Follow Your Bliss

Hi there. What’s been happening friend-o’s. I’ve got an iPad cover that doubles as a keyboard, so now I can type my random musings from bed; a shout into the void.

I’ve almost finished animation on a new Bru & Boegie short. For this one, I did an experiment where I really didn’t show anyone any bits of process, save for a few seconds video on Instagram. Didn’t discuss the script with anyone, didn’t discuss the process at all, just created it in a vacuum. Gotta say, I enjoyed it. It’s a truer vision, was definitely much easier to create like this, no compromises, what a pleasure. I spent quite a bit of time on the outline. I started it in December on a work retreat in Prince Albert, and had finished the outline by the end of the week there. The outline started out being many pages and I made sure I got it down to a single page to make the project more manageable. Back in Plett, I used my new purchase of Final Draft 10 to write the script, which went quickly as it was all planned out in the outline. Then, I hired my buddy Ben to record some voices at my home studio, I recorded Bru & Boegie’s voice, and got Amanda to record the female voice. I recorded voices at my home studio with Logic Pro x and good audio equipment (an AKG D5 mic with a pop screen, external Scarlett 8i6 Focusrute sound card, had the script up on iPad with FD Reader with character names highlighted to make it easier for the v/o artist to find what lines he needed to read). I cut them all together into a single track, and then – amazingly, I did all the animation in (another recent purchase) Toon Boom Harmony Premium 14, in about 9 or 10 days, start to finish. It’s a 4-minute short, and I learned a lot on a previous job, animating a Goldfish music video (that still is going to be released – I hope. Their label is keeping it back due to a track release plan) so the animation process went fast. I made sure to figure out creative decisions up-front so I could be loose with the animation. (I really want to get Bru & Boegie off the ground, so I’m pretty amped about how this software’s making life easier for me. In the meantime, I’d dig it if you could please subscribe to my YouTube channel or consider buying a Bru & Boegie comic book to support me.) The right tools make the job so much easier. All these tools cost me a fair amount of loot, but the more I understand how to use them effectively, they save me time, and I’m actually pretty amped with how things are working.

With any luck the short will be ready to upload this weekend, as I leave for the start to our Japan trip on Sunday. The animation is done (I’m going to use today and tomorrow to do final bits and pieces), the backgrounds are done (by Olubunmi John in Nigeria), I’m hoping music and sfx by my friend Arnie in California who I met at Annecy in 2013, will be done in time for me to do final render and upload.

During the process of making this personal project, I’m struck by the simple truth that confidence makes the process so much easier. If you’ve ever worked in group projects, and something is not agreed upon, second-guessing can slow things down drastically. Indeed, sometimes what happens is you know the answer, but for the sake of process you allow the other person to try their way and then come to the same conclusion as you. How much longer the process takes, how much time is wasted. I’ve learned, for better or worse, to either be very clear to whoever I’ve hired about what I want – explain in detail what I’m after. Or, find people I like to work with, give them a simple brief, but trust their sensibilities. I far prefer the latter. It makes the process much easier for me, it allows the person I’ve hired to experience greater freedom of creative expression, and I’m looking more and more for this kind of working relationship. There’s a saying ‘do unto others what you would have them do unto you’ and *all* I really want from a client is to say ‘do whatever you want’. It’s what I’ve started doing with people I hire, just saying “do whatever you want, I like what you do, it’s why I hired you, I won’t micro-manage you”, in the vicarious hope clients will do the same for me – it’s how someone gets the best out of me. My buddy James and I have similar sensibilities, and all I do is say ‘do whatever you want, I’ll take it’ and he does great work. Same with Olubunmi – I give him some rough sketches of the backgrounds I want and he delivers great work. Same with my brother – I send him the finished animation, he knows me and my sensibility, and delivers great work. I don’t micro-manage, because I hate being micro-managed.

The more confident I am with the project and the more control I am in the process, the more creative freedom I can give the people I’ve hired. It’s important for me to be able to choose the people I work with. I also realise there’s always a choice – propose my own way, and if it’s not going to fly, be brave enough to say ‘no thanks’.

