, Spacing and Solid Drawing (Posing).

Character Walk
copyright information - use for educational purposes

Crop Circles Spiral Cycles - Difficult Years

I know it is pretty safe to make a post. This part of the The Animation Garden has been fallow for a few seasons.

In another animation garden, where we attempt to grow animators in an industrialised system, an unexpected pressure created a test bed that has borne some productivity. Where I teach required greater efficiency. To a bean counter that means; create more in less time. That way we have the same or greater output for a lesser input. They, the disconnected, cut hours.

The ultimate product in contemporary teaching is that a student leaves the place with a qualification. In the wrenching and re-arranging to create greater efficiencies with education regarded as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold), an observation can be made that the re-branded "education" has become dislocated from learning, and a qualification has become dislocated from knowledge and practical skills. Knowledge has become superficial knowing that knowledge practice will gain a student skills, rather than the development of a practical skills based knowledge from practising a craft. It's like gardening by watching gardening shows online or on TV, or cooking by purchasing cookbooks - the screens and pages become a barrier rather than a portal.

An essential element in any creative endeavour is time. More specifically time allocated to practice. For enlightened practitioners that also means time to play. Best to use the terms "research" or, "experiment" if discussing the ideas in a business planning environment. I would contend that one can be busy at play. But futile attempts at convincing a spreadsheet enveloped soul sucking abacus clicker* detracts from essential play time. (*They thrive in the industrialised education system).

Back to the test bed. The above-mentioned system will be closing the productive experiment down soon. It was built in a place that may not meet the suitability of the corporate controllers. So I'll bring the ideas out into the sun in The Animation Garden.

This is a series of posts accumulated on 'self-directed learning' for second year animation students. The most recent first:

At the end of this year the animators around you would have been practising and studying for "2" years. If it's only in class time then that would be about 1152 hours (if you came to work in every class); about a quarter of a two year apprenticeship. An apprentice working at a craft for 8 hours per day 5 to 6 days per week would usually clock up about 4000 to 4800 hours of practice over 2 years. Good on those animators who have been practising the additional hours. Even without the full amount of time applied to learning animation, look at the amazing amount of learning and animation production you have achieved.

This is a two part video essay on creativity that is meant to be inspiring:

Who, What and Are You An Animation Gardener?

Our first public attempt at locking down some specifics about what the animation garden is and who it is for. All a giant work in progress, but you have to stick you neck out at some point :) Who is an animation gardener?
You may be an animation gardener already and not know it :) The animation garden is inclusive, not exclusive. Any like minded individual can be referred to as a fellow gardener. The broader you can think the better. We don’t own any of this or get to set the destination. We are travelling in a direction, towards sustainable self reliance and happiness for artists. Those travelling in the same general direction are more than welcome in the garden.

What is an animation gardener? 
An Animation Gardener aspires to meet one rule, 3 goals and 12 principles.

The Animation Garden Rule
1Don’t Be Desperate

Covered in a previous post (two posts back) this is pretty much the starting point for any Animation Gardener. If you can't manage to keep desperation at bay it will undermine your ability to 
implement everything that follows.

The Animation Garden Goals
1Have fun being productive.
2Learn and grow.
3Share your knowledge.

The Animation Garden goals are pretty self explanatory I feel, they are the things we want out of our lives as artists.

The Animation Garden Principles
1Use your environment for inspiration.
2Set aside time for playful creativity.
3Go with the creative flow.
4Set small achievable goals.
5Value creative relationships.
6Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.
7Improve incrementally.
8Focus on your story. The craft will follow.
9Give your ideas willingly to others.
10Foster a wide range of interests.
11Stay open to suggestions.
12Make your message fun to say.

The 12 Animation Garden principles are loosely bases on the 12 principles of Permaculture.  Basically they amount to a check-list, if what you are doing falls within these parameters you can be sure your activities are sustainable. The Permaculture principles were originally written up with agriculture in mind (sustainable food production) as will be obvious from the language used. They have however evolved and grown over time to encompass a broader context, covering the creation of a sustainable culture, I am not the first to apply these principles to a new situation, and may not even be the first to apply them to this specific situation.

