Entry #77

Pickin' paths and work addictions

2017-06-24 04:22:47 by Emrox

Scott McCloud has a lot of great books on art theories and deconstruction and shit, but one of my favorite works by him is his pre-webcomics web-comic about the role of chess in his life: http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/chess/chess.html

It hits me real deep because I totally know what it's like to spend years and years at something just to come to the conclusion that you really know very little about the thing you've spent forever thinking about. But it also hits hard because I know what it's like to love more than one thing.

Some context - I've spent about 11 years of my life making animated cartoons. I'm currently going to college for game design, where I discovered that I actually really like programming, as well as the asset production and deep exploratory-design thinking, which is what I initially signed up for. I also have a bit of a thing for writing, which I guess is why I do so many of these posts, but is also why I care so much about stuff like comedy. Fortunately a lot of these things are tangential to eachother, but each individual path goes so infinitely deep that I really could just do one thing my whole life and never stop learning new stuff about it.

When I was a little younger I was worried that chasing many rabbits would leave me without a job, okay at a whole bunch of stuff without being industry-level good at anything and I would end up homeless or something, but I'm doing pretty okay for myself so I don't really worry about that anymore. What I do worry about, though, is how satisfied I'll be when I'm 74 and I still don't know as much about animation as I COULD if I had just had the foreseight to focus exclusively on that. It's a really weird fear, but I feel like if I have any potential to make an impact on the world, every day I spend playing chess is a little step backward from the full potential of something else.

It doesn't help that most of the guys in the art programs here are of the mentality that if you aren't drawing 15 hours a day you're FUCKED because everyone else is working twice as hard and were twice as talented to begin with. I think those guys are a little lost too though (I like to call it the "asian work addiction") - the real fallacy there is that if you spend 24 hours a day thinking about drawing, sure you'll have immense technical skill, but you won't have a single interesting thing to say, unless it's ABOUT drawing or is somehow challenging to the form, which won't really connect with anyone other than other artists. I got similarly lost when pursuing comedy - there's a point where you're so deep in technicalities and weird artsy shit that you really can't connect with regular people anymore. It's a little fucked up - the whole point of getting good at art is to get better at communicating the stuff in your head, but a lot of the "best" artists can't actually connect to anyone who hasn't also had 20 years of training.

This is gonna sound totally out of left field, but I actually spent a couple months writing a BOOK on art theories and stuff that helped me learn better. One of my odder ideas was that spending time in multiple disciplines can actually make you a better artist at all of them. The thinking was that concepts you learn from one art form will better inform your understanding of art as a whole - much like how great painters don't just paint the same sunset over and over, they paint a whole bunch of different subjects because the variety teaches you more about fundamental concepts, and not just specific insight into rendering pretty clouds. I'm not 100% sure if I believe it's the best course of action to pick up 20 different crafts, but I could still make a pretty good argument for it. (fyi, I gave up on the book, but I still really like a lot of the ideas. I can upload what I finished of it if anyone's interested.)

So the case for multiple career goals actually isn't so bad, but the prospect that I'm wasting my life still bothers me from time to time. To recap, doing only one thing your whole life might ensure you reach your full potential in that one thing, but your work might be totally devoid of content, impossibly inacessible (and therefore not actually successful as self-expression), or if my rationalizations are right, you actually won't even be as good as you could have been had you spent more time doing lots of stuff, triangulating the possibilities of ALL art. On that third point I'd like to hear what some of you guys have to say - do you guys see a lot of overlap in your different interests? Have you ever learned something about painting by playing guitar?

Then there's also the angle of "holy shit marty why do you care about ANY of this" to which I can only say jeez I don't know. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff that doesn't really matter, except in the "big picture" which is usually just all in my head anyway. Come on give me a break! at least I don't go to church.


Some other updates:

I'm living on freelance work right now, so personal stuff is going slow. Peck 3 in the works. Also a game. Currently finishing my 3rd year of game school, which I made a really cool project for in the last week. Maybe we'll work out the bugs and upload it somewhere! Sorry my main output is PARAGRAPHS right now but I'm very busy okay!