For 10 years now, I’ve been knocking on the door to get a series green-lit. I started out with Jozi Zoo – a kids show that a local comedian and I pitched to a local TV station. Without my knowledge, it got passed on to another studio for development, and a friend told me he saw it on TV. The show got on the air without my knowledge. I didn’t receive a cent for it – my own fault for having stars in my eyes. Without complaining, I asked the production company if I could animate on it, and that’s how I started animation – I started out helping 2 veteran animators to make the show, and soon I was getting whole 5/6 min episode scripts with a voice-track, and making episodes by myself every 2 weeks. It was a lot of work, but cool to see my work on Saturday morning TV. I insisted on working from home, the production company was totally cool with it – less distractions than at work (there was a lady at work who talked constantly to other coworkers, and if she wasn’t ranting about personal stuff, she was on the phone. I didn’t dig it), my home machine was far superior to the machine I was given at work, and I could manage myself just fine. As long as I was delivering what was required, it didn’t matter whether I was at home or at work, so I had a great time playing videogames at home when I wanted to, working when I wanted to, seeing buddies when I wanted to, and delivering a new episode when required. I realised I could make my own show with my brother doing audio, I pitched it at the production company – no bites. As you may know, my brother’s done audio for both my Nickelodeon and Disney pilots and many other shorts – he does great work. I find self-limiting beliefs upsettings, when someone says “it can’t be done.” I’ve had people telling me that self-limiting belief my whole life. I kept asking for a work contract, they kept brushing me off (luckily a blessing in disguise). So I put in my 3-month notice that I was quitting and an opportunity came up to live in Plettenberg Bay. I didn’t hesitate. When it came time for me to leave, the company pleaded for me to stay. I asked for double my salary, and they accepted without hesitation. Still, I saw the writing on the wall and had a burning desire to create more interesting content (I was so inspired after coming back from ComiCon in the US), so I left. They wanted me to keep animating the show by proxy from wherever I was going to, but I passed. Anytime I’d do a piece of animation for the show I thought was rad, invariably they’d ask to take it out. It seemed like grey-area-bleh was the order for the day, and I didn’t like that. I was leaving a well-paying job for uncertainty, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.

I set about making my own show. I wasn’t earning money as I felt like I needed to quit many recurrent freelance jobs to focus properly on this new IP. It took a long time to make my own show, I got distracted along the way, considered moving back to Johannesburg when my funds started running out, but ultimately decided to forge on. (I eventually sold the IP years later, and if I can make enough money, would like to buy it back.) I employed a shotgun approach for getting work / cold-calling, and finally when I pitched something I really wanted to do, on my own terms, I got a breakthrough: a Goldfish music video. Things snowballed and I got a whole bunch of cool work stuff thereafter. Thing is, I backed myself 100% – someone needed to – and eventually, Dave and Dom from Goldfish took a chance on my cold-pitch. It worked out for them and then some – the 6 videos I’ve done have clocked in 17 million views on their Youtube channels. They’re some of the best clients I’ve worked with, because after initial discussions they free me to do what I want.

I don’t think I’d have landed that job if I was in the quagmires of doing half-baked animation work that had all its edges sanded down so as to easily get the budget and fly under the radar. I kind of feel I needed to have the courage / self-faith to get me that far along the way, for providence to open up.

For work, if something comes truly from an inner place, it cannot be incorrect. I think there’s incorrect rhetoric that a group-think project where each decision is settled by democracy, is of more value than a singular vision, warts and all. It’s not. A singular, true vision is perfect, and I’m desperate to see more content like this where the edges aren’t sanded down into oblivion.

I also read a paper called ‘The Price of Nice’ that a couples therapist gave to me. It goes into the inherent dangers of ‘people-pleasing’. Pleasing other people seems like a really good thing to do. But, it means people don’t know where they stand with you if you’re not honest, you steal from them the chance to grow from honest feedback, and by bending every which way to maintain status quo, a person hurts himself and ends up breeding resentment.

I’ve been looking for an animation agent to be a hard-arse on my behalf. Barked up a few trees but nothing conclusive yet. As a result, I’ve become hard-arse with contracts and budgets – or at least, more straightforward. A band I know are comprised of 2 of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet – and they can afford to be so, because they have a thick-skinned agent who interfaces with their events clients on their behalf. I like that setup. By default, I’m quite nice. But ‘nice’ doesn’t work all the time for work contracts and forging paths. Being nice is in a production company’s favour, as it can be exploited. However, a lot of the time it doesn’t work for the creator. Someone enquired about making a character similar to mine and wants my blessing. Someone else wants a 6-minute pixel animation for their film but has a tiny budget. Someone’s promised me x but doesn’t deliver – I’d dig to forward all this stuff to an agent. For the meantime, I’ve learned to be a lot more straightforward about what I want, and more protective of myself.

I was discussing a saying with a few people recently; “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right.” A maxim that I thought was sound. At a friend’s graduation ceremony, the keynote speaker left us with the message ‘Always err on the side of kindness.’ I thought it a good message – don’t rock the boat, people please, all will be well.

