One of the first things I learned in college was a tip from a drawing/animation professor, who advised, in regard to exaggerating poses, to "push it as far as you can, then push it some more, push it just a little further, then take a break, take a walk, get a drink of water, come back and push it a little more." Implicit in this advice was that you were very unlikely to "overdo it" and in practice it was completely true - I almost always erred on the side of stiffness, and when the drawings did break, it wasn't because they were over-exaggerated, it was that the practice of over-exaggerating highlighted the gaps in my understandings of anatomy, construction, and the like. It's a pretty crazy feeling when you try your best to push something too far and yet it ends up being exactly the right amount of "pushed." This happened all the time.
Also helpful in my learning to push drawings were the leading examples of the rare artist who could push a pose or expression well beyond any of their contemporaries. John K is the classic example, real animation nerds know Rod Scribner or Jim Tyer, and REAL animation nerds know this shit. I have a great appreciation for these guys - the people who extend beyond precedent and set the bar for what is possible, just barely palatable to the artists and just barely comprehensible to the layman. I might never be as bold and adventurous as they were, but seeing very extreme examples of cartoon exaggeration showed me just how far I was from the upper-limit, and gave me a better sense of the space of possibilities.
If it wasn't obvious, this advice extends to more than just drawing for animation. Pushing yourself uncomfortably far in any endeavor is a great help in realizing the parameters and boundaries of the space you're working in. I've often given the advice to people who do design work (a kind of work that lends itself to obsessively tweaking little details for hours on end), to always overdo whatever tweak or change you're trying to make (if you think there's a mistake, make the opposite mistake) instead of slowly inching your way toward the correct thing in tiny increments. Sort of like jumping into a pool, or ripping off a band-aid, or fixing a bent spring by bending it the other direction instead of holding it in the correct position till it gets the idea. Like pushing poses, trying your best to overdo it has an amazing way of getting you to exactly where you need to be.
I grew up in a time when "Low Arts" like comics and TV and video games were getting a sort of cultural reappraisal - people saying "yes, these too can be art," in spite of their association with infantilism and children's mind-rot. Even though those tides were shifting, remnants of the old sentiment - that the low arts were a sort of pornography incapable of deeper meaning - lingered, and even in underground circles it was extremely unfashionable to be caught taking yourself too seriously. But even though many works of the time were soaked in cynicism and an "it's uncool to care or try" attitude, it's impossible to deny that we were making things that were intended to have some impact on people. After all, if I wasn't trying to affect any change on the external world, why was I making anything at all? Even if the point of a cartoon was just to be a cheap laugh - something that makes you smile for five seconds before you move on, wasn't that too an expression of the way I wanted the world to be?
So for those of you who may have been raised, like me, on the idea that "trying is lame," but have always had the nagging feeling that maybe you actually do have something to say, and that you are only being restrained by the need not to expose your hubris - the ego-driven desire to keep itself concealed - I encourage you to push, push more, take a walk, eat dinner, have a smoke, come back, and push further still.
Caveh Zahedi - 365 Stories I want to tell you before we both die (2021)
Caveh has become one of my favorite examples of someone who lives and dies by his ideals, and seems to take pleasure in suffering for his art. One of his ongoing projects was called this before it became too self-destructive and he chickened out. 365 Stories was a project he published over the course of 2021 and my favorite thing he's done, but for the purposes of this blog post I just want you to listen to this episode:
- Ecstasy at Rotterdam (3 minutes)
The film he mentions in the story is also very good - in it he tries to "prove the existence of god," while also attempting the equally herculean task of connecting with a somewhat estranged father and half-brother, all while being repeatedly frustrated by constant technical problems with the film equipment. [Spoiler]
There's a moment in the movie where they sort of tease "something interesting is going to happen in one hour" and there's a real tension to whether or not they will actually get the interesting thing on film. And when the interesting thing comes, they *do* fuck up in a really spectacular way that, for me, is the shining moment of the film.
