President’s Column: December 2015
Words to inspire and motivate you from author David B. Levy
Back in August of this year, I began what became a 3 part series featuring passages from the book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production by David B. Levy (available at Amazon.com). The book is a guide for creating, developing, and pitching an animated project or series. I think that many of the observations and advice in the book can also apply to writing and illustrating comics, graphic novels, and children’s books.
Over the past few months I’ve been in contact with David through LinkedIn. He has kindly offered to share more insights exclusively to Cartoonists Northwest members. I decided to ask him about motivation. Here’s how it went:
Jason Fruchter: The theme throughout my President’s columns has been inspiration and motivation. I’d like to pursue this a bit with you. In the introduction chapter of your book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production, you explained how developing as an artist and a writer is hard work and takes time. You told the story about a friend of yours who found a million and one excuses not to finish his personal film. In contrast, you managed to pursue your artistic goals while living in apartments that had water issues like leaking walls and water spraying radiators. You ended the chapter with my favorite quote from the book: “When you’re in your old age, looking back at your career, will you be able to say that you went after your dream?”
Having a dream is one thing, but making it become a reality is another. Most people are like your friend. They just can’t seem to find the motivation to work on their personal creative project and fall into the pattern of making excuses. Are there any techniques you’ve discovered over the years that can help people get out of their creative rut? What can be done to help create the inspiration and motivation needed to pursue a dream when the responsibilities of work, family, and location make it easy to make excuses not to?
David B. Levy: Most of us are used to being the family artist or the best artist in their high school, so it’s common for us to experience a shock on the first day of art school because we are no longer “special.” But, the truth is that everyone has their own development path and journey.
Besides experiencing the shock of being surrounded for the first time by artistic peers, I was even more surprised that I was the only one (out of a class of 25 students) to have already made animated films. When I was 12, my dad bought me a video camera, and although it was unable to shoot single frames, I was able to trick it into capturing 5-7 frames at a time. This was more than enough to encourage me to keep experimenting. Later, in High School, we got the old family super 8mm camera working again and I was able to shoot proper single exposures. I made about 6 films before attending college. I thought anybody interested in becoming an animator would be doing the same, but that wasn’t the case when I met my fellow freshman. Out of that class, I’m the only one still in the animation industry, so maybe that single-minded focus is what was needed to sustain a career in this commercial art form.
But, having put in that work from an early age doesn’t make me feel special. If I was interested in cars wouldn’t I have been toiling under the hood each day after high school school? Animation just happened to be my interest, not cars.
If my first motivation was simply interest, once I got working in the field I began to meet my heroes and something else happened. Anyone doing animation was my automatic hero, but those I wished to emulate were doing more than just working job to job. Mo Willems, for instance, was making short films for Sesame, creating independent films for the festival circuit, and writing scripts (to name but a few of his creative endeavors). It was a privilege to be paid to work in animation and be trusted to be part of a team, whatever level of your contribution. But, Mo Willems, and others like him, showed me that besides earning a living their was also authorship. You could be a creator simply by creating. Maybe one day it would lead to a pilot or a published book. Who knew? The point was that the road to any of those futures began by taking the first steps.
The interesting part was that nobody cared if you did or did not. I liked that. It meant I could develop at my own pace and figure it all out as I went. There was no expiration date on what I might achieve. When I was 30 years old I still hadn’t sold a book, a pitch, or had breakthrough independent film. But, within a year of turning 30 I had finally accomplished all three.
I remember taking the first steps early in my career and how it felt to work a full day for Nickelodeon as a storyboard artist on Blue’s Clues, and go home to my tiny apartment and work on my own film where I was the writer, designer, animator, director, and producer. This was a like a drug to me, an addiction. The thrill was re-invention: become what you want simply by doing it. And, because I had my new heroes like Mo, I didn’t even feel alone on those solitary work nights.
Jason Fruchter: This is wonderful! I love how you personalized this and made it about your own journey as a creator of original ideas. I’m sure readers of my column will gain from your experience. I know I will. Thank you for taking the time David. I really appreciate it.
David B. Levy is also the author of Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive and Directing Animation. Both are available at Amazon.com.