That method works … for a while. But ultimately, it’s unfulfilling.

What is the true voice saying? The inner voice?

I’m busy reading the book my mother and her co-author and friend Susan E. Schwartz recently wrote; ‘Aging & Becoming‘. My mother is a very smart women; well-read, knowledgeable in depth-psychology, the unconscious, Jung and dreams. I’m finding the book amazing. I’m only about halfway in but already it’s speaking to me on many levels. Some women entering the final chapter of their lives (case studies my mother and Susan write about) report a general feeling that energy has left them. They wonder what happened to the plans they’d made. Habit and business had kept them from honouring their calling, and now, there is just a vast empty sea.

It’s more of a risk to play it safe than it is to do what you want.

I see many artists and animators posting work on Facebook along with the caption “Had fun making this!” or “Was so much fun working on this!” (numerous variations on this) as if appealing to an audience who only wants to see happiness. A hope that ‘niceness’ will somehow lead to success? I guess niceness breeds niceness. Sometimes, niceness doesn’t quite cut it.

I’m guilty of it too. The reality is, animation takes time. It’s painful actually. I love these two images of Hayao Miyazaki:

However, when there’s a bit of play in the air, when the outcome is a bit of a surprise to even the creator – it becomes a fun game to reach the end. Invariably, such projects have been hands-down better received by the audience. An audience can sense when the creator has enjoyed the process, and when that ‘thing’ is present, the process flows, the stars align, it feels like a game and there is a lightness to it.

Soon afterwards, a heavy project may come along to bring one back into the doldrums. Kicked around a bit. Learning new things. Like a videogame, the dungeons are the most dangerous yet yield the best rewards. When one comes out of it, takes a deep breath of fresh air – aah. “I learned a thing or two” and sometimes – “I’ll do things differently next time.”

Of course, the lesson we always learn, time and time again – “what I’m looking for is inside of me. It was there the whole time.”

I also saw this LIFE calendar recently that shows a person how many weeks they have remaining (in a 90-year life). It’s all there, on a calendar, each week represented by a block. Not that many when it’s displayed like this:

And so, the question is – what do we spend time on? Something that doesn’t light our souls on fire – why? An older person might say to spend a great deal of time on unfulfilling work is tripe.

Should we suffer in work? I think some suffering is ok as long as it’s going to continue to be worth it. If the bigger aim is in line with a person’s ultimate goal – it doesn’t seem so much as suffering, but more as hard work / passion.

Blink and we’ll all be dead.

My advice to myself is: be brave enough to not do anything that doesn’t honour my soul. Life really is very short. Be brave. Every day. Commit to accessing that part of myself that knows what it wants. It always knows. Protect the fragile flame. It leads to bigger rewards. It seems at times when I work on a personal self-funded project, I meet with the uncertain self. ‘What if I’m wasting my time?’ ‘Is this good enough?’ ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ – innumerable nudges to want to take the ‘safer’ option – but it’s a paper-thin projection, and a wealth of enjoyment is just on the other side, if I just break through it. Breaking through is easy. There’s no personal-money obligations at stake to obscure it – it’s right there. So, my current desire is creating my own content for YouTube, with any luck it becomes successful due to ad revenue and self-sustaining with my time and energy input. At least then, I’m creating content on my own terms and I won’t need to work other projects to sustain my passion.

Last year was busy. Good grief. Amanda and I are about to go to Japan, and then the Philippines. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. We’re doing Hong Kong, then Tokyo / Harajuku, then Naoshima, then a Buddhist Temple, then Manila, then Palawan, then back.

In the end, enjoyment. Money and enjoyment aren’t mutually exclusive. But man, putting money first can lead a person astray into the badlands, 1-time-shoe-shine. I’ve found with work decisions, when money’s taken out of the equation, it makes the whole thing a lot clearer. False paths are lined with money, and they all have lessons to teach us. All those lessons seem to join at crossroads that ultimately come back to ‘what do you *actually* want to do?’ It’s a serious question, and the answer a person gives can be self-deceiving. Sweating bullets to earn money to finance a project I’ve always wanted to do doesn’t work – just do the flippen’ project. Time is ticking. Time waits for no-one. Though, I heard George Clooney’s motto is ‘one for you, one for me’ when it comes to choosing projects. I’ve done many service jobs before. It’s clear that they’re service jobs. They earn money. Trouble for me arose when I was being told to do a project for myself, but actually for the client.

