Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self" by Don Hahn

This is the latest book by Don Hahn entitled Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self. I saw this book in the latest issue of Animation Magazine while at work and did some looking into it. I saw it was available to order and it is on its way. I also saw that it was available as an e-reader and have been downloading it to the NOOKS to read during my break. I'm only a few pages into it but there was one section that really struck a chord with me. He was talking about a time he gave advice to a young production manager he called Sven. Sven was in junior management but wanted to be a screenwriter. Here's what he had to say:

   "For some reason, I responded with a diving metaphor, the first I had ever used, but it seem appropriate for the occasion. 'Sven,' I said, 'you can either tiptoe into the shallow end or jump naked into the deep end. It all depends how much you want to swim.'
   "If you are going to pursue your happiness, you must start by deciding what your happiness is. What's inside of you? What story do you have to tell? What truth do you have to share? The most successful writers write because they have to. They have an unquenchable, burning desire to write about the worked as seen through their own eyes. This whole conversation with Sven really came down to how much Sven really felt he had to write.
   "At issue here was authenticity. Sven's work at a film studio was a detour from his real job, which was this: to wake up every morning and be the best Sven Bjornson that he could be. To do that, first he had to dig deep and find out who he was. He had to honor his personal history and the strengths and limitations that have made him who he is today. He needed the courage to be honest with himself and make big changes in his career path. He had to write as only he could write. He had to be authentic.
   "If Sven was willing to go home at night and say to himself, 'I'm going to work harder than anyone else; I'm going to carve out big chunks of time to write and study films and scripts and commit myself to my passion,' then maybe he would get a break and be able to write a magazine article that might lead to a television movie and then a feature. Otherwise, he'd be a hobbyist for life. Not a bad thing, but an amateur thing. It's the difference between me on my three-speed bike and Lance Armstrong.
   "Then Sven said something that stopped me. He was talking about his college experience and the fact that every day he used to do something different in drama or art or music, and that when went to work in management he left all that behind him. He decided years ago to put his dream on a shelf for a while, but he never went back to it. In essence, he was living a lie in denying himself the parts of his life that gave him joy.
   "Sven was at a crossroads. Most people who come to this intersection won't make a dramatic change. They may take a class or practice a bit, and then see the writing on the wall and pull the plug on their dreams once again. But a few stalwart souls will latch onto the dream like a bear trap and not let go. They will work and seek out experts and study and marry their dream for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do them part. They will work to dig deeply for the truth about their lives. To explore their desire to create without guilt and for no other reason than this: they have to. They can't not do it.
   "If you love your dream, why not marry it? Feel the fire in your gut. Grit your teeth, put your ears back, and scream a primal scream. There is strength in boldness, and let's face it, the alternative - doing nothing - doesn't sound very satisfying.
   "Pursue happiness. Strip down and dive into the big waves with Sven. The water is deep, cool, and endlessly refreshing, and you've got plenty of strength to swim to shore."

There were several lines in there that hit me hard:
  • "If you are going to pursue your happiness, you must start by deciding what your happiness is."
  • "Otherwise, he'd be a hobbyist for life. Not a bad thing, but an amateur thing."
  • "If you love your dream, why not marry it?"
  • "There is strength in boldness, and let's face it, the alternative - doing nothing - doesn't sound very satisfying."
These are some of the lines that have been going through my head lately. "If (I am) going to pursue (my) happiness, (I) must start by deciding what (my) happiness is." I am lucky enough to know what makes me happy and that is animation. But how much time am I willing to put into this passion. I sit here at the computer everyday and watch the time tick away. All I do is check e-mails, look around facebook, check up on the latest movie and animation news, or watch movies and TV shows on hulu and Netflix. That's all I'll do for hours a day. All the while I know what I should be doing. I should be working on my craft. I should put in the time to what "makes me happy." 

"Otherwise, (I'd) be a hobbyist for life. Not a bad thing, but an amateur thing." One thing I've always said is, "Animation is my avocation." After reading that last line I really started to analyze what I've been saying. Animation is my "hobby." It's a hobby?! Is that what I think of my passion, my dream?! Just a "hobby"?! How am I ever to succeed if what I love to do is simply a hobby, something you do on your off time?! A hobby is what you do in your spare time, when you're done with you real work and you have some extra time. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word "hobby" is defined as "a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation." How can I ever call myself an animator if I consider my passion, my love, my desire just a simple hobby. My hobby has to become my life if I am ever going to succeed and make a life for myself.