Below I have listed each principle with a little more detail and put the original Permaculture principle with each one so you can see the leaps I have made to keep them relevant. This was a highly subjective process. I'd welcome any feedback on other ways they might have been bent towards our needs.

Use your environment for inspiration
Be inspired by your context, it is unique to you and will lead to more unique ideas.
Permaculture 01 - Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder” By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
Set aside time for playful creativity.
Understand what sustains you creatively, set aside time to maintain relationships and networks that will immerse you in your special creative fertiliser.
Permaculture 02 - Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines” By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
Go with the creative flow.
Produce to feed your creativity. When your momentum is coming from within instead of commercial direction you'll need to listen to your inner child. Spinning your wheels without producing will stunt your momentum, come back to that later and follow your inspiration so you can move forward. Act out & record ideas (audio +/- visual), keep a visual diary of ideas for later, the right ideas for you will last or reemerge later.
Permaculture 03 - Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach” Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
Set small achievable goals.
Animation Gardeners are not interested in boom and bust, crunch time, deadlines, creative manic depression. Manage your time according to what your body and mind tell you. Less of higher quality is better than more that can not be sustained.
Permaculture 04 - Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation” We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
Value creative relationships.
Nothing forges new friendship like working hard along side someone. Projects come and go but those friendships remain. These people will pick you up when you are flat, push you to do better and congratulate you on your successes. Value and make time to nurture those friendships.
Permaculture 05 - Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course” Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.
Never throw work away without showing it to someone. Even your worst work can start a conversation that broadens your understanding. Everything you produce has some value, make use of it, most of all learn from it.
Permaculture 06 - Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine” By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
Improve incrementally.
Beware the never finished masterpiece. If you work has improved, publish it and move on. Let your body of work tell the story of your evolution as an artist.
Permaculture 07 - Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race”. Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
Focus on your story. The craft will follow.
Only commercial institutions that desire tools to turn to their own agenda want you to put the craft ahead of the story or message. Keep an eye on the big picture. What are you trying to say with your work? Use this as your compass. Be aware of how small achievements help to bring you closer to your bigger goals.
Permaculture 08 - Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees” By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go
Give your ideas willingly to others.
Share your creative journey with other animation gardeners and offer to help those who share with you. Form good will buffers.
Permaculture 09 - Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
Foster a wide range of interests.
If animation or creative art is all that you are interested it is only a matter of time until you burn out. Look up and expand your view, have other interests and use them as inspiration for your work.
Permaculture 10 - Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work” By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
Stay open to suggestions.
Be open to the changes in direction that might be initiated by interactions with other animation gardeners. Where ideas meet is fertile ground for more original ideas. Don’t be precious.
Permaculture 11 - Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path” The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
Make your message fun to say.
Listen to your inner child and work towards parts of the process that feel like play. Think of ways you can get your message across that maximise your time engaging with the parts of the process that feel like play.
Permaculture 12 - Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be” We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

And here is an interesting little point, I'm not sure how useful it is beyond maybe making them easier to remember. But there just happen to be 12 Animation Garden principles and of course 12 animation principles. If you arrange them in the right order, turn your head sideways and squint there is even a kind of relationship between them.

The Animation Garden Principles
The Animation Principles
Use your environment for inspiration.Anticipation
Set aside time for playful creativity.Exaggeration
Go with the creative flow.Overlap and follow through
Set small achievable goals.Ease-in and ease-out
Value creative relationships.Secondary actions
Use all work as an opportunity for feedback.Solid Drawing/Technical skills
Improve incrementally.Timing and Spacing
Focus on your story. The craft will follow.Appeal
Give your ideas willingly to others.Staging
Foster a wide range of interests.Arcs
Stay open to suggestions.Squash and Stretch
Make your message fun to say.Animation type/style

Are you an animation gardener?
If from where you are it seems I've been stating the obvious so far during this post then chances are you are at least in part already an animation gardener. If so that is great, maybe this can just serve as another way of articulating how you feel, or identifying kindred spirits. If not then hopefully I have challenged you to look at your creative life in a different way.

