Here in the south of China, in the province called Guizhou, I have seen many amazing things. This really got me thinking. Where does inspiration really come from? The day before yesterday, I travelled to a small city called Duyun, about forty minutes from where I am currently staying by bus. On the road to this city, moving along an often elevated highway, we passed through many areas of beautiful country. The scenery was astounding, sometimes appearing like something out of fantasy. I had a similar experience when I first arrived here, viewing misty mountains hidden in fog with but the tips of trees peeking out.
I can imagine that artists like Hayao Miyazaki and his staff visited places of similar wonder as they gathered reference material for making a fantasy epic like Princess Mononoke. The location itself visits upon you idea after idea of mystical creatures, magic and hidden treasures. Of course, this doesn't happen only in nature settings. Our purpose for visiting this town was primarily to see the lantern festival, which is a tradition that runs throughout the Chinese new years.
While in that town, we visited a park that had been setup for the lantern festival. It seemed, it some respects, more like a light show which even included some carnival style entertainment. There were, of course, endless amazing sites in the festival as well, including an amazingly lit bridge joining the two parts on opposite sides of the river. An artist's imagination can run wild in such a setting.
It is not, however, only the things you see with your eyes that can bring inspiration. It can also come from experiences, particularly the more outstanding things that happen to you in your life. A few days, we took a similar trip to another small town. This time, we were not on a full size bus using the highway. We took something more like a small van along narrow, winding country roads. Once again, one can imagine an artist who experienced such a travel wanting to capture that feeling on film.
One the way back, shortly after we left that town, our van broke down. We were sitting on the side of a little country road in the middle of nowhere. There were a few seemingly abandoned buildings around, but almost no people. I immediately began to imagine bandits riding down the hill to loot the unsuspecting travelers. Luckily, that didn't happen. What actually came down the hill was a herd of goats!
There was a man walking along that road with a large bucket. He began to shake the bucket, rattling the contents inside. This apparently alerted the goats that it was feeding time and they came streaming down the mountain to where he began to throw out, what I guess was some grain, on the ground for them to eat. We all decided to get a good look at them while waiting.
Eventually, another van stopped and gave our driver something in bottles. Maybe it was oil or gas, I don't really know. In order to get back on the road, though, we had to push the van until it was on a downhill slope before it would start again. This worked, and though it soon became dark, we were back on the road. The driver continuously apologized and rather than take us to the bus station, he actually drove us right up to the front gate of our building.
You can't put a price on real experiences. The number of things I have seen and done, since I began my travels, eclipses practically all of my previous experience of adult working life. Inspiration is not likely to strike while sitting in front of a computer or television. It's out there. It is waiting to be experienced.
I am currently in the south of China in a province called Guizhou participating in their Spring Festival. This is also known as the Chinese New Year. The event is marked by the getting together of families on every level for food, fun and a lot of fireworks. In the day, I was gather with 18 people, a family ranging from grandparents, parents, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and even babies. It was quite an event. We set off a large line of fireworks and then set down to the ultimate. Later that night, as 12:00 rolled around, we prepared for the spectacular fireworks display you saw in the video above.
Unlike a major fireworks show often associated with events like this, in this little town, everyone is doing it, not just an organized group. Normal everyday people are shooting fireworks on the level of a huge Independence Day parade. This means they are everywhere, all around you, and if you're not used it, it might seem like you're in a war zone. I can scarcely describe how amazing an event it was to witness and experience, and then it got me thinking.
It was January 23rd. A new year? I can imagine many of us are used to December 31st rolling around and making all kinds of plans and resolutions about how we will make next year the year of our success. We are finally going to start that novel, get that new job, create that new animation. Usually these resolutions don't last two weeks. People start off all fired up and ready to really change their life, but after a short time the flame is more like a cigarette.
What if, however, you could do it all over again without waiting another year? Imagine, in just 23 days, after the first, another new years celebration rolls around. You have the opportunity to look at where that fire started to go out in the past three weeks and rethink things. Go over your accomplishments so far this month and you will get a fair idea where you stand. How do you feel about it? If you feel like making change, Happy NewYear!
I woke up this morning, in a small quiet town in the south of China, far from the big city race of Shanghai, with an idea about what I really wanted to make. I began to ask if there is even a market for it. It is written that one would not go to the heart of the desert and expect to do successful business. It is also written that an ice cream parlor would do better in a warm climate than in Greenland. This makes sense, right? Hollywood continues to make very similar, formulaic movies in order to reach the widest possible audience. It gives the impression that this is the path you must follow if you want to achieve success, right? Well, just how big is this market?
