Where Have I Been?

If you’ve visited or browsed this site any time recently, you’ve probably noticed that posting ended abruptly in the second week of March. Three years of almost-daily writing came to a swift and unexplained end; staying that way until now. The absence was self-imposed and total. I haven’t written or read about anything related to animation since March; an eternity in more ways than one.

In many ways it was sobering, but in plenty of other ways it was enlightening. What motivated me to call it quits was not some catastrophic event or personal failure, but rather an epiphany of sorts. Namely that the wild success of a mediocre feature film like Frozen suggests that audiences really don’t care. They just don’t; they’re suckers for whatever can be engineered specifically for them and that pushes animation as a concept into second place behind mere entertainment.

The glory days when each Pixar film heralded an advancement of sorts in animation as an artform are long over. The movie business is hardly the creative force it once was; independents are still creating and innovating, but as far as the major studios go, it’s all about pulling on levers until the audience comes in the door. Frozen proved that beyond all doubt; I strongly suspect that Big Hero 6 will be simply the union part of a Venn diagram containing Disney and Marvel. For that matter, Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea will be a wonderful feature that will be every bit the commercial failure its predecessor was because again, consumers don’t care.

Call me pessimistic if you will, but realising that this is where animation as an industry and artform finds itself in 2014 really did me in. How could I continue writing about, and being actively involved in something that seems intent on eating itself? It probably didn’t help that being cursed with the memory that I have (not trying to brag, just stating a fact pointed out to me on regular occasions), I started to see patterns and stories/news/events repeating themselves.

Unfortunately once that starts to happen with anything in my life, I tend to get instantly bored with whatever it is that I notice the patterns in. From then on, my interest is more superficial than active. I like cars, but once I saw the same kinds of articles in the magazine that I knew I read before; I checked out, and now only skim them when I’m in the book store.

So when I found myself contemplating animation as an interest that was turning into something like that; I had to stop and consider it. Which is what I have been doing since March. I really do love animation, in that deep-seated, irrational way that I can’t explain to anyone. I like it just because; I don’t know why, I just do, but when I stopped finding it fulfilling, that passion died, or rather, hid itself.

The last few months have also caused me to consider my future in animation. I love to write about it, sure. But that isn’t a paying job for me at the moment, and I don’t foresee it becoming one either. The book I’ve started writing about The Incredibles is a fun project; I’m writing it because I want to. I have to find a position that is related to animation and also puts food on my table.

I want to work in the industry, I want to create memorable, innovative and artistically astounding art; or rather to facilitate it. I’m no artist, and I know that. So I have to find another way; one that can exploit what I do know and what I am capable of. The lack of a clear path in that regard also contributed to me giving up on animation. After all, if you cannot see a way in, why bother at all?

That kind of thinking caused a certain degree of, shall we say, anguish. Ultimately, I realised that my future does lie in animation in some way shape or form. That’s the part I’m trying to figure out now. Any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

24 Comments on “Where Have I Been?

  1. That’s a pretty deep and heavy post there, my friend! I totally
    understand what you’re saying, too. It can be downright soul-crushing
    to see “the masses” for what they are, not just in
    animation but in life. As human beings, we often suck. I don’t mean
    to sound all arrogant and high-and-mighty (though I’ve come to
    understand many people see what I say that way). It’s just how things
    are. People gonna be people. Myself included.

    That being said, the fastest way to get it to stay that way is to
    do nothing. It’s a hard, oft-loney road, but if you want to change it
    you have to be the change. You have to go against the world and
    strive for what you want it to be. I love great 2D animation. Right
    now there’s very little great 2D animation happening out there. My
    options become 1) Give up and say “that’s the way it is” or
    2) Do everything in my power to produce the great 2D animation that I
    want to exist in this world. Option 1 is easy, option 2 is
    monstrously difficult. You mention “I’m no artist” above.
    You know what? Neither am I. I really am not very good at art. I got
    a late start at it and I STILL lack the discipline it requires, but I
    am fighting. Every day I am fighting. I’m taking classes, and I’m
    practicing (still not as much as I should) and I want to shine a
    spotlight on 2D animation like the “old days.” That’s my
    dream.

    This, to me, goes far beyond animation. To me, this is our biggest
    life choice. We can listen to the world, go along with what it does,
    and eventually begrudgingly accept the status quo or we can chart the
    course WE want to chart. The course we’re called to chart. The course
    that the world will laugh at and say “You’re an idiot” and we
    still sail along towards our goal of doing something better than we
    see the world is doing right now.