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2017-06-24 04:26:01

I know they changed it years ago but I still like doing that thing where you have just the one image at the end of your post


2017-06-24 06:03:06

I'd say the only way you could truly make a difference is to focus on what method works best for you. If others spend double the amount of time on one thing they will be better than you at that one thing, but (now speaking from personal experience) you will reach a point where your work will be of great enough level where it would be smarter to broaden your skill palette in other areas. You will improve greatly in things like writing and programming as opposed to getting a little bit better at art. So investing your time in that could be a smart thing to do. It's ok to learn a different set of skills, as long as each of the things you learn can also be ushered to become part a whole. That's a condition for me personally. I agree with you that learning about one thing also expands knowledge in other areas.

We live in an age where anyone can learn anything and starting a business is easier than ever before. Which means that you need to become a powerhouse, not just because you want it but also because it's the only way to actually do something nobody's done before. The word unique has lost all it's meaning for me, but truly unique concepts are a fusion of several vastly different elements. The factor that makes it work is the competence of the people involved.

As to your third point. I'm both self-taught and college educated in two very different things, but they are two sides of the same coin. It's just that, nobody's attempted to put a coin like that together (yet). I've still got plenty to learn before I actually put all my money on it. I could go on, but talking is easy and I prefer talking after having done something first. I think as long as you're dedicated you can make it work.

Emrox responds:

Thanks, I needed that. Here's a great quote from Harvey Kurtzman, one of my favorite artists and the guy who invented Mad:

"There are some writers who work as very highly paid professionals and they are very competent. They don't have a fucking idea in their head. But they say their non-ideas beautifully. The woods are full of that, artists with beautiful techniques that have evolved from other people's work. True technique comes from when you have something to say and you decide how to say it best."

What I take from that is that you can spend your life getting good at one thing, but if you don't have the skillset to express a really meaningful idea you have (eg. something best said in song, but you spent your whole life drawing comics), it doesn't matter how good you are because you picked one medium to study exclusively. On the other hand, if you learn a whole bunch of shit, and you're confident you can pick up whatever medium because you understand how ART works, you have free reign to say what you want exactly the way you want to.


2017-06-24 15:17:52

post the book

Emrox responds:

I think I might try and reformat it for a youtube show or something. Like those nerdwriter types except my videos will actually be informative and not just "look at how cool this is! I mean just look at it!"


2017-06-24 19:47:46

I think it's time for you to accept that you're on the director track. not the animator track, and not the programmer track.

you're skilled in a lot of areas, but you're not, and probably never will be, the best in any. you've developed a lot of skills, and you know how to translate one skill to another. you're an animator that can talk about programming, but you're also a programmer that can talk about art. in the job market, you're the equivalent of the person that can speak multiple languages - you'll be translating and relaying and conveying and directing - but you won't be doing the specific tasks yourself for the most part.

i think newgrounds has raised a lot of us that way, with everyone making their own everything. newgrounds forces you to be good at multiple skills in order to showcase the one skill you originally cared about.

I think the best example of this is that almost every author on newgrounds had to, at one point, learn how to program a play button for an SWF. it was a small thing, but it shows that no author here was ever really part of the single-skill pipeline.

you're not going to be the best animator around. you're a pretty fucking talented animator, but you won't be the best. your best skill will revolve around your ability to steer multiple visions and talents into one final product - you're a director.

(Updated ) Emrox responds:

haha you say that so matter of factly. I know Miyazaki started out as a real kick-ass animator so maybe there's hope for me in that department, but I think I might just be on that Scott McCloud thing where you end up doing more thinking and teaching than actually making good art. (I mean I loved that chess thing but I think everyone agrees Scott's best work is when he's just talking about comics.)

My knee-jerk reaction is that that's just another rationalization for doing so much different shit, but realistically it is super valuable to be able to hold a cohesive vision AND be able to communicate it to every department. I'm not amazing at working "above" people yet, but if I do wind up a famous director I'll give you the credit for calling it.