I'm awed by the audacity of saying "I was trying to make the greatest film ever made," and am humbled by his admission of absurdly high aspirations. If you've read some other posts I've written, you may have gathered that I, too, have absurdly high aspirations that I'm sometimes ashamed to admit to. Like Caveh in the story, it's more often in moments of elation that I get big pie-in-the-sky ambitions about things, but to acknowledge publicly that you get those feelings at all - those feelings most commonly associated with egotism and narcissism, or of thinking you have it within you to make something of godly importance, takes a sort of confidence that is pretty rare, even in real-live narcissists and egotists.
This however is not the upper-boundary of high ambitions.
Brian Moriarty - The Point Is (1996)
This is like fifty minutes long so I don't expect you to listen to the full thing now, but if my writeup piques your interest, I do recommend it! (Also, you may have heard a sample of it already, if you made it to track two of my album)
At the dawn of the world wide web, Brian Moriarty had a vision that the internet was more than a means of getting information to people - that the internet was a stepping stone to some kind of ascension to a higher plane, where human consciousness is not bound by physicality or transitory skeuomorphism. He didn't claim to know what this higher-order thing was - only asking that you indulge in the fantasy that such a thing might exist, and that it may be time to find it.
I don't necessarily agree with his vision, but parts of it seem to be true already - the internet has a strange power to catch you in a brooding/antisocial mood, and coax you into exposing sides of yourself that you would never reveal in polite society. From that, some people will conclude from that that the internet-you is the "real" you, or perhaps that the real-you is the "real" you. But I think that both yous are real, and the internet is now making us all reckon with a new, more detailed, somewhat ugly and somewhat beautiful picture of human consciousness. "The Point Is", in that way, is a vague envisioning of what the natural conclusion of such a shift in perception of ourselves and others might look like. Speaking of which -
Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
The thing that made me want to write this blog post in the first place was watching Lain for the first time (it kicks ass, I would call it a "must watch"), and then reading this excerpt about it on Wikipedia:
Later I went back and read the full interview, and the intention was actually not quite as insanely ambitious as Wikipedia makes it sound - he wasn't hoping to invoke some all-encompassing culture war, just a sort of localized debate between Japanese and American fans that would help them to understand each others' cultures, and what insights they could gain from one another. Still a very ambitious goal, albeit not biblical in scale.
If you've seen Lain and were interested in what it had to say, it's probably worth checking out The Point Is, and vice versa. If you thought The Matrix was deep and interesting, then put away the baby's toys and watch Lain right now. I'm generally a subs guy but I watched the dub at a friend's recommendation and I can't imagine enjoying the sub more, so make of that what you will.
It's good and you should watch it! But don't take my word for it, take his!
Jonathan Blow - Preventing the Collapse of Civilization (2019)
Jon Blow, director of hit indie games Braid and The Witness (and a friend of Brian Moriarty!), gave a lecture at a gamedev conference a few years ago, and among some thoughts tangentially related to game design, detailed a vivid picture of how the current failures of the software industry might be the first warning signs of an impending large-scale civilizational collapse. If that sounds crazy, I recommend you watch it, and you can assess for yourself how realistic any of it sounds. Lacking in any kind of world history knowledge, I was surprised to learn that civilizations have already collapsed many times throughout history, and was intrigued by the notion that institutional decay can happen so slowly (hundreds of years) that a collapse may be imperceptible from the inside.
In the years since watching this I've become a lot grumpier about software being buggy and perpetually half-baked, so if you don't want to become a preachy evangelist for another big looming problem, you might want to skip this one. On the other hand, if you DO want to get mad about Windows being horseshit or annoy all your friends with doomsday rhetoric, check this shit out, too.
I have a great deal of respect for the creators who are willing to take on the throes of people primed and ready to call them 'pretentious,' 'egomaniacal,' or 'wrong,' and will say things they feel strongly about with total disregard for the "optics" of doing such a thing. It's something I tried to do while writing this very post, and I couldn't help but squirm writing sentences like "This however is not the upper-boundary of high ambitions." I guess it takes a long time to unlearn the 'never take yourself too seriously' thing. Walking the line between impactful and overdramatic is also hard; something I tell myself is that the difference between the stuff-that-tries-to-be-deep-but-sucks and stuff-that-tries-to-be-deep-and-works is often a matter of "sticking the landing," so to speak. Attempting serious work doesn't mean you have to relinquish your sense of humor, or take on a weird somber tone all the time, just that you have to think hard about the thing you're trying to say and the best means of saying it.
