Welcome back to all my readers and hello to any new ones. I had an interesting moment of inspiration recently. When I started thinking about the kind of content I want to make for my blog I knew I wanted it to be more personal and come for a true place and the idea of why I take so long to release my art immediately jumped out at me. Maybe because it gives me a route to study my own behavior, or because it could help other artists look at themselves differently, either way I didn't want this to pass up because there's a lot to talk about.
I'm going to split this blog up into 4 sections. Here's the list:
Life can get in the way.
Animation is a long process.
I was making art for the wrong reasons.
What am I doing to change?
Life can get in the way
So I'm 28 years old now and with that comes more problems. With great age comes great responsibility. Joking aside, getting older kind of sucks for creating content regularly. I do want to stress that it's not impossible to create a stream of work and lo, I have discovered the best way to do so, but I will detail that later.
Before I figured out how to balance my work and life, I struggled. A lot. There are a lot of things that demand your time as you get older: work, health, family and friends, side projects, etc. Personally, I'm already bad at juggling and I've fumbled each of these things more than I'd like to admit; however, this doesn't include the times where you can feel down, or when life wants to give you a hard time. For example, this past summer, I had moved into my new apartment, my cat died, the refrigerator in my apartment broke down, the AC my roommate and I purchased hasn't been installed because of building regulations (it's been so hot and humid, it's hard to sit and focus at home) plus a lot more.
When things pile up on me like this, it makes being creative very hard because I'm too down and depressed to want to do anything. When life gets bad like this, I try to take some time to recollect myself. Dealing with being burned out and overwhelmed by life and work is something I deal with often and a major reason why I tend to take long breaks and hiatuses.
Animation is a long process.
Another reason it takes a while for me to release work is a lot more simple: animation just takes a while. It's a long and very involved process involving many steps that are time consuming to execute themselves. There's nothing about animating that takes a short amount of time. It's leagues more intense than most other forms of art or entertainment. Even with shortcuts in production, the average production time on an animated project is longer than a live action project.
Now even the most passionate and fast animator will have to face this reality. There's a great quote by Richard Williams about animation. Essentially he says if you wanted to do animation quickly, you're in the wrong field. That said, there are modern toolsets that can help speed up aspects of production. Good tools and planning can go a very long way to shortening production time. For me, the tools I had been using until this year were showing their age. In other words, my hardware was breaking down (not a penis joke), and the software I had just wasn't conducive to working quickly. My tools couldn't keep up with what I wanted to make, and it was an additional issue that complicated the process.
Lastly, it also takes time to find the inspiration needed to convince you that investing all this time is worth it. While it's been a long time I've struggled with feeling inspired to create, there was a decent time where I didn't feel sufficiently inspired to invest the required time to animate a project. It's not to say that all the other ideas I had were bad or didn't deserve to be created (I have an idea library for this very reason), it's just that I spent a lot of time questioning myself if that was the route I wanted to take. I think when you get to that point about something, it's important to take a step back. I think there's a line between purpose and impulse that I had not respected or even was aware of before, which led to a lot of internal struggling, hesitation and uncertainty.
I was making art for the wrong reasons
For most of my life I had a very simple idea of what kind of art I wanted to make. I had a dream of selling a TV show (and still do). While I grew that dream was still part of my paradigm, but as alternative routes of making money for artists grew via social media, I began to rethink if I really wanted to sell my content to a network. Where some spent their 20s going wild and crazy or traveling, I spent mine being poor, living at home and making art to try to grow an internet fanbase. I lost sight of why I wanted to be an Animator and spent a lot of time and money making content "for the views". I thought it prudent to do all the research on what makes someone successful on social media or hell, life in general. This lead me down the road of creating art that was theoretically popular (like fanart), but not what I was actually invested in. Ultimately even though my research bore out the mechanical things I'd have to do to get what I wanted from social media- work hard, upload consistently, have a brand, etc. It left me empty and unmotivated. I saw no growth, and I knew the work I was putting out could be better.