Edit: Check this shit out. Would you ever have guessed this guy was THIS level of good? https://youtu.be/SANfYqmNz6U?t=5m54s


2017-06-24 23:24:18

I needed to read that. It makes me feel a bit easier knowing there's someone else out there who doesn't know if they should be the master of one or the jack-of-all-trades...

One things that helps me though, and I hope it can help you feel like you're not wasting your life, is just remembering that YOU are the one who defines what 'being the best' is, and nobody else. Personally, when it comes to being the best, I consider 'the best' to be good enough that you can accomplish the ideas you really wish to achieve as solidly clearly as you envisioned it. Or at least as close to that as possible.

You may feel that your palette of skills is too broad and doesn't quite fit together right now, but I can tell you without a doubt that isn't true--You're passion for writing, art, and your interest in programming--all of your current skills are enough to make a big project on your own, one that YOU can Direct, and that YOU can work on at your own sensible pace. It's The Journey.

I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

Love Peck by the way!

Emrox responds:

Thanks! I love Peck too!

I'm really glad I could reach out to someone in the same boat as me. Sometimes I wonder if people read these and think "wow look at this asshole, he's sad because he has too many skills!", so it's good to hear other people are thinking about this stuff too. Also I like that you straight up say your goal is being the "best" because even though that's what I'm totally thinking it feels wrong to say that out loud. (I swear I'm not an egotist okay!!!!)

But yeah, it does help a little to remember that being the best at something is all relative anyway. Like a lot of the animation guys I look up to now aren't even "good" in the conventional sense, they're just different enough that I find it interesting and inspiring, unlike guys like Milt Kahl or whatever where it's just like "look how good you can be if you try hard enough!" Like I think most people would agree that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest draftsmen of his day and also ever, but I'll bet he couldn't draw a cartoon with as much life and personality as someone like John K. Will Eisner is another artist I really aspire to, but you can really only look at so much of his work before you go "uh okay is that all you can do?"

Yeah I'm hoping this all comes together in some way in the end, though I wouldn't mind being "that artist who also made a cool video game." Actually, the game I'm working on right now features almost no art at all, which I'm really proud of because then if it's any good I'll know it wasn't just the visuals carrying it. Hopefully I'll actually finish this one and it won't just be another bullet point in a newspost like my book or my review series or Northridge the Movie.

I couldn't find anyone who clipped it, but I feel like this is relevant (go to 14:10) http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4sfya3


2017-06-25 05:46:30

I agree with your interpretation of that quote. Funny enough, I'm not an animator because I like drawing, I am one because it's a way to convey my ideas. A form of communication really, just in this case visualized with movement and sound. Animation is the chosen medium because it (aside from film and some games) comes closest to breathing life into my ideas. Making use of as many senses as possible, leaving little room for other's to form their own interpretation. Which is the opposite with comics and books. So whichever way works best in the translation of those ideas, into something that is perceivable by others is the goal.

I'm also curious about the book, forgot to mention it.

Emrox responds:

I was talking to my brother and I decided against posting my book stuff publicly for now. I kinda realized a lot of people who just start to get good at art have the impulse to make tumblr tutorials and shit even if they haven't really mastered what they're teaching to other people (kind of like the old saying 'those who can't do, teach.') So this was the same thing really - I had just started thinking about the purpose of art and some ways to grow without doing drills all day, and I immediately wanted to write it down without really taking the proper time to test out whether any of my ideas really work.

BUT if that kind of thing gets your juices going feel free to PM me and I'll send you my outline. (Offer stands for anyone else who's reading this)


2017-06-26 09:07:31

interesting read. i agree with most of your thoughts. i think sometimes people get caught up in the seriousness of a creative career, where the creative mind in general is a bit organic and abstract in the way it works. i know some guys / girls that cant go anywhere without their sketchbook and pouring their all into incorporating it into their day, which is great if that works for them. For me, its just not something that ever took off, and even when i forced it, i never stuck to it and probably never will, ive come to accept that its just not how i work or stay creative. i think i tend to 'sketch' with my mind more often than not. I have a deep fascination about the way humans interact with each other, these sacks of flesh throwing sounds and gestures at each other like wild animals with designer clothes or what have you. That sort of thing excites me and sparks my curiousity (sounds creepy doesnt it) but in my own interactions and observations i think its greatly improved my understanding of subtleties in my work (and other peoples) im able to better understand the art of subtle gestures and interactions, which is something old cartoons really nail. So while i could spend all day drawing i think that you sometimes risk having things be technically beautiful but not have much heart or personality.

