Tuesday, 29 January 2013

it's all in the story....

I've been to a few lectures recently, where they have really hammered home that everything is telling a story. A life drawing session with Alex Woo really emphasised this, "what is the pose telling?". So i figured I'd like to write about getting into the mood for writing a story, whether it's for a 2 second animation shot, or a short story or whatever it may be! My dad has always talked to me about this, about every little project i've done since I was young, how everything has a story, a punchline, a pay off. But you've got to find the things you want to tell and it's all about searching for the ideas.

There's a few personal ways I like to do this, or at least attempt to. Keeping a sketchbook of ideas, brainstorming (I especially like a big blank wall and post it notes for this) and looking at inspirational material. It's always good to be up for trying new ways to find ideas, I believe, as you never know where the next new idea might sprout from.
Anyway, so when I first started collecting blogs visually (bookmarks just don't cut it anymore, I can never remember what's on where, who posted what etc.), I came across Emma Coats, a storyteller, on various different social platforms. For a time, Emma ran a little challenge which was called "next five", she would pick a photo from flickr and ask people to storyboard what they thought the next five shots in the story would be. It was a really great exercise, it made you see pictures differently, and how each frame tells a part of the story. Also, seeing how other people interpreted it was a great experience. I really recommend this little exercise, it helps your brain get into gear, I found.

Emma also has a blog "Story Shots", where she often answers questions and gives out story telling tips and tricks, so it's definitely one to watch.

Below is a list of story basics that she picked up from her time at Pixar. 
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

I think this fab post below, from Emma's blog, rings true to what I'm trying to explain in this post :D
"What holds you back from creative endeavours?
What I work on won’t be any good. It won’t be worth the time invested. It will suck.
  • It’s not any good yet, as long as it doesn’t exist.
  • Do your best, it’s all you can do. Your best today is not going to be your best in a year - UNLESS you don’t do anything between now and then, UNLESS you don’t learn from your mistakes.
  • You’re investing time in making your project great, but big picture you’re investing time in YOUR skills. You will do better next time. 
Scheduling - hard to find the time to do what I want to do.
  • Finding time when you have a family or a fulltime job (or both) is really difficult. An hour here or there can make all the difference.
  • If you don’t have a family yet, think about whether creating something is more important to you than watching TV? Video games? Hanging out with friends? Sleeping?
  • A quiet writer buddy can help keep you on task: you both show up to the same place at the same time and work on stuff. As long as you feel self-conscious about goofing around on the internet while she (or he) is being productive across the table from you…
I don’t know where to start. I procrastinate.
  • Make a list of what steps you need to take to start. Make a stupid-detailed list. Like, “1) find a pen. 2) find a reference picture of a snowy forest. 3) sketch the rough. 4) do the thumbnail value study. 5) etc”  —- if each step is trivial enough, it’s not difficult to start. Once you get a little momentum, it’s not difficult to keep going."
"....Sleep is very attractive when a project isn’t going well, or when the next steps are overwhelming. Time to make a ridiculously long detailed list of trivial steps…"

Find her on twitter here @lawnrocket
Her Google+ - usually where she posts the "next five" challenges

And whilst we are on the subject of story, a few years ago I attended the Pixar Masterclass, when it came to London. It was made up of two classes, animation and story telling, with Andrew Gordon and Matt Luhn. Their notes were phenominal and here are the points that affected my work the most:

- Can you describe your story in one sentence?
- What story are we telling?
- What does the protagonist long for?

They seem simple, but they really helped me think about things from different angles. 

I hope these particular story notes are helpful in creating your own stories. If you missed it I posted a video below, John Cleese On Creativity. It's a superb lecture about creativity and definitely worth a watch. 

Get writing!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Clips of the Week

I figured Friday's would be a good day to dish out my favourite clips from the week. Coined by an old colleague who used to dish them out at work :). I hope they inspire you too...

Shugo Tokumaru "Katachi"

Qualcomm Snapdragon 'Coming Soon' - This looks like a movie trailer! I wish I could have worked on this. Great job guys, looks fantastic.

The Elder Scrolls Online The Alliances Cinematic Trailer

Glen Keane Dancer Animation

A conversation with Edith Head - remind you of anyone? :D

Hans Zimmer: the Conscious of Creating the Film Score

How to build your creative confidence - David Kelly

Bad Lip Reading 

Being Creative - John Cleese

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Continuing the theme of inspiration, this is perfect....


"The Animator Letters Project is an ongoing effort to gather handwritten letters from professional animators; each sharing their stories and words of wisdom, as a source of inspiration and encouragement for aspiring animators."

It's such a brilliant idea. It enables you to see where people have come from, how they got there, how long it took them and what inspires them. 

So, a few of weeks ago Willie announced Steve Anderson would be taking part in a Q&A (who has entered a letter to the site, see below) , and he would answer peoples questions. His letter inspired me, so I wanted to find out what inspired him. But first his letter...