I have never attempted to do work at the level of ambition I've been describing, but I might, someday. If you ever do, here are some things I've noticed these works have in common, for your consideration:
- A willingness to be "not for everyone"
- A willingness to be slow and long
- Use of surreal aesthetic choices to complement the message, and put the audience in a headspace where they might be more receptive of a radically new way of thinking
- A willingness to leave details vague and open to interpretation, in instances where you yourself can't grasp the entirety of what you're getting at
- An openness to the possibility that individuals can affect great change, and that you could be one of those individuals, and it's okay if you're not or if you're wrong, because people will not hear important ideas unless the people who have important ideas are willing to say them, and we have undoubtedly already lost important ideas to self-doubt and the fear of sounding a little too self-important
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This was conceived as a sort of sequel to this post I made about Canadian animation. If you like my writing about art I like, go read that, too! https://emrox.newgrounds.com/news/post/1337581
I've been thinking about the same concepts lately and I find this to be an amazing blog post.
Something I mocked to myself in the past were daily affirmations or people who try to manifest positive attributes and outcomes by talking to themselves. It dawned on me recently that it's not that silly to remind yourself everyday that "I am becoming the best version of myself." "My possibilities are endless." "I choose to be kind to myself and love myself unconditionally." Like it sounds "lame" but why not strengthen those ideas?
The more I become aware of how much negativity I absorb through social media or if I pay attention to petty things I have to face the fact that they do enter my mind and quite possibly influence my behavior on a subconscious level. What you choose to think, believe and consume becomes part of you for better and for worse.
If most people are a conglomerate of the 5 people they talk to the most, what does sitting on a computer or phone reading twitter and watching rapid fire tiktoks from angry people do to someone's mind?
Interesting thoughts on applying animation concepts to almost anything. I like ur writings
Really great stuff Marty. Always love reading these.
I'm reminded of this quote I read in a Harlan Ellison book where he said something to the effect of "Take the work deathly serious but never take yourself too seriously". I think about that one pretty often. It's a delicate balance of knowing your own limitations, and then having the confidence enough to think it's a worthwhile pursuit to put in all those hours of work or attempt an ambitious idea. Too much of one or the other is a creative death sentence. Especially with how long animation takes comparative to other mediums, I can't imagine why anyone would want to go through all the tedium if they didn't believe what they were creating was important/needed to be said.
On the subject of Harlan I think I sent you this interview with him years ago, but it's a great one that I feel like is worth revisiting given how relevant it is to the post. It's been a while since I've watched it myself but I still think about quotes from it like once a week. Look no further for a perfect example of the type of artist you're talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcM8FHljXxc
Really glad you liked Lain so much too. I'd like to think me trying to explain why Digimon is actually good accounted for like 2% of you watching that!
Yeah we should get together and watch digimon tamers sometime. It's been a little while since I've watched the Harlan thing and I probably forgot most of it, so I'll give it another spin when I get a chance. (also, thanks for watching I don't hate las vegas & generally enabling me as a pusher of weird media!)
Well-written and interesting as usual! Your point about pushing reminds me of something my old drawing professor told me,"exaggerate to find the sublety!" which I'll never forget.
I'm not sure overdoing it really applies to functional UI design as well as it does other arts, but I think I will give it a try after this after all. :) Intriguing to see what that might lead to... for the most part I feel I'm only off by a pixel or two with most tweaks, ideal readability and visibility alignments seem subtle, but who knows, maybe I'm overly stuck in my ways after all...
The have a smoke advice I think I'm a skip on entirely. XD
Caveh I shall definitely delve into more.
I hear a certain level or narcissism is really a good thing if you just surround yourself with people who can humble you.
Serial Experiments Lain was great, agreed. Watched with subs though...