To compound this, I wasn't even animating! How ironic, that I spend thousands of dollars to learn animation and completely abandon it when I wanted to build my brand on social media. I thought, illustrating is less time consuming than animation so I should do that, but illustrating, at least exclusively illustrating just did not speak to me. I ended up feeling like I was wasting my time and the quality of my illustrations dropped significantly, which was also demotivating in its own right. The logic I had of "if these artists did x and y kind of art and made it, than I could do that too" was not working at all for me.
Lastly, in the event I was making animated content, which I did eventually- the content wasn't coming from a real place. As in the stories I was telling didn't have any weight or relateability. While I had fun making these projects, I never felt fulfilled making them. I look back at a lot of my older films (the are exceptions) and while I can be proud of certain aspects like the technique, style or humor, there's a lot missing from my older work that could elevate it. It wasn't until recently that I really understood what was missing from my work.
What am I doing to change?
So I've laid my flaws out there. Now the question is what am I going to do to fix it? There's a lot of things to be done, but the most important thing is that now I feel a deeper sense of purpose in my work. This feeling is the basis of my growth as a person and artist and while I will provide a more tangible list of things I'm doing to put out better work more consistently, I wouldn't be able to do it without the newfound sense of purpose that I have discovered in myself. Just to show how important this is, I'll repeat: without my sense of purpose fueling my creativity, I would not be able to make the requisite changes to become a better and more prolific artist. Since that out of the way, let's get moving.
The first thing I'm addressing is my hardware and software setup. While my previous computer and setup wasn't bad, I was working with older and older laptop and TVPaint- a traditional animation focused program. Let me just say that I love TVPaint and will continue to use it in the future for certain projects, but that is not a program for expediting the animation process. It's very much a love letter to handdrawn animation, and that's what holds it back for me (when judging everything on its own what TVPaint offers is a great deal).
In upgrading, I've bought a whole new, modern computer and tweaked my setup. It's not just enough to have high end tech, but now I actually want to use it. My current computer is very fast and I'm hoping I get at least 5 good years out of it. I also have a dual monitor setup with arms and it's just sublime. As far as software, I've upgraded to Toonboom Harmony. A program made for animation production. I've spent a long time trying to understand the program (it's biggest weakness is also it's strength which is it's complexity), but now that I do, I feel very excited about my future projects. The program really does all that it can to speed up production. I've been able to drop the amount of time it takes to animate 30 seconds from an average of a couple of weeks to a couple of days (if that!). It's really awesome. The rest of my programs are the same: After Effects for compositing, Pro Tools and Soundminer for audio.
So my hardware and programs are on point, what's next? This one might surprise you, but it's really simple: libraries. Categorized and broken down for quick and easy access. It helps that frame of mind is the only thing I'll be animating for some time, as this gives me the opportunity to build a really expansive library of assets. Audio, characters, animations, backgrounds and props, effects you name it. These libraries will allow me to create a pool of resources to reference and call back at anytime, hastening production by an amazing amount of time. Let me explain. The average time it takes for me to make an episode of frame of mind is about 3 days or so; however, that's because I'm building everything from the ground up at the moment. When I develop a large enough library, I will be able to cut production of a whole episode- 30+ seconds of animation which takes a few days to make down to a day or so (it also helps that I'm mindful of how I storyboard my stories). The bigger the library the quicker the production, and since the library for "Frame of Mind" is always expanding, so to will the process to deliver these shirts will quicken. It's a really nerdy thing to be excited about, but there's real potential here.
The next thing I'll list off is more personal, but very important. I'm going to be creating content that I want to make. Now if you followed my creative history, about two years ago I was putting out an animated short once a month. That doesn't sound like a lot, but for animation it is, and it takes a lot of energy to release projects that frequently, and sometimes you make things you don't want to make. Looking back I can definitely say I wasn't feeling most of the projects I was putting out. I still think they're fun films to watch, but most of them don't have a lot of heart put into it.