Even during the time I have been researching and exploring these concepts I have encountered other on the same wavelength who I now think of as fellow gardeners.

What are we planting next in the garden?
Now for the next and perhaps most challenging part, to put our work where our mouth is. We want to spread the word about the Animation Garden, so we are going to attempt to produce a short animation for each principle. As we do we will attempt to use the principles to guide us, we will be testing them as we go. If they are any good we should come up with something we are proud of that was also fulfilling to produce.

Any feedback is more than welcome.
( Anim Garden Principle 6 - Use all work as an opportunity for feedback ;)

A New Name For A New Way Of Thinking About Creativity

So in case you haven't noticed we have a new name and it kind of blew out to become a new look for our whole Blog and Facebook Page.

If you have been following the posts of late you will have seen I have been struggling for a name to go with our current path, but now we have it. I've re-branded this blog twice in the last 6 months which can't be good for attracting and keeping followers, but it seems an unavoidable part of using a blog to express your thoughts as they evolve. For what its worth I love our new name and can't imagine wanting to change it for a long time now. I hope you will stick around as the journey slowly continues.

Welcome to the Animation Garden :)

Cultimation - THE RULE

Nobody like rules much, and the last thing I want to do is be "the man". But thinking it over as I have the last month or two I can't really see how we are going to redefine animation as a sustainable community unless we can agree on one thing before moving on to the details.

So here it is, the one essential rule at the core of Cultimation  (still working on that name :P)....

That's it. Seems simple. But I have run into some different opinions about it so I will elaborate a little.

What I am NOT talking about here is your creative drive, one student put it to me that all artists should be desperate in a way. Sure you should be driven and maybe even desperate to initiate new creative experiences, based on my personal experience there is not much point in continuing with a creative career unless you feel this desire down to your bones. But what I am talking about is the context within which you will live your creative life.

So what are the things you need or want in life apart from the sheer joy of being creative every day? For me these can be boiled down to one thing, approval.

I've identified three main kinds of approval :
  1. Fundamentals -  Getting a job in the first place, keeping your job, helping to keep a studio in the black, generally justifying your continuing presence in the creative industries. This one evokes the strongest desperation of all in my experience.
  2. Money For Extras - This makes all material things and life experiences away from work possible (family, house, travel etc). Any industry's main form of approval is extra money.
  3. Status - Getting a promotion with more creative input and responsibility, getting more people to see your work, improving your reputation among your peers, even getting better grades or praise from teachers like me.

We also have to acknowledged the difference between understanding your needs and desperation. If you have a family, you need to support it, if you want to travel then you will need money and so on. I'm not about being militant. There are plenty of grey areas, but my argument is that our industry or even our nature has come to be underscored by a certain kind of desperation. A burning desire for approval that leads to a kind of consensus on compromise, deep compromises that effect how we work and what we produce.

Over and over in my career I have witnessed a kind of race to the bottom, the very minimum an artist can live on for the maximum amount of work on a product no one is proud of. I did type up some examples, but my feeling is that the post was getting too long, lets just say it has happened with every single full time employer I have had spanning Film, TV, Internet products and Games. Often it has happened in spite of that employers very good intentions, its just the nature of economic survival to squeeze and squeeze for maximum efficiency.

What is most perplexing is that while companies and corporations are more than happy to cash in on this situation, it is usually as situation supported or even driven by artists. Artists willing to work longer, be paid less and compromise on what they are capable of. All in order to save their job, the studio or further their career (I include myself in this).

That what we have to offer has become so flexible in value is quite bizarre. Here is a funny little video that puts the same values in different situations.

And here is the final kick in the guts, not once out of the many places I have worked has this strategy actually succeeded in saving the studio, building more jobs, a better standard of work, more creative freedom or strengthening the workplace stability. When you and your co-workers prove you can do more from less it is the nature of the system to expect you to meet that price from then on. In spite of my past desperation and that of my co-workers, non of the studios I have worked for full time are still producing today, does that sound sustainable?