An imperfect analogy (all analogy’s are): a child doesn’t file a report and create a spreadsheet of how to play with a toy car – the child plays with the toy car. A child doesn’t analyse the ice-lolly, take observational data about the ice-lolly over 1 month, and hypothetically decide the best way to eat the ice lolly. The child eats the ice lolly, and enjoys it. There’s no other outcomes-based objective for it, other than enjoyment.

I’ve found it to be the same with personal animation projects. A person either does it, or asks permission for a long time from someone else before they get the go-ahead to ‘eat the ice lolly’. Some may even want the event printed in a magazine, or to tell hundreds of people “I am about to eat an ice-lolly.” I’ve seen many people spend a lot of time and money trying to get someone else to invest in their idea, when they could have just used that time and money to execute the idea itself. Placing so much value in external validation. Ah man. We are funny animals.

And how easy it is for things to get in the way of that creative connection. Things we willingly allow in, on good trust, thinking something better is around the corner. Cutting off the nose to spite the face. It is nailing our feet to the ground because someone promised us we’d be able to run faster if we did so. It’s dropping everything we have because we want more, and crying when we lose what we had.

Life has so many facets, such potentiality. I hope you’re spending time on something you love, because otherwise, what are you doing? If you’re not doing it now, you’re not doing it.

I’d have imagined that mankind has had an impulse to create, since whenever. It’s a primal desire. If you’re creative, you’ll know the feeling. You wanna make stuff – cool stuff. And there’s immense enjoyment in that, in following that process. Like I explained earlier, watch a kid playing. How has play got so lost in today’s workplace? The more money’s involved, the less play there seems to be, but it’s often exactly the ingredient that’s missing. No amount of money can be a decent substitute for play. You’ll find there’s an infinitesimal amount more honesty and amazingness in a passion project that’s self-funded.

My dad’s advice has been the same as Joseph Campbells’; ‘Follow Your Bliss’. Life’s too short not too.

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

– Joseph Campbell

In other news, I got a house. Deposit down, papers signed. I am very excited about this:

I’ve also tentatively found someone to board and animate a new ‘Beatboxing Dave’ episode written by my buddy James, and voiced by us and friend Ben.

★ FROG SMASHERS ★

My bro and I playing at his flat in Kenilworth recently. My brother’s become much better at me at the game.

 

Dear friends. Did you know I made a game? Well, together with Ruan Rothmann and some other contributors, we made a flippen’ game:

Download here for free! PC/Mac https://raithza.itch.io/frogsmashers

Best thing is to plug in Playstation 4 / Xbox / gamepad controls to your PC / Mac as the game works way better with a gamepad. It’s also only local multiplayer so you’ll need a friend to play with!

It all started in Mauritius when I joined Free Lives for their ‘Game Jam Island’. I was giving a talk in Joburg at Amaze Fest, and Evan Greenwood (Creative Director at Free Lives) was in the audience. I was talking about my excitement for VR, and Evan asked me during the question & answer stage whether I’d like to come with them to Mauritius to make games and where they’d also have a VR room. I thought the idea was beyond my understanding so I kind of didn’t even give it credence. But, so many people came to me afterwards and asked me if I’d be going. I was like ‘are you serious man? I dunno’ and they were like ‘bro, flippen’ go bra’ so I went.

Rough

Finished

I didn’t really have a game-plan, except to finish the work I had on my plate before I left so I could be free to ‘jam games’. Incidentally, I worked around the clock to finish a Goldfish video which hasn’t been released yet, so that’s something to look forward to. While in Mauritius I met Ruan Rothmann who said he had an idea for a game – kind of like Smash Bros / Samurai Gunn. I love Smash Bros, played it a lot on Wii and have it on my 2DS, but didn’t know Samurai Gunn. So, we played some of that and I set about doing some visual tests. Together with Ruan’s coding, we soon had a working prototype – frogs with baseball bats where the aim of the game is to hit the other frogs out the screen to score points. If a frog gets juggled, the frog is worth as many points as time it’s been juggled – ie, if a frog is knocked into the air 3 times, the frog is worth 3 points if hit out the screen. The first player to reach 10 points wins the level. Tactics are involved with more people – a frog that’s glowing a lot and worth 5 points is very valuable so everyone’s trying to hit that frog out the screen. Ruan coded the game in Unity on his PC, I drew the stuff in Photoshop on my Macbook Pro laptop. We just exchanged files via Skype. I tried Aseprite while I was there as an alternative to Photoshop, but it’s not quite as good. Aseprite on Mac has a bit of input lag, so that kind of made it a little unusable long-term for me. Our system was simple and worked well.