    Frozen didn’t deserve the insane success it got. It pandered to an
    audience who wanted to hear what it was preaching, and it fell so
    short in so many ways. It had bright spots, it had low spots. But who
    cares. Let the masses have their enjoyment. Good for them! They are
    being entertained, and I’m glad for their joy. Honestly in my heart I
    am happy for their joy! It’s not what I want to do, so I will keep
    trying for something else. And if they don’t like what I create (that
    will certainly not be the current norm), well, I’ll have tried. But
    you know what? I bet some will like it. I bet if I can produce the
    things swimming around in my head, through blood, sweat, and tears,
    someone out there will genuinely be touched by it. In the same way
    that The Great Mouse Detective- flawed as it was/is- touched ME when
    I didn’t even know what an animator was. And I’m okay with that. If I
    can better the life of that one person and I feel I’ve fulfilled what
    I was put on this Earth to do, then I will call it a brilliant
    success. Whether it is the highest OR lowest grossing film of all
    time.

    It’s a long, hard road. Every day I feel like I’ve barely started
    down it. And yet, one foot in front of the other, I march on.

    I won’t tell you to join me. That’s your decision as much as it is
    the decision of the mass market to herald the likes of Turbo or
    Planes. I was not put here to judge anyone or tell anyone what they
    should do. I will only tell you this: The world does not change
    because of those who wait for it to change. It changes because of
    those who go out and change it. The most important thing is that you
    reach the end of your life having given this life exactly what you
    were put here to give. All of it.

    I wish you all the best- truly and sincerely- whatever you decide.
    When discouragement arrives at your door, and it will, capturing it
    in a bottle and discovering everything you can about it is an amazing
    blessing. Why it’s plaguing you, if it’s telling you something
    deeper, and what you can do about it. It’s there for a purpose, like
    all the hard things of this lifetime. Use it. Or, and I really mean
    this, ignore the hard stuff like many people do: JUST don’t regret
    that decision later, because there will be nothing harder than coming
    to the end with a heart full of that regret. Be at peace, whatever
    you decide.

    God speed.
    -J.K.

    • JK, that is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on an animation blog. Very inspiring and wise. Great job!

      Charles, do what you want, but don’t ever be afraid to have some refined tastes. There’s always SOMEONE out there who also appreciates what you like.

      • Thanks Chris. I’m reminded of Tales of Earthsea; a film that is almost universally derided yet one that I find genuinely fantastic.

  2. You can always borrow the Shea Fontana childhood mantra, “people suck. Cartoons are your friends.” Wait, that might not be a totally healthy philosophy. The masses can be disheartening — just ask anybody who did anything great ever. Honestly, if I ever had a producing job to give, I would give it to you because I think you’ve shown that you’re smart and capable and you actually care. Everything else can be taught, and there are waaaay too many people in this business who just don’t care about animation. And I’m sure you’ve impressed a lot of other people in the same way, so you’re already well on your way.

    • Thanks Shea 😀
      I think I let myself get bogged down in the trenches; it’s a bad habit of mine that I almost obsess over details that in the grand scheme of things aren’t worth worrying about. I’m working on rectifying that.

  3. I’m commenting because, yeah…i feel i should even though i do not have any advice or help, but then again we love this. So just like i’m holding to old music records because, in the end, that’s what made me, i do believe “(…)my future does lie in animation in some way shape or form(…)” so i’m holding to that too.
    I guess all i wanted to say was – you’re not alone!

    • Thanks! I think that’s why I couldn’t give up on it entirely; it’s been a large part of a my life for so many years.

  4. I’ve ran into similar bubble bursts. My way of coping is to have several media so I always have something to do when one isn’t living up to my expectations. I go for animation, science fiction books and movies, video games, and graphic novels/webcomics. I know how it feels to be let down by the average person’s tastes. I have to say though, that I’m less pessimistic in media like books and webcomics where the people producing the content are small teams. As far as working in animation goes, I suspect that your engineering background would be helpful in emerging media. There’s a whole medium of robotic animation that has yet to be developed. You could be one of the pioneers.

    • Yeah! I attended SPX last year and was enormously encouraged by what everyone was creating there. 🙂

      Amusingly enough, I’m still not entirely sure how my engineering background would play a role in a career in animation. Emerging media is certainly a candidate; being a planner, we have to design things for the future rather than today. I find myself looking further into the future than anyone else but at the same time finding very few people who are even interested in listening.