I could understand us setting up a different set of values for ourselves than those observed by other professions if there was some kind of trade off. But I see no evidence that there is one. If anything, creative industries is one of the least stable and underpaid professions in the western world.

I could go off about the evils of the corporate system, tell horror stories about friends (or myself) drained of creative life while trying to cut back on how much they can work for etc. But that's old ground and you can draw your own conclusions. But what I can do is focus on a positive example, what would happen if we did all draw a line in the sand.

A quote:

I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don't have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I'll solve the problem for you the best way I know how. And you can use it or not – that's up to you. You are the client. But you pay me.

Steve Jobs Demoes Quick Look

This is Steve Jobs paraphrasing one of his hero's Paul Rand (designer of the Apple logo). Its so audacious, its terrifying for an industry veteran like myself. But whether you love or hate Apple, you can not deny we are talking about one of the most successful designers of the past century. Compare the progress and evolution of Apple while Steve Jobs was in charge with a company at the other end of the scale, maybe someone like Acer computers, who make cheaper stuff (I don't know a lot about Acer the company, so sorry of its offending anyone, I could have picked almost any other computer company, its just an example). Now think of your reputation and career as being one of these two, would you rather be known as the Acer of animation, or the Apple? Would you rather have the income of the Acer company, or the Apple company?

So if money is important to you, I'd put it to you that avoiding desperation will not only save you from less rewarding work experiences, but will also lead to you making more money in the long run. Ensuring you are associated with good work will lead to your work having a greater value.

Meanwhile the city where I work (Brisbane) has generally become synonymous with getting creative work done fast and cheep. It may not be quite as good as what you can get in other places, but its cheep and dependable. Ultimately in an attempt to get more work (being more desperate than others) it has become expected of us that we will meet the required deadlines, but not be quite as creative. We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The chicle's conjured up to get us desperate are many, and I've peddled a few of em myself in my time. Doing work experience while still a student I was told by my first boss, I had to be willing to do anything to get a foot in the door, another great story my dear friend Frank told me about featured a successful industry bloke who said he succeeded because while others were sleeping, he was creeping. Goals are another common tool used to fit us square pegs into round holes, list them, tick them off, achieve them, want them more than the next guy.

All of that can be fine, IF the processes and work environments you are entering into are in line with your dreams. The reasons you got into this whole crazy pastime in the first place. If they are not (and they often are not) then its probably desperation that got you there. You are probably working harder, longer and at a lower quality (spreading your skills and time thinner and thinner) so you can prop up a system that will not give you anything that lasts in return. Its not that the people employing you are necessarily evil, its just the system demanding the best economic outcomes without taking individuals into account, that is after all what it is designed to do. For an artist it is quite simply unsustainable.

Work for free or a full price but never cheap

I appreciate this creates a  tricky situation for someone trying to build a career. When I was younger and hungry for success (Oops there is another of those clich├ęs, should I say more desperate for approval) I probably would have called this arrogance. Back then I might have characterised this as advising artists to think they are too good for certain jobs or tasks. But that is not what I mean, it is more that some jobs or expectations probably don't line up with your dreams as artist, in fact they are often sold to us as being a path towards our dreams while they really just erode them. I don't think its arrogant to know what you want, to know that you want your love of this medium to last, and understand your environment enough to know when you are really making progress.

Please remember, I am not necessarily preaching any kind of extreme or fundamentalist position, where you draw the line is your call in the end. I'm just saying I think you need to have a line drawn somewhere in the first place, and that collectively we could and should be setting that standard a lot higher than we are.

So a lot of this is about knowing yourself, knowing why you do anything creative at all. I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases it has to do with things that can not be measured by a growth obsessed economic system and has more to do with things that are harder to measure. Things like learning something, trying something new, working with other creative people, and most of all creating emotional connections with the people who see your work. These are the things that I think can create a positive feedback loop that feeds an artists sole, and lead to a better quality of work that must in the long run create more wealth (in some shape or form) for us all. This positive feedback, a system that creates its own energy and momentum, a context and community of artists that provides its own fuel is right out of the Permaculture textbook, and it is what I plan to explore from here on.