Early concepts that led to the evolved frog

Another early concept

We worked on it more and more and soon we had levels, and then we added a ‘tongue’ as an optional move to pull other players closer or grab onto levels, and then an intro to the game, more rules, tighter controls, and in no time it was a really fun game to play with people dropping in and out to test-play it. It was great seeing it all come to life, and enjoyed challenging other people while we shouted at the screen (was also fun to watch other people playing. Evan and Ruan are the best at the game, I’d dig to see them play my brother because he got really good very quickly). When I play I swear (and sweat) quite a bit because when I lose I only have myself to blame, such is the tightness of the gameplay. Also in Mauritius was Ben Rausch who drew 2 levels, and Jason Sutherland aka Drift Prism who did the sound (he even sampled some sloppy pasta we had for foley sfx), and recently Stuart Coutts helped me design the logo and worked over a level to make it even more rad. It was flippen’ amazing being in Mauritius and working on this videogame, as well as playing other videogames including a bunch of VR games on the HTC Vive, including Ruan’s other game; ‘Gorn‘.

Spoiler: at the end of the game you’ve managed to destroy anything and everything. How do you feel about it?

You feel sad. ‘What hell of mine own doing hath I wrought upon this land?’

BONUS: Here’s an unused animatic for the intro I ended up not going for, mostly because of time constraints. At this stage the game was titled ‘Croak’, a suggestion in Mauritius from Olivié Keck. We had so many names we created a Google Docs spreadsheet to try get a popular vote. ‘Croak’ was actually the favourite, but I got the honours of the deciding vote and went with ‘Frog Smashers’, partly due to first exposure bias, but it’s been the working title from the start, it’s what we’d always called it and it’s simple and explanatory enough that I like it:

Hope you enjoy playing it, please leave a comment if you’ve tried it.

Win.

THE BIG BACKUP

2 dedicated external drives – one for finished work, and one for work in progress. The WIP one even has encoding on, and needs a password before files can be accessed.

Towards the end of last year I had scheduled a week to do THE BIG BACKUP. After getting an external hard drive stolen that had a lot of work on it, and having an inconsistent project organisation system on my computer, I had been working up to the event with a fair amount of planning, and also dread, because I knew it’d be a fair amount of time and concentration sifting through 10 years of projects, making sure I knew what was backed up with a custom Google spreadsheet I’d made that tracks the status of each project, tells me whether the final file is backed up in the cloud, on my machine, on an external disk, and whether I still have the working files for the project, and where those files are. I had also recently moved all my Dropbox files across to Google Drive after ending my Dropbox paid account and buying more space with Google Drive, and I needed to clean up the file system on that too.

Needs another round of updating, but you get the idea.

After asking a couple people about their ‘best practices’ for project management and backing up, and looking online, I came across a free Mac app called ‘Post Haste’. All it does is create a bunch of folders for you based on the project name, client name, date etc… that you specify, so that I’m using a consistent folder structure throughout projects. This makes is easier to organise stuff as I learn to work with the file structure, but it also makes it easier to back up a project once it’s done – I just copy across the whole folder to an external drive, and I know I’m grabbing all the working files – no missed files in weird locations on my hard drive. This also makes it easier to delete old projects with peace of mind, knowing I’ve backed the whole thing up.

Start here, enter some details…

The root project folder that is created.

Folders within the project folder that are created automatically.

It’s been great deleting old render files and old projects to free up space on my iMac. The job was long and boring, and it took longer than I imagined. Kind of like the first time I did my tax. I’m hoping that it’ll be easier going forward.

During this period of looking through old work, I came upon some nuggets. Here are some of those:

Apart from that, Amanda took her and me away to the desert for a week’s working getaway, which was amazing – loved being there and working on Bru & Boegie. Busy with a new short, always nice working on Bru & Boegie, I find working on it nourishes my soul

As the horizon leaned forward, she thought ‘s’nice’.

A photo posted by mikdog (@mikdog) on

Thereafter I did the ‘Global Game Jam’ at Fuzzy Logic in George, South Africa, and Thea and I made a ‘Crocodile Surfing Simulator’ called ‘Sun Eater’ in the style of Matisse.

We made a game in 48 hours – prob the best game ever. W @theanicoledk

A photo posted by mikdog (@mikdog) on

Japan’s coming up! Shohwee! Had another payment from Google for my YouTube videos so that’s nice. Hope you had a good start to 2017 and I look forward to sharing more work with you.

Also, check this little sneak-sneak vid of the ‘Dogshow with Cat’ bible we finished last year:

I post regularly on my Instagram, so follow me there if you like:

https://www.instagram.com/mikdog/