Going forward with "Frame of Mind" and whatever future project I start in conjunction with that series, there's one thing I will keep in mind: the project must come from a real, authentic place. In other words, there must be something about the project that ties me to it on a personal and emotional level. I don't want to make projects that I don't believe in fully just to have something for people to see. Maybe that had a place in my early days just so I could understand how taxing it is to make content, but at this stage in my life I can see that putting out content that is not spawned from a real place, emotion or connection, it's just not worth my time. Mind you, this isn't the only thing that matters, but it is the most important factor.
Caring deeply about the projects ensures that I won't be burned out. That I'll take the necessary amount of time to make sure the stories I tell are done right and that people can connect with them. That's why "Frame of Mind" is so important to me. Those stories are all my life. Real events that have happened to me, and I think retelling those stories can entertain, inspire and change people. In fact, I know that these stories have that power because I've seen it happen in person. The passion and excitement I have about creating this series far succeeds what I've had for my smaller projects, group projects and even the projects I have planned to pitch for networks. With that level of excitement, how could I ever get bored or burned out?
The last change I'm making concerns my planning for these projects. This goes a bit further than point two in that it encompasses more than just animating. This is about cleaning up and streamlining my pre-production, post-production and promotion behaviors.
A lot of this is kind of boring back-end stuff, but all the little changes will add to a higher quality of life for me and better quality uploads. For the back-end, I've updated how I write my scripts and storyboards and have a templates where necessary. I have also planned on my work being short, no more than a minute and to embrace limited animation (early on at least), and simple, character-driven story telling. A lot of progress is made in planning, and I've tried to plan in a way where I'm trimming as much extra far as possible before production of my content gets elaborate, or if it does, to rely on work that I've done in the past to pick up any slack.
Lastly, I've changed how my uploading and promotion procedures are. This is something that really got to me a couple years ago because there are so many avenues to promote your work, and each of these social media networks have their own niche. I would spend many hours out of the week writing copy for specific networks and scheduling uploads for certain times to maximize my growth. It was madness and I hated every minute of it. Even my website, I hated updating this site because it was just a hassle. It would take an hour or two to update in addition to the hour or two it took to update my other social media channels. I'm surprised I lasted so long because, and I know I've said this ready, but I really truly hated that. So I'm trying to work smarter from the knowledge I've accumulated from my experience. I've cut out most social media from my update schedule. My focus will be Instagram, maybe YouTube and the blog on my website (and the occasional merch update). My goal is to stick with the platforms that have proved themselves for artists and to focus on developing an audience through them. I don't want to spread myself too thin so each platform will have a specific upload and content philosophy. Here is what you can expect:
My website: blog uploads and store uploads. No schedule. Uploads only when I feel things are ready.
My Instagram: Frame of Mind and spinoff art and animation only. No upload schedule yet, but will be trying for at least 1 upload every other week.
My YouTube: Frame of Mind compilations and original animated work. No schedule.
While a lot of this sounds non-committal, it's more about leaving open the opportunity to have a life. The biggest mistake I ever made was devoting all of my time to work and art and missing out on having a life in my early and mid 20's. That is something I very much am staunchly against as I enter my 30s. Another reason I decided to focus on "Frame of Mind" was because in order for me to have the content I needed, I would have to force myself to have a life. So it's an interesting cycle: expand my life experiences -> create content about those experiences -> inspire, entertain and empathize with people -> expand life experiences. It's a powerful cycle that leaves me more and more excited to animate and share my stories as they happen to me.
I think the future is bright with matters relating to my art. I hope this (very long) blog how illustrate my past challenges and future triumphs because I think it's the real deal. I haven't felt this fired up in a long time and I think I've finally developed technically, emotionally and artistically to reach a whole new level and fulfill what i believe to be my life's purpose.
I've spent the better part of a year doing everything in my power to better understand my flaws and strengths and how to soar past them. It's going to take a little while longer before all the things I've mentioned here taking root, but I can already feel the effects of the changes I've made and hopefully in time you will too.