Inspiration from Steve Jobs

With Apple CEO Steve Jobs being in the news this week, I read a few articles about him. He had a couple of quotes that I really thought were interesting. Here's the first one:

"When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there,"
he told Newsweek in 2006. "But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions."

 This is amazingly perceptive and truthful to me. It applies to story and it applies to drawing. Your first instinct when trying to solve a drawing problem or a hole in your story is to add layers of complexity. Oftentimes the best solution is really rather simple and involves removing complexity instead of adding it. And it's worth remembering that often the first solution we think of is the most complicated, but if we keep at it, examining the problem from different angles and trying different solutions, we can come up with a better solution that would have been impossible for us to see at the start.

As someone once said, "writing is re-writing". I have always found this to be absolutely true. I have always found that "drawing is re-drawing" as well.

I think Hemmingway once said "The first draft of anything is shit." This has also always been true in my experience.

Okay, the second quote that struck me was this:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do," he once told Stanford grads. "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on."

"Loving what you do" has a unique meaning in the animation business. To me, there are three parts to consider about the job we do when talking about "loving what we do":

The first component of "what we do" is the artistic struggle of (and satisfaction you get from) producing your own work and judging it against your own taste and artistic standards. This part would be the storyboards you draw, the scenes you animate, the backgrounds you paint, etc. The artwork you are personally creating during the making of the film or show.

The second component of "what we do" is submitting our work to the directors, producers and our peers, and working with them as we hone our work, improve it and alter it to fit appropriately within the larger scheme of the project.

The third component of "what we do" is the project as a whole (the entire film, TV show, video game or whatever) and our satisfaction or disappointment with how it turns out.

So there are a lot of aspects that go into our attempt to "love what we do". Some of them are under our control and some are not. All of us lose sleep over what we do and lay awake at night worrying about our jobs and the projects we are working on (at least I do, and I assume everyone else does too). And in my experience, people spend more time agonizing over and lose more sleep over the parts of the project that are out of their control than the parts they do control.

It always saddens me a bit to see how many people on the internet identify themselves as "bitter animators" and the like, and how many people write in an angry and bitter way about animated projects they've worked on (or in some cases haven't worked on but still hate the film with a passion, either because they think it's bad or they hate the people that made it). I completely understand how painful it can be to spend years of your life and countless hours late at night on a project that didn't turn out the way you hoped it would. The majority of films I've worked out haven't turned out as well as I had hoped. A very small number of them actually turned out anywhere near as good as I hoped they might. On all of the films I've worked on, I spent multiple years working on each one and sacrificed plenty on all of them in an effort to try and improve them as much as I could within the scope of my responsibilities.

I think a big part of why I don't look back on those projects with regret about the time I spent on them is that I always spoke up openly about what I thought was wrong and could be better. Most of the time people disagreed with me and didn't see the problems the same way I saw them. They didn't always agree with the solutions I was proposing. Fair enough. But because I spoke up and expressed my honest opinions I was able to sleep at night knowing that at least I had tried to help and I hadn't kept my feelings bottled up inside, festering away.

I think a lot of the time when people become bitter it's because they aren't speaking up about the problems they see. Sometimes it's because they're afraid they'll look like a fool and sometimes they're afraid they'll be fired. Certainly I've worried about both and risked both as well. But I've always found at Disney that if I spoke up in a respectful way - without insulting or belittling the project I was discussing, or the people making it - people didn't get angry at me because they could tell I was just trying to make things better. They haven't always agreed with me but they only rarely got mad at me. And I'm still there after 17 years. So from my limited experience that approach has worked, anyway.

There has always been plenty for me to love and get satisfaction out of in my time at Disney. Even when I didn't agree with the way the film was going I could always throw myself into working on my drawing, boarding my assignments to the best of my ability and learning more about drawing and film making and developing characters and putting all of that into my boards. I can honestly say that I love the job of storyboarding and working with a story crew so I can say that I really am fortunate enough to have a job that I love. And at the very least, even in my worst experiences when everything seemed hopeless and pointless, I was still being paid to draw every day and that's no small thing. I've also been fortunate enough to have always worked with the most amazing people in the world and that's no hyperbole. I've enjoyed every story crew I've ever worked with and I look back on every film I've worked on with fondness for the board artists and amazement of how much fun we had, even when things were at their most frustrating.

Abraham Lincoln said, "If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will". Every job has its ups and downs and, as artists, we are especially prone to getting frustrated and disillusioned. But within all of us there was once a younger, more idealized person who got into this business because we wanted to do good work and learn how to be a better artist. No matter how frustrated you are with your job, those things are still within your control and nobody can keep you from doing your best work or learning to be a better artist: that's entirely within your control.

 No matter what, nobody except you can keep yourself from learning, and growing, and finding satisfaction in the work you do, and those things are very important keys to leading a happy least in my experience!