Sunday, February 28, 2010

Experience is a "dirty word".

The worst word in the creative business English Dictionary is that scab picker, "Experience". When you are starting out in business it's the one thing you need but almost always lack and when you have pantloads of it you are perceived as an overpriced, opinionated bag of pain in the ass who will be too difficult to manage.

Ever notice that most job postings want 2 to 3 years experience and not 10 to 15 years? The only solution for this kind of ridiculous job market is to get a new job every 2 to 3 years that way you will have the perfect amount of experience every time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Post Story

Ever been in "post" with a knucklehead? It is a special moment. A favorite of mine occurred during a spot for a hospital chain near Cleveland. We were finishing the spot in "Flame" at a Minneapolis facility with one of the greatest Flame guys I have ever worked with (Jake Parker). We were busy compositing the animated character inks with several animated matte layers that acted as the character color and background. We composited in Flame (a very expensive process) due to the complexity of the animation and the amount of animated color elements, mattes and background plates. Things were going swimmingly until the Agency Art Director started putting his two flawed cents in.

The Art Director after finishing his large lunch that we hoped that would keep him quiet, started commenting on our color choices and wanted to adjust. There were several problems with his interference, one we were almost done (in other words why did he wait so long), and two, Jake informed him that it would be a difficult process due to the way he had set-up the file and gently explained (you always have to gently explain when dealing with a creative knucklehead)that it would have been better for him to have been involved during the composite. (I am sure that Jake was trying to help us here.)
Didn't matter. So "the Jake" started breaking apart a section so that the Art Director could bless us with his well fed miraculous eye. After a short period of time it was obvious that his color choices were awful. After an hour, the patience in the room started to wane and the eyes were starting to roll. I pulled the Creative Director out of the room and asked him to help us out and shut this guy up. He apologized, said he would wring him in and confided in me that this Knucklehead Art Director was of all things, colorblind. It cost us over a grand for the two hours of his screwing around and thankfully we ended up back where we started, sweet colors intact.
The good news, the Creative Director was a very loyal and wonderful guy who utilized us whenever we could and we rarely had to deal with the knucklehead again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Can you learn from a Knucklehead?

Absolutely. The hardest lesson to learn in a creative life is to recognize that learning doesn't take sides. Even knuckleheads teach. They can teach us in a useful negative way, by showing us the bright light of what to avoid, what one should never attempt or do creatively. But there are those disturbing moments when the universe slaps you upside your silly head and gives an idiot a burning moment of creative revelation. Scary moments for they don't always know what they do.

I had a old high school football coach who taught an uninspired film class which mostly accommodated his need to snooze in a darkened room. He was truly a challenged individual and needless to say a waste of teaching flesh but he did display the first independent animated short film I had ever had the pleasure to see. This nightmare of a educator gave me the first breath of creative fresh air and forever changed my life. I am forever YIKED, bamboozled, and grateful.

So pay attention to the curveballs this universe so skillfully drills at your unexpecting head.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"IT doesn't WORK!"

I have been through many circumstances where a client makes a suggestion which is counter to the creative in their own spot and directly in conflict with what you are trying to produce for them. You politely respond, "I don't think that will work" and if you are smart enough, you will be able to explain why. (If you want to play the "Ego Card" you laugh, tell them to "shut up", or just say "no"). Hopefully after your explanation the suggestion has been tucked away in the forever forgotten pile of crappy ideas. If not, you have opened the Pandora's Box of creative issues. Are you just not talented enough to make it work? Are you too stupid to understand who you are working for? Are you not creative enough to defend your position? Not good. You do not want to be defending your creative, it should be the only absolute in the room. You ARE the creative.

As a young animator/producer, I used to think you could make nearly anything work, that was my job in a sense, give the client what he/she wanted no matter how ridiculous it seemed at the time. I was a young "MAKE IT WORK" Tim Gunn wannabe. Sometimes to my surprise it was actually successful, the client was happy that I used their idea and made it pretty as a butterfly just for them. But invariably, I would not be satisfied one iota, I would see their suggestion as a large nail in my creative tire. I almost never put those jobs on a demo reel and surprisingly most of the times the client did not return for the next offering. Big HMMMM.