I kick myself every day that goes by that I don't have something productive or creative to show. Every day I don't have a new playblast for Dana, a rough blocking pass of a new scene, or storyboards for a new short film idea, it kills me all the time. I've gone to school and studied character animation and graduated. It's been over two years and I have yet to land that dream job, nay, no professional paying animation job whatsoever. (Believe me, I am ever so grateful to be working with my mentor Dana on her short film. Without it, I don't know what I would have to keep me going.) I've had several rejection letters but not even a single follow up e-mail or phone call. "If (I) love (my) dream, why not marry it?" Am I ready for such a commitment? Here I go sounding like a typical guy who is not ready for commitment. But I have not made this commitment with myself. It seems life is always getting in the way. Working 40 hours a week at a non-creative job really drains it out of me. Then there's the house chores that ALWAYS have to be done: laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc. Then there's family and social gatherings. I still have a life. Not a very exciting one at the moment but there are some great times to be had. But at the end of the day, I still come back to the main question: What have you done today that makes you happy? Have you done anything creative today? Have you done any sketching or drawing today? And the big one, have you done any animating today? When am I going to stop making excuses and start making results?

"There is strength in boldness, and let's face it, the alternative - doing nothing - doesn't sound very satisfying." No it does not. That is what I need to become. I need to become bold and take charge of my life. I need to shut everything else out and focus on what needs to be done. One day last week I had a lot of things to do. I had to clean, do laundry, wash dishes, and wanted to get some animation done. I wanted to get all this done before I had to go to work. So I took a cue from work and created a "Personal" Daily Assignment Sheet. I marked out every half hour on a legal pad starting at 8:00 a.m. Basically I made a daily planner. I wrote down everything I wanted to do every half hour. 

I listed what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. I even wrote down "ANIMATE" in red because I felt it was the most important activity of the day. And you know what? I got it all done! Laundry, check. Workout, check. Breakfast and lunch, check. Dishes and cleaning, check. Animate, CHECK!! I tell you, I felt so accomplished that day. It felt amazing when I walked into work that afternoon knowing that I had accomplished everything I had set out to do. THIS is what I need to do if I am ever to succeed creatively in this life. On other PDASs for my days off I even marked break times between the animating times. I need a break or else my butt and legs go numb from sitting in this chair for hours at a time. I'd watch an episode or two on hulu, maybe a little snack. Sometimes I'd go over a bit. But when the time was up I got back on the computer and continued animating. 

Plus, I also made a deal with myself and my mentor/director Dana. I have three scenes I am currently working on and I want to get them done, hopefully by the end of the month, no later than the end of the year. Here's the deal: I will not shave until I complete the animation on ALL three scenes. I'm making progress on one of the scenes. The other two involve a dog and I have not worked with a quadruped character before. These are going to take some time. If you've seen some of the behind-the-scene featurettes on certain animated feature DVDs, sometimes the guys will do this to help keep them motivated. I was watching a featurette on "Bolt" and saw the guys do this. They let their beards grow until they finished primary animation on the film. Granted, these guys were working 40+ hours a week on this film and I'm working a few hours a day on three scenes. So it might take me a bit longer that I planned. I ran the idea by Dana and she loved it. Not only will she give me the "F-bomb" for my scene ("F" as in FINAL!) but she can also tell me to shave. I have been keeping it neat and trim. I wanted to keep it looking professional since I still have to deal with the public on a daily basis. I didn't want it to get too crazy. That's just me, thought. I've gotten some very nice compliments over the past several weeks. What do you think?

But I'm straying off subject here. What I need to do is focus on my animation as much as possible. If I want to get any better I need to practice, practice, practice! When I think of this my Dad always comes to mind. When I was growing up I never really knew he could play the guitar. He told me he used to play a little bit back in high school but that was about it. When I started taking an interest in the guitar, he'd bring out his old acoustic from the closet and show me a couple of chords. I'd drag out my Mom's Beatles songbooks and try to play along. Over the past couple of years he has picked it up again and it has consumed him. He has several guitars, acoustic and electric, and plays AND SINGS in the church choir and at retreat meetings. He'll play for other churches and gatherings. He'll play for just about anyone. And I realized why. He is always practicing that guitar. He converted my old bedroom, which became my sister's when I moved out, into his own little guitar room. He has his guitar stands, his music stand, his amplifiers, his pedals, and books and papers and binders everywhere! Everything he needs is right there within reach. If he needs the chords for a new song, he goes to the next room, looks it up on the computer and prints it out. He is always practicing, constantly learning and getting better every day. This is yet another reason why my Dad is my hero. I want to be just like him when I grow up.

So when I think about my animation and what I need to do, all I have to do is think about my dad and his guitars. All I have to do is put in the time and I will get better. It may not be overnight, but I will get better. I will feel creatively fulfilled. I will feel creatively justified. I will BE creatively satisfied.

**UPDATE** I just received an e-mail that my book order was received today! I know what I will be purchasing tomorrow! I can't wait to continue reading it!

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