Indie is a mindset

Indie is the mindset of “I am going to make the best thing possible, on my terms, with the resources I have”

Best thing possible – Best for the audience, that means something specific, something well made for the people who care.

On my terms – Made in the way I can be proud of.

With the resources I have – Using what you already have or raising enough to get the job done. It doesn’t mean raising tons of funding, it doesn’t mean waiting around for things to line up.

Indie is the only way forward. The posts I write are for other animators and creators who are hungry and maybe a little impatient. It used to be that in order to get the chance to make things to run a show, direct a feature, make a short film you had to be picked. That usually meant you had to work really hard at a big company and prove yourself. Get to be a good enough animator and you’ll get the chance to be a director. Except it didn’t really work that way in the end. There are no Disney features directed by Ward Kimball or Mary Blair. Andres Deja, and Glen Keane had to leave Disney to really get the chance to make their own work. But beyond that if you want to work at these studios, and who doesn’t, being indie helps. It’s only through making things can we be noticed. The only way to be a creator these days is to create.

I do a post every Friday morning about making animation on your terms

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Development is not really a job

If you feel strongly about doing work for free than developing a show for broadcast is probably not the best path. I’m not an expert I haven’t been involved with a lot of development. If producer or creators say different go with their recommendations. I’m still learning.

From what I’ve gleaned much of development falls to the creator. You work on your own time on pitches. You might get a bit of development funding. That funding is better used to commission new work than pay your salary. Many producers defer payment on the productions they work on. The idea being when the show gets made when it’s a hit then you make back the hard work you put in.

This kind of system favours the well off the people with resources. Only some people can afford to spend months out of the year not making a paycheque. Fortunate people have the space to work evenings and weekends on creative projects.

I’m probably wrong about a lot of this. I’m not calling for a big change in the system. I want to talk with you the creators and animators. If you knew that the process would take years and you wouldn’t paid out for it would you still do it?

I do a post every Friday morning about trying to make indie animation

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iPads Pro’s What’s Next for Animation

This Tuesday Apple announced the new iPad Pro. To be honest, I’m an Apple fanboy, but this thing is awesome. What Apple is doing with these devices is really cool. For artists the pen performance is top of the line. There is new innovative software on the platform. People do amazing and professional work on these devices. I’m dying to get one.

I think the iPad Pro is the portable studio for most artists. So I want to make animation on it. While it’s possible, with some software like Rough Animator, or even Clip Studio Paint, it’s not an animation production machine just yet. There’s nothing currently I would call professional grade software. I’m not looking for Flash or Toon Boom to come to the iPad. I’m looking for something new.

Procreate is probably one of the most popular art apps. It’s simple and intuitive, it’s stripped down interface is a far cry from Photoshop. There are a lot of artists that like that. They just want something simple. Animation interfaces are complicated. Full of menus, toolbars and windows. The same workflow won’t translate to a single monitor, multi touch device. I’m hoping what happened with Procreate happens with an animation app. That the new device creates a new workflow that is stripped down and intuitive.

The iPad is going to be a bigger thing to the art industry. These devices are priced competitively. They work great. There are generations of computing. Animation used to only happen on giant render farms, and high end workstations. It was a revelation when some artists started making films on their home computers. Now it will be a revelation when the first studio has their team using iPads.

All I can say is I’m excited.

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I was once showing a few pages of one of Isaiah and I’s comics to a friend of ours. She asked, “Who does what? Do you draw and he inks?” I said, “No, we both do all of it.”

I like to think of what we do as Hyper-collaborate. In the past we tried a more traditional approach, penciling, inking and toning, and we didn’t enjoy it. I was the main artist, and held a majority of the burden. It didn’t feel like we were making a comic together.

First we changed how we wrote. Our process is based on an improv game. First person starts the scene, second person adds the next part. We go back and forth five times till the scene is done. This approach is really fast, but also a lot of fun. Having the other person’s writing gives you ideas for what to write next. We realized that we wanted to work this into our drawing process. For us more collaboration = more fun.

With Small Havens, we wanted to collaborate on the drawings as much as the writing. Coming from animation doesn’t make this that hard. We understand how to draw in different styles. How to use the process to maintain consistency. When we draw a page we go back and forth on the artwork till everything is at an acceptable level. As the ‘main’ artist, I will do a lot of adjustments and notes. Both of us do every part of the process. In the end it’s still more enjoyable and collaborative than the traditional approach.

This process isn’t for everyone, and not for every project. What’s important is iterating and developing a process. The traditional workflow for comics didn’t suit what we wanted to do, and more importantly it wasn’t enjoyable. When it comes to personal projects how enjoyment is important. These projects take a long time. You don’t know for certain if the project will be any good, and you can only do so much about that. The experience is all up to you, and in the end probably more important.


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Your job and your art work

I talk to a lot of animators and what they talk about is not being “fulfilled”. We might need to think differently about what purpose our work serves. This video from Liz Gilbert explains this very well.

What Liz talks about is the difference between having a Hobby, a Job, a Career and a Vocation. How those are not always the same thing. What it really gets to is that your work and your art work don’t have to be the same thing. They likely will not be. You will probably always find yourself working a job to make a living. Then making art because you’re compelled to say something.