The problem is this, a bad creative idea is a bad creative idea and it is your job to make sure those ideas don't screw the pooch. How else can you prove your expertise? In my crankcase old age, I actually suggest the "Ego Card" tell them to back off, that you were hired for the creative not them. Do it in an entertaining way, if possible, nothing like laughing like an idiot while they stare confused. Most of the times they want the outlandish, the "wack job", it is what the corporate world expects of us. But beware, make sure it is a creative difference and not a business difference, the client has a right to portray their product and brand how they wish. Know the boundary and understand the risk.

Yes, you can lose jobs this way and you cannot overplay this hand or you will be known through out the industry as some pariah or worse, a prima donna. Maintain balance, understand that you do not own creative thought, but be in control of what you have been hired to do. And certainly understand that living the creative life is all about risk, in and out and all about.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How do you prove you are an expert?

Years ago, expertise was a given. If you had the equipment, you must be an expert or at least you were in competition with experts. Certainly this statement is not entirely true, but it's not 50 mile walk backwards either. For example, back in the day, post-production was handled by firms with very expensive equipment. Millions of dollars worth of video technology, decks, ranks, massive color correctors, and editing equipment. You hire technicians and editors with vast experience in film and video. Now a retard art director comes into a post house with his Mac and Final Cut and shows the editor his rough cut. It's happening. Now the editor is forced to tell the knucklehead art director that his work sucks and he (happened to be a "he" in the version I know) should just let the editor do what the editor knows how to do. What the hell? If that ain't a screwed up situation. So if you are a pin head art director who thinks you have any talent in editing, then edit your kids home movies. Don't show your version of a commercial to anyone, not the client, not the creative director and certainly not the editor. Let a pro do it. When you have edit 10 years of your kids opening Xmas presents while Grandma swears like a sailor in the background, then maybe open your mouth, but keep your laptop shut.

The toughest question for many professionals now is how do you prove you are an expert. All the damn tools, now fit on a laptop. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, etc. A nerd knows all the terms, hell they created this stuff. The quality of work is all over the place due to the internet due in part to the availability of cheapo video technology. The only solution I can come up with is be the best at what you do, "be original and be you" and hope they don't create a program to duplicate it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Remember an Age before KNUCKLEHEADS

The first commercial I ever animated was the best experience I ever had. I was working for a creative director named Carl Graneth and he was the best. During the production of the spot, I had an unusual idea and being a good little animation director I gave Carl a call and tried to explain what I wanted to do visually. I hacked and stumbled explaining the idea and Carl stopped me in mid stupidity. He said, "Look, I am the creative director, I drew the board, I sold the client on the idea, my job is done, it's your job now, do what you think works." I never heard those words again. The spot turned out great, Carl and the client were both ecstatic, and I felt like my career was just about to take off. Win, win, win, all do to a creative director who trusted the decision he made when he awarded me the spot.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Being Creative

It always amazes me how "being creative" is at times a big circus act with elephants and even scary clowns. Years ago, I went to my first pre-pro meeting at an agency in Boston who were planning a Halloween commercial for particular store chain. I was young and naive, and had never had a professional animation type meeting before. My father always wore a suit when going to important meetings and I felt at the time that I couldn't go wrong being dressed properly. I couldn't have been more wrong. I donned my "wedding suit", the only suit I owned, and went to the posh ad agency offices confident that I had made a good and smart fashion choice. When I got there, I was greeted by the creative director and producer for the agency and we sat down in a large conference room. Their first question was, "Where is the creative?" Mr. Dapper and now confused (me), responded by confidently telling them that I was in fact the animation director. They had a nice chuckle with a "No really" attached then asked again if the animator was going to join us. Luckily, I chose to use my feet for some fancy foot work and not as a chew toy and told them that unfortunately the "creative" couldn't make the meeting and that I came in his place. They asked if they could reschedule since this was to be a "creative" meeting. I like any good producer/account executive/lawyer instantly agreed that tomorrow would be a better day and apologized for the confusion. "Ha, yeah, you guys saw right past my little joke, ha ha." They shook my hand with odd looks on their faces and I knew that they were equally confused. Why did this knucklehead show up and tell us he was the creative and then cancel the meeting as quick as he came? "WEIRDO" lingered in Bold Helvetica in the thought balloons above their heads, at least that's what I saw. I dodged a bullet, but knew I had to come up with something good to gain the agencies confidence once again. My suit had them convinced that I was a business bozo of some sort and about as creative as a used tissue. I decided that I had no other choice than to give them what they wanted. The next day I entered the agency once again this time dressed in a cut-off, ragged hoody ravaged in oil paint, tattered shorts and sandals. I walked into the conference room, grabbed their presentation storyboard off their cute little easel and tossed it to the ground and said abrasively, "Who did this piece of shit." I plopped down in front of the same two agency creatives who sat stunned, surprised, and yet with ridiculous grins upon their faces. The thought balloons above their heads read once again, "WEIRDO" but this time it was the right type of weirdo. Egotistical, brash, all elephant and scary clown. I won them over, "being creative". The meeting went swimmingly and I was instantly hired to "redo" their board which they gave up like an unwanted step-child. Got paid, and even though the spot never happened (too much money for the client", it had nothing to do with the "creative." Sometimes the act is just as important as the talent. Embrace your inner scary clown.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Toy Story con't.