Have contemplated the slow collapse of our current civilization too, and been surprised by how the advent of all main religions we currently adhere to in the world actually took place around the same time, within the space of just a few hundred years AD (Buddhism too). And yet there have been so many religions before this faith-related vortex, and after, how could that particular span of time culminate in such a culmination of ideals... not that this has anything to do with the potentially appending collapse of the world order as we know it, though I do feel like religion overall may eventually have something to do with it. Or the lack thereof. In our apparent difficulties in finding something worthwhile to believe in and dedicate ourselves to outside of the common faith. These days it seems most of us lack maybe not passion but purpose and discipline over all.
Haven't opened up most links in this post yet since I fear they'd eat all too big a chunk of my spare time today, but have bookmarked for the future, you really have a way with words; bring up fascinating concepts and contemplations. Inspires me to challenge myself too. Even if you create it's easy to get stuck in a loop; settle for less; lose track of what's ambition and what's ample pastime and distraction.
This was great. Cool to stumble upon something with both this kind of depth and red-threadedness. Goes full circle in the end, as if everything in the world is expression; art. Or can be conveyed that way. We don't realize how deep it goes. We forget how far we can take it. Even if we don't have a fear of forsaking, or not making it, we need some kind of foundation to create things. Ideas - even just words. Fragments of enlightenments that make us feel things, or wake our neurons, expand our realm of consciousness and understanding... like how but learning a new word can teach us a whole new facet of life. If we have the ability to express everything then we can truly experience it, too. And oftentimes means of mainstream expression these days feels dumbed down, and repetitive, like we're not encouraged to really learn or experience anything anymore. We lose sense of how great a potential for exploration we really hold in our arts and language.
Yeah. Inspiring stuff. Shall come here more often.
Btw really just came here to say thanks for the review response recently, on squiggly lines and their various names, enlightening factoids there too.
I think @Bill told me he read some historical nonfiction book where one of the main points of the book was that religions sort of keep civilization propped up, and then when the main religion of a society falls out of favor, the collapse follows. I haven't read it and I might be misremembering, but if that pattern is real then I guess we gotta find something new, and quick!
Also - squiggly line update, @shufflehound alerted me to this clip of Bob Godfrey saying "boiling" (and that this is a well-known term in the biz) in 1974! https://youtu.be/eNmFjOsfHK0?t=15
Some might say science is becoming our new religion, though I'm not sure that's true, with how we don't truly question the research or progress we hear is made. Seems like maybe it was for a while. Maybe it's more so media that's become our God now, and corporations our new governments, with their massive influence on social norm and infrastructure, policy's often based on profit more so than the maybe more pragramtic faith-related doctrine that governments were initially based on, initially a fairer replacement for the church... seems there's a conflict of interest these days in what's truly important, and so the way we and the world develops gets influenced by all the more individual entities with their own interests, and our potential in truly innovating and getting somewhere gets fragmented; our potential purposes in life polarized and set against each other.
Maybe that's how collapses ultimately happen when they do. When fragments of order and discipline are too small and too many to co-exist. Then again maybe that's the best way to make way for one foundation that works; let the new one grow and in time replace all...
Always a revelation available here! That old animation show was fascinating, my FBF variant of the technique's more akin to the original then, really is easier to do these things digitally...
I have a sort of pet theory that enough people are going to start doing the thing where they live near (or in the same home as) their internet friends that we start to see new self-sufficient bubbles of people, sort of like how city people tend to be ideologically different from rural people, but like every internet subculture has their own little region. Not sure if that kind of thing would speed up or prevent a big-scale collapse, but I think it would be good to have more little pockets of isolated cultures, so we can get a better diversity of ideas going instead of the internet-fueled homogenizing that seems to be happening now.
Oh yeah I think it was 'Lessons From History' by Will and Ariel Durant? I must've read that like 5-6 years ago but I remember talking about that.
Hmm that'd be an interesting shift in current social order! Is that actually happening currently, do people gather that way? Around here it seems more so common people don't move out, housing's expensive, the generation I'm part of at least seem to get a late start on life, and the main goal seems to have changed from having traditional families and careers maybe more so to finding something fulfilling beyond innate biological interests and instincts, I've heard of group home experiments but never seen one in practice. That'd be interesting. The families I see... seems oftentimes somewhat stagnant, but maybe that's just a certain pocket of generations; it gets better. Or a local phenomena.