    • It did dawn on me a while ago that I should be describing myself as a writer, so maybe? I have a book in me that I’d like to get out first though. But I like the idea of writing a script; it seems like a real challenge.

  5. Have you thought about writing a guidebook for animators & storytellers? You write wonderful articles that I’ve been following for a while now (I’m an animation student and indie game developer), so I would be very interested in reading it.
    Or maybe you need to look at animation as a whole from a fresh perspective; you focus on mainly animation in films, television, and webseries, but would you be interested in changing your focus to animation/storytelling in video games (AAA mainstream games and/or independently-made games) or somewhere else? Or other forms of visual storytelling, such as visual novels or webcomics?
    I also liked one of the previous commenter’s idea of writing a script. You may also consider making a project and hiring artists/animators for it, possibly using crowdfunding (you also appear to have a large, loyal readership who are very supportive of you). I understand that this is a big task, but if you really want to do it, don’t be afraid of trying.
    No matter what choice you decide to make, I hope you find joy in that decision.

    • I DO have a strong interest in websomics, but yeah, I haven’t become familiar with how animation plays the large role in video games that it does these days.

      Thanks for the support! I think the entire episode has forced me to look at ways of becoming more involved in animation that I was perhaps ignoring before. 🙂

  6. Hey Charles. I’ve been a fan of your blog and your writing for a good while now, though I mostly lurk. I empathize very deeply with everything you’ve described above: I _am_ something of an artist, though an amateur/hobbyist and still developing, and a few years ago I hit a wall trying to figure out how my desire to fully commit to my 2D animation passion could support a sustainable independent lifestyle given the trends in the tastes of the masses.

    I have the fortune of being a software developer in my day job, and so what I decided was to survey the landscape and figure out how well traditional animators—students, hobbyists, indies, pros—were being served by the tools that are available. It is my conclusion that they are grossly under served, and that there is a significant market opportunity in developing affordable, high quality software to enable them. That will comprise the foundation of my strategy.

    Because developing animation software requires animation to test and validate against, I will be able to “kill two birds with one stone,” hopefully, and it is this that I want to suggest to you: you are deeply insightful and analytical; I’m sure there is a capacity in which you can offer valuable services to the _animation community_ that puts food on your table, and in the process encourages the production of more genuine animated art.

    This is a long play. It requires slowly building up your offerings and the return from them, but it should prove invigorating because it turns your focus away from the undiscriminating mass audiences to the passionate and eager practitioners, especially aspiring artists looking to find their footing.

    I love cars, too, and like you I’ve seen the homogeneity, the attitude of the public shift toward “transportation appliances,” the inevitability of autonomous vehicles unburdening the masses of the responsibility of driving, which they clearly don’t care for. But, again, I see opportunity in the future: cars and B roads and private courses that will exist for enthusiasts, their prices driven down, not up, by competition.

    Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m an optimist. But I believe there is still a future where we find sustainable reward in our passions even if the masses show no interest. We love animation; it is up to us to keep its true spirit and meaning alive, for the next generation. Forget the masses—they’ve never shown that they have any taste anyway!

    Good luck, whatever you choose. 🙂

    • Hey @Oluseyi:disqus I know this thread is over a year old, but is there any way I can contact you about this software you’re developing? I’d love some more information about it.

      • Hi @ChelTraynor:disqus. Life has kept me from making as much progress with the project as I had hoped, but you can email me: @ .info

        Cheers!

  7. How are you with Motion Graphics?
    I can see you uploading videos on Youtube illustrating the posts you make here on this blog.

  8. While I broadly agree with you, statements like “Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea will be a wonderful feature that will be every bit the commercial failure its predecessor was because again, consumers don’t care” doesn’t seem fair.

    We have no ida whether it will connect or not, or, for that matter, whether it will be a good film or not. It’s grand to hope, but unfair to assume that it will be good, any more than assuming Dreamwork’s films will be bland. Just a minor point, but still.

    • It is a tad harsh, but it came form the gut. Living in the States you quickly get a grasp for what audiences go for, and learn why almost every big-budget film is a comedy.

      I would dearly love to see it succeed, and I actually got told off by one of the founders of Digital Domain for stating that Kells was a success but in a different way.

      What bothers me is that films can indeed be ‘to good’ for the masses, and Song of the Sea, much like Kells, is likely to be one of them.

      • Increasingly, it’s foreign sales that drive big studio decisions.

        So it’s not fair to lay blame solely on the bad taste of Americans.

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