(Updated ) Emrox responds:

Fuck yea man. I think observing how people move and act is SUPER important and it's weird I never got taught that in school. Actually, that really bothers me about modern animation - a lot of the time you can see exactly which drawings were the keyframes, which is odd because real human motion isn't segmented that nicely. And what's worse, most guys have about two or three ways of inbetweening point A to point B, to the point where you can usually ID an animator by a signature bounce or ease pattern. Good artists know to draw pictures from reference, but not many reference motion.

Here's someone who was real good at that shit tho: https://youtu.be/Agcgs7TfMZ0?t=43s


2017-07-05 15:19:00

im late to seeing this and i dont have anything particularly interesting to add other than this hits home for me in a lot of capacities:

I've caught the "asian work addiction" (lol) because I spent my entire high school time creating art and animation without ever studying or comprehending anything about them. i guess im pretty bitter about that and im kind of desperately busting my ass to catch up. but the more I study the less creative ideas I tend to have, where before thats all i had. im trying to strike a balance right now of studying and also intaking inspiring material while also working on the more "creative" ideas I have and that seems to be working, or at least it feels a lot more fulfilling than studying eight hours a day and still feeling like a schmuck who can't draw what he wants to.

at the same time im wondering if i should've pursued the other fields I care about like film and writing. i wonder a lot if i should've just stuck to film because no matter how much i study and put it into practice it still seems like i can't draw for shit. it's really frustrating having all these ideas for shots, camera movements etc to visually communicate things to the audience without ever having the technical ability to draw or animate these ideas. ive thought about directing things in live-action but with my film experience being so minimal, it's-- as you said-- pretty daunting because everyones working twice as hard at that craft etc etc. i also wonder if i should've just stuck to writing but considering how little i've actually read i doubt i'd be able to articulate anything that isn't already restated by someone smarter than me, better than i could. at some point id really love to put my focus onto directing something in live-action or writing some kind of weird memoir thing but I have this looming fear that if I dont get the fuck better at drawing i'm not gonna get a job.

however your whole 20 crafts argument at least gives me a little bit of hope, as theres nothing preventing me from taking up those crafts again, and possibly because I'm not so desensitized to them i might have something more interesting to say? I dunno. especially with the sam hyde thing, I talked to Patrick about that a while back...while I agree that sams a voice comedy needs, the fact that everything he does now is so laden with irony and shrouding his intentions behind ten different barriers is really pathetic considering he's like 31 now. I think sam used to really have something, and I still really love a ton of the stuff he's made, but it's gotten to where it's been kinda lost through that whole rabbithole thing you were talking about. Devoting yourself so hopelessly to a craft kind of robs what you initially loved about it.

not to turn this into some diary entry or anything but i get what you mean about feeling like youre wasting your life. and it sucks! it sucks feeling like you're kind of floating directionless in the void. i think this is kind of intrinsic to this whole 20 something age range though. i dont think anyone under the age of thirty has a clear path theyve defined for themselves. i wouldn't worry about it too much. i think you especially have a distinct creator voice so you're way ahead of most of us. i've always enjoyed the way you write both in comedy and in these blog posts so if that book ever surfaces im sure that'd be a fun read. regardless im lookin forward to seeing whatever you end up doing in whatever medium so good luck!

Emrox responds:

THanks Jon! If it helps, I think you've improved a lot in the last year, so whatever the fuck you do in the end I'm confident you'll excel at it with enough time and effort. Stay learnin!


2017-07-29 23:40:35

I know you're not a fan of either Chuck Jones or Glenn Keane, but they've both said similar things. It worked for them, so I think there's a lot of truth to it. Plus life would be pretty fucking dull if you just grinded non-stop.

Emrox responds:

hey I never said I don't like chuck jones! Or Glenn Keane! (but you are right about Keane)