Isolated cultures sound like both a good and bad thing though, good to have a diversity of ideas, but not so good if they're self-fueled echo chambers where potentially discriminate and skewed ideologies easier get a foothold, and we aren't as open to bridging cultures and finding common pathways through this diversity. The polarization in society now's a big problem that seems to have some roots in subcultures as such, even if we're not physically grouped together as you suggest. Maybe that'd make for more empathy.
I feel the Internet overall lets us distance ourselves a bit too much from the consequences of our ideologies; how we approach people with ones that are different.
Yeah I don't really know if that would be good or bad! I think it's almost a guarantee (should this whole thing happen) that you would get some groups of people that act as an echo chamber for hateful ideas - but then those people are naturally isolated from the people they hate instead of forced to integrate with society while unloading all their dissatisfaction into internet yes-men. Is that better or worse? I don't know, but we do have prisons, so there's obviously some merit to just separating the people who will hurt eachother from eachother.
As for "have I seen this" - sorta? My brother moved in with someone we met on NG a few years ago, and how many times have you heard people on the internet dream about "getting a house for all my internet friends to come live in." Maybe there's not enough people thinking this way for such a shift to happen, or the shift would happen too slowly to take hold before the next big sea change, but I think if we don't nuke or paperclip ourselves in the next 300 years it's pretty possible
@Bill Good to know! Adding to my readlist...
Mmm that's true, without Internet specifically as potential outlet they really wouldn't he hurting anyone either, just bouncing said hate within their own bubble... in regard to prisons they should theoretically rehabilitate, not just let inmates further enforce whatever prejudice or gang mentality they bring with them, but in practice indeed that doesn't seem to work so well, fundamentally somewhat similar indeed...
I wonder if I have heard that said for real actually, I've thought it though, for sure... how did that work out for your brother, so far? Well it'd definitely be interesting if such a cultural shift does occur. :) May bring down our dystopian housing prices a bit too, if the demand doesn't keep up with the market they'll have to make things a bit more affordable eventually... maybe the collective phenomena overall would be good for people; the echo chambers would fill with optimism, visions, good things more so than the begrudging bitterness peeps may get overtaken by if they spend all too much time solo, would be interesting to see...
Here's hoping we don't nuke or paperclip ourselves in the next 300 years then!
I think they've been splitting rent for like three, four years? So I guess that's going pretty well.
glad you knew what "paperclip" meant I was taking a risk there
Nice. :) To some extent it doesn't work then! Cool to hear.
Wondering if my understanding of 'paperclipping' may differ from your understanding of paperclipping now though. XD Paperclipping as in: increasing sense of worth by feeding on superficial connections and the emotional responses of others?
Daaang that really was something different entirely! A bit like the in sci-fi prophesized dilemma of how potentially programming AI to for example 'make the world a better place' might lead them to wipe out humanity itself, as the overwhelming root and ongoing reign of all terror and exploitation of our world. Or have it in some way save us from ourselves. Create a Matrix so that we're incapable of harming both ourselves or others, and let us live in an entirely incapacitated state...
Gotcha. Definitely some potential problems down that line of potential too, if there does come a day where AI reaches a level of sentience movies portray...
I dunno if you're keeping up with AI news but some people are saying existential-risk-level AI tech is very very close to already existing (like within a year)
I'm keeping up a little, though I don't know nearly enough to read the risk assessments properly, the people I have been speaking to say the timeline for any real sentience is still far off, but then again what existential-risk-level implies I'm not sure... maybe sentience isn't required for risk after all. Elon Musk's definitely been advocating for safeguards for a long time, on the other hand I remember watching a John Carmack interview recently where he felt the risks were greatly exaggerated. I'm intrigued over the possibilities of AI but not that optimistic about tech in general, so far it seems the more we get the sicker we get; the more lost and distressed. The more we exploit the world for natural resources necessary to fuel our innovations too, some of which is pretty toxic, like cobalt with the new 'green energy' revolution.
That's good to know though, re: risk. I might be in an echo chamber too. :)
If you're more into the AI field maybe some of this would be relevant: https://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/1498559#bbspost27291338_post_text