So remember our little Toy Story (if not see below to get all caught up). So, here is the continuing saga. As you can imagine the omission of the invisible flower on the jumper was a problem easily solved. I drew a simple sunflower on the "cute" little doll design with pigtails and faxed it to New York. Excellent. Five minutes later, I received another call from the irritated producer. The flower was great, almost exactly right, but the doll's face was not quite on character. Remember I was dealing with no reference to speak of except a small thumbnail photo of a doll which was probably 5 pixels by 20 in terms of image size, the face was probably 4 pixels square. It was 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon and I had a 6:00 date with my wife. (So there was a teeny time crunch.) I asked if this could be done on Monday (trying to be a good husband) and was instantly met with that bizarre commercial producer panic. "The client would like this resolved asap". So Mister Customer Service kicks in and asks once again, "Can you send me a quick photo of just the doll's face?" The producer responded as if she all ready knew I was going to ask this question. "No, we are shooting an important sequence and the prototype was in make-up". Again, remember the prototype was the only doll that existed at this point. I then asked another stupid question, well, I guess it must have been a stupid question because the response was, "We don't know, can you just try some variations?" The question of course was, "Can you tell me why I am off character?". So that is exactly what I did, variations, changing eyes and proportions, lips and noses, and faxing like a madman. "No, it's still not there."lamented the broken record producer and client. To make this ridiculous story a bit shorter, I canceled my date with my wife and was in the studio past 8:30. The final result was my original design with the hairline an eighth of an inch higher. "That's it, that's perfect." the knuckleheads finally shouted from the other end of the phone. And then they had the amazing and mindless audacity to laugh and incredulously reflect upon the simple fact that the hairline was the only problem. Five and a half hours to move a hairline two ticks north.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Beware of Client

Clients can be the strangest animal on this green, blue and brown earth. I had a client who came to us with a very simple concept for a 30 second commercial long ago. He asked us to add a bit of innovation to the spot and I thought we were well on the way to a good experience.

The spot had to do with an animated line which would transform and change creating new images as the voice track narrated. We came up with several new line styles (in the design stage) trying to give the line some character and texture. We felt good about the direction we had provided our new client and felt the style was cool and innovative.

REACTION: Client just wants a simple inked line, nothing fancy.

Okay, so we continued and began laying out the spot to the scratch track and began creating interesting image combinations and image sequences choreographing the line in a lyrical dance. The line would float above a ground plane casting a shadow of the various images the soundtrack illustrated, houses, cities, a couple dancing, etc.

REACTION: Client wants the line to just represent a graphic mouth talking. No morphing or changing images. Just a happy mouth.

Okay, so we have a simple graphic lined mouth lip syncing. This is getting boring but we will do our best to give it life. We finish the spot and present it to the client. We weren't thrilled with the end result, there was no shadow pass, no textured line, no transitioning animation dancing its 30 second story, only a simple mouth talking (on a white background, we had planned a graphic panel as a background)

REACTION: The Client thinks the spot is boring, nothing is really happening but a graphic mouth talking to you.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Don't work with idiots for clients.