If you consider the domestic box office of a very successful movie, and also take into account the price of a movie ticket these days, even the movies which gross hundreds of millions of dollars are, in fact, viewed by less than 10% of the population. Some of those tickets sold are likely to people who view popular movies multiple times also. I can also imagine that when it comes to the huge, FX driven films now common in Hollywood, it is very likely the same 10% that is watching these films. What, then, are the other 90% of people watching?
Let's take a look at the HBO series Game of Thrones. This fantasy is definitely not Harry Potter or Dungeons&Dragons. The show contains a lot of gore, plenty of nudity, graphic sex and is very slow paced. In the entire first season there are only two or three monster appearances and only one CG creature. This show is heavy on the drama and characters. It is also hugely successful, having picked up for a second season after just one showing of the first episode. I am willing to bet that, while there is some audience crossover, this caters to a very different crowd than the typical Hollywood summer movie.
In the world of games, Nintendo began to find entirely new audiences with products like Nintendogs and that cooking game. Suddenly, housewives and the elderly were playing video games. Facebook has a number of very popular games among people who don't consider themselves gamers, and they are nothing like what is generally considered popular in the mainstream market. The mobile market, especially the IOS market has opened up entirely new avenues to reach entirely new players.
There is no reason to believe that you have to make what they are making in order to be a success. You don't have to follow Hollywood formulas or feel that you need to make a Disney or Pixar clone for your animated movie, just because everyone else is doing so. Deviating from this doesn't mean you are attempting to make an ice cream parlor in the cold north. We have the internet at our disposal. It may take you bit longer to build up, but the people who would most love to watch what you want to make will eventually find you.
January 12, 2012 18:06 Filed in: Personal
How certain are you that you really want to do the project sitting in front on you at this moment? How do you know that it is really yours and not something that you think you have to do, for whatever reason. I began to consider this because I, once again, read Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. In it, he talks about quite a few important things, but two stand out for me. One is, of course, finding what you really love. The other is about knowing that you are going to die, and what that means.
As to knowing that you will someday die, he says that your time is limited, and so you should not spend it living someone else's life. I completely agree with this. Most of us, go through the usual levels of school, go to university and then get jobs because that's what everyone else is doing, or what our parents and society say we should do. Some of us get married and start families thus further entrenching us into that lifestyle, making it ever more difficult to change, eve if we come to the realization that we, somewhere, made a mistake.
For the independent animator, the normal pathway really doesn't work. Of course, we hope to support ourselves and even our families by our creative efforts, but these efforts require a considerable investment in time, which one may not have if they are stuck in a 9 to 5. What if, however, the 9 to 5, the bills, the mortgage and everything else is simply the trappings of someone else's opinions? What if the project you think you want to do is little more than the same?
When Steve Jobs talks about knowing you are going to die, he asks the famous question that if today was your last day on Earth, would you want to be doing what you are doing right now? He says that if the answer is "no" too many days in a row, then he needs to change something. It's a good question, but it doesn't quite work well for the animator. A day is not enough time to do much, right? That, at least, was my first thought.
If I had a day left, would I even draw at all? Probably not. I would spend it with family. Give me a week, though, and now it becomes a little bit more possible to make something, but I still might fight the temptation to go to a great vacation destination and party on until my time is up. With a month to live, though, I could really make a short film, leave something behind. I could do it in three weeks and still spend a week in that vacation destination before I go out happy! With a year, now we are really talking. I might spend 11 months making the most kick-ass animation I can fathom and then spend the last month in partying in that vacation spot.
In the end, the question still shows what I really want to do. Even if a day or a week is not enough time to consider it, there is no doubt where my time should be spent. Right now, however, I am spending it in far too many other places. That gets back to the issue of being trapped in the opinions of others. There may be those who are relying on you, even counting on you to provide them with something. The question you need to ask is are these obligations really yours? I am not talking about walking out on your family, or anything, I am really talking about your choices. It is your choices that have really landed you where you are today. It doesn't matter what influenced those choices or even if they were made with faulty information. They are still your choices. You can choose to make new ones, right now today.
If your choices have landed you in the wrong location, the wrong job, or worse, the wrong life, you may have to continue in it for some time, but there is a way out. The best way to change is by growth, not by making a hasty getaway. Still, everything that makes up your current situation can also contribute to making a new one. Use your current job as a way to get to another better job. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote stories like Tarzan and John Carter while working as a pencil sharpener salesman. There is always a path from where you are to where you want to be with but a little patience and imagination.
It's a new year, right? Take a good look at your current project, or anything else you are involved in. Is it really yours?
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