Derek Sivers also wrote about this. When people ask him, “How do I make a living from my art?”

“…I prescribe the lifestyle of the happiest people I know:

  1. Have a well-paying job
  2. Seriously pursue your art for love, not money”

The hard part about this is that we might have chosen the wrong work. By working in a creative and demanding field we have little left when we get home. We’re not only not fulfilled but empty. Very few people get to make their living from their artwork. The more important things is that it might be better to not make a living from arout art. Derek Sivers goes on to talk about the benefits of separating your job from your art.

“You don’t need to worry if it doesn’t sell. You don’t need to please the marketplace. No need to compromise your art, or value it based on others’ opinions.”

Animation is not a bad job. I want to make animation. I want to work in animation forever. You work with amazing people to make amazing things. And good cartoons are worth making.

The point I’m trying to make, is that working in animation is a choice. Being frustrated with the work is a choice. Maybe if we expect less of the job and see it more for what it is, it might get a little easier. Maybe the fulfilment of work is just doing good work. There’s no magic either. It doesn’t get better the more well known or successful you get. You’re still going to need a job. You’re art will be there for you when you need it.

The making many things method

It’s almost 11pm and I haven’t finished this week’s blog post. This morning I was scrambling to find an idea. I ended up looking at some old posts I’d written. Posts I had written, thought they weren’t good enough and scrapped. This is one of those posts. It’s fitting too. It’s about making a lot of something. It’s about making things that aren’t good enough.

There’s an anecdote about making 10 000 bad drawings before you can make a good one. This is somewhat true, it takes time and practice to get good. Creating and storytelling are skills that have to be developed. That means we need the practice of creating and finishing projects. Your first pitch probably won’t get picked up. A first novel probably won’t be published. Part of the process is making lots of things that don’t connect, that don’t quite work on the path to making something that does.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Advice that I used to ignore was to create short content. I ignored it because I thought I was above shorts. I wanted to tell big important stories that had big deep meaning, stakes and action. I couldn’t do that in short format. The reason you make shorts isn’t because you can’t handle a big story, it’s because making something small let’s you fail faster.

You will fail, that’s the point. You will make stuff that doesn’t fit your intention or vision. You will make stuff that is cliched, simplistic, confusing, dishonest, and boring. These will all be lessons you need to learn. Making short content let’s you see these mistakes and missteps in clear focus. This will prepare you for the bigger work, and make that bigger work more successful.

The key is not to wait. Every week I write a lot of things that don’t make it to the blog. That’s part of the process. By making many we can learn with each one. We can revisit our ideas. Tackle a different aspect of what we are trying to say. The only way to develop your voice is by speaking.


The Compound Audience

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This past week my writing partner Isaiah and I were having this big discussion about our strategy. We’re making a bunch of short comics, but it’s going slowly, and we don’t know if it’s connecting how we want it to. What always comes up in these conversations is how we don’t have the audience or platform to promote what we make. So if you are someone who feels like they don’t have enough followers, fans or audience, I know exactly how you feel.

How do you build an audience from nothing?

I am obviously speaking as someone who is figuring this out, so help yourself to the grains of salt. Building an audience is a powerful thing. That’s why we want to do it, because if you have an audience, even a small one you get to make things for that audience. To make the things you want you need the audience to show up. The thing is you can wait, hope or pray the audience will show up but it probably won’t unless you start building your platform now so when you do have something to share you’ll have a few people to share it with.

Building an audience can be a little like saving for retirement. Putting in a little bit of money over a long enough time and you’ll have enough to retire on. The more money you put in the more interest is earned. Compound interest is an amazing thing. I’m not here to tell you to save for retirement (but you really should). I’m want to talk about the compound audience.

Your audience will start small. Everything starts small. That’s okay and it’s no reason to give up. Just know that it’s going to be small for awhile. Early on when things are compounding the look almost linear but it will grow with time. The first people who will follow you will be your friends and acquaintances. They like your work not because it’s good but because it’s yours. The important part is that we need to start contributing. It will start with your immediate network then grow from there.

Contributing to your audience by sharing your work, work in progress, learning, and ideas. Posting your work can be uncomfortable and vulnerable. It feels like a lot to ask people to look at your work. When you release your work it becomes real, and that is frightening. This is something I could be better at. I always feel like the work could be better. I need to remind myself that sharing work the benefits outway the risk. Nothing truly bad will happen. Nothing we cannot handle.

The hardest part about contributing to your audience will probably be consistency. This is hard because it takes discipline. It’s easy to post something for a week then disappear for a month. Constantly contributing early on will pay dividends later on. Including making sharing part of your routine and a habit you can rely on. I’m not the best at consistency. One area where I’ve been good is with this blog. Every Friday I release a post and my newsletter goes out. I trust that by showing up every week people will start to notice.

You might not think your ready, but you are. You don’t need to be ready because right now the stakes are low. Start building slowly, one person at a time. Then when you are ready you do have something to promote, the audience you’ve put work into will be there. What you post doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. It’s probably best if it isn’t, choose something that’s easy to follow through on. Start early and contribute often and your little nest egg of an audience will grow.

PS. Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work is a great resource for learning how to share your work.

Other posts about audiences

Where did the general audience go?

The two fears of audiences

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