Artists are emotional creatures. We feel things deeply. We see the world around us, react to it and base our work off of those reactions. Our work represents ourselves. It’s us. Not just what our bodies can produce but what our minds and hearts have to say.
We want people to like what we do. If we didn't we’d just draw, paint, sculpt, dance, act and write in our own living room with no documentation or recording of it. But we don’t do that because we want our work to be seen. We want to express ourselves to people and, in turn, produce a reaction in them. Our emotions create the art and our art creates emotions.
But there are days when our emotions get the best of us. They let us down. They didn't give us the strength and motivation that we need when we’re discouraged or struggling. They convince us that we are “no good”. That we have no talent. Or that the talent we do have us not as much as, or as good as, the talent of another person.
Ultimately, the struggles that we have- the creative blocks we all face- come from comparing ourselves to others. I’m not as good as that person. I’m not as successful as that person. That person is at the level I want to be at and I don’t have it in me to get there. I do this constantly. But I realized a few years ago that what I SHOULD be doing is comparing myself to myself. I find that when I step back and evaluate where I've come from, and where I am in relation to that. I feel much healthier. Block out all those other people and focus on YOUR work. Are you better today than you were yesterday? Were you better yesterday than you were the day before? Better than you were six months ago? A year ago? Twenty years ago? If the answer is “yes”, then you’re on the right path. If the answer is “no” you've got work to do. But the only person you have to be better than is yourself. That constant growth, improvement and evolution is the mark of a healthy artist. Instead of looking around the room to see what everyone else is doing, keep your eyes on your own paper. YOU have to be the best artist you can be and the only person that can drive that evolution is YOU!
Steve Anderson"

Hand written and read out live versions by Steve are on the site HERE
This is what I asked:
"I just pondered, whilst you talk about concentrating on your work etc, what kind of activities do you do in your own time to get inspired? Anything out of the ordinary to get the creative juices flowing?"
Here is his response:

"Everything we do as artists and storytellers must reflect the world we live in. It’s all an interpretation of life. So my inspiration comes from my observations. The people I see, the people I know (family, friends), the things they do. Also observations about myself. My thoughts, feelings, worries, fears. And then questions about all of it. Why do I do what I do? What makes me feel a certain way? What do I think may have motivated someone else to behave the way they did? These things lead to characters, situations and themes that may ultimately lead to a story. Or maybe not. But it keeps my mind going.
As far as keeping the juices flowing, these kinds of observations do that for me. But also writing them down. Or sketching them. I love sitting in a public place and doing quick sketches of the people around me. I love to doodle weird characters. I bring that up because for me, it’s a way to draw “incorrectly.” I love to stretch and pull facial features and body parts in very odd ways. We’re so conditioned to draw “correctly” that it’s very liberating to have an outlet to break the rules. I keep a journal and try to write as often as I can about thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc.
These are things I do. There’s so many different ways to do it. Whatever you choose to do, if you can stay fearless about it, that will help. Not afraid to “mess up”, to draw a bad drawing, to write down an offbeat thought. These things are for YOU, not for anyone else. Hope this helps. Thanks for your question!"
I wanted to share his answer, as I thought it might help people that are maybe a little stuck in a rut. I don't know about you, but I find hearing how other people get inspired, can be inspiring in itself. I wanted to take my creative research in a whole new direction, and his answer totally helped, and I hope it helps you too! So, go ahead and share what inspires you!

For the full edit and the rest of the questions go here

And whilst you are there, check out the other letters. There are some truly inspirational words there for every budding animator! Great work Willie.

Find it all on twitter too:

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2013, lucky for some.

Well hello there,

It is a brand new year, with brand new objectives. And I want to change up the way I use my blog a little. I love using the pinterest board, animpin, to log things I like or that I see that would be inspiring to people, but sometimes I feel it get's a little lost, especially if people don't use pinterest. So, here's to making this blog a little more productive in every direction.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and looking forward to a very Happy New Year.

Have a think about your realistic objectives for this year? What do you really really want to achieve?

Along with those, always remember to get inspired. I bang on and on ..and on..about this with my friends and co-workers, and I even have little post it notes to remind myself to do it too.

If you are ever in a creative or any kind of rut for that matter, I believe it's essential to go back to the roots that truly inspire you, whatever this may be! For me it might be watching a film I love, or listen to a piece of music, or going out on my roller blades with my friends to roll around (mostly on the floor). I also like to collect pictures from magazines, and save these for a rainy day to practice painting skills. You never know when you might use those pictures. I'd also really like to hear what you use for inspiration, the more ideas the merrier!

On that note, here is some inspiration to get the creative juices flowing! You have probably seen some of these, but just a small collection of my favourite from 2012:

Cooley! - Josh Cooley - Story Artist at Pixar Animation Studios

Jamaal Bradley and his blog, including this shot with it's breakdown here. Jamaal also announces live #anmichats from time to time through twitter (@JamaalBradley), usually 10 spots available so you have to get in there fast!

Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Bacwards - Cool animated music video

Dumb ways to die - cute animated video

And for some more inspiring folk, I have a friends list on the right hand side, that'll i'll be adding too.

So, anyway, I'd like that to be the main focus here over the coming months. You never know where the next idea might spring from.


